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What is Intestinal Permeability (or Leaky Gut)?

Updated: Jun 9

You may have heard of ‘leaky gut’ and wondered if it could be at the root of your digestive health or gut issues, but are not sure how to tackle it. You might also have heard that leaky gut can be a cause of food intolerances, inflammation in the body, as well as autoimmune conditions.

Intestinal permeability, also known as “Leaky Gut” is an increasingly prevalent health disorder in which the epithelial cell lining of the small intestine has become more permeable than it should be, and it becomes subject to inflammation by various irritants.

This gut lining is the bodies’ largest “barrier” against the external environment, protecting us from toxins and microbes that may enter the body, through the food we consume or from our environment. This vital protective barrier is only one cell thick, therefore it’s crucial that we maintain a healthy gut lining.

The integrity of the digestive (gastrointestinal) tract (GIT) contributes to our overall health. Not only do the gut membrane cells act as a protective barrier against harmful bacteria and toxins from the outer environment, they also facilitate the movement of dietary nutrients into the bloodstream, ensuring that we are efficiently absorbing our vitamins and minerals from our food.

In increased intestinal permeability, the abnormally large spaces allow entry of toxic material into the bloodstream that would, in healthier circumstances, be repelled and eliminated. The gut becomes "leaky" in the sense that bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and their toxins, and undigested foods such as proteins, fat, and waste normally not absorbed into the bloodstream in the healthy state, pass through a damaged, porous, or leaky gut.

When these foreign substances enter the bloodstream, the immune system goes into reaction mode and begins creating antibodies. Chronic overstimulation of the immune system leads to chronic inflammation and disease (1).

So what might cause it?

There are many factors to consider when looking at the causes of intestinal permeability (see diagram above).

Stress, poor nutrient intake or absorption; toxins, such as food additives, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, and foreign microbes, can all have a negative influence on the intestinal membrane. Bacterial imbalance can also cause intestinal permeability.

Low stomach acid and digestive enzymes, results in improper digestion of food, and these larger sized particles of food can irritate the intestinal lining. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can also contribute to a leaky gut.

How does it link to food intolerance, inflammation or autoimmunity?

There is a strong link between intestinal permeability and autoimmunity. This is because the antibodies created by the body in response to the toxic substances and undigested fats and proteins that leak into the bloodstream, attach themselves to various tissues throughout the body, creating an allergic response, which triggers the destruction of tissues and organs, creating inflammation. As toxicity increases, autoantibodies are created, and the destruction and inflammation become chronic (2).

There is a tipping point at which the body cannot recover from chronic inflammation, and pathological (disease) diagnosis follows.

Some of the symptoms of a leaky gut include:

  • Bloating

  • Food sensitivities and intolerances

  • Thyroid conditions

  • Fatigue

  • Joint pains

  • Skin issues

  • Autoimmune conditions

  • Weight gain

  • Headaches

  • Brain fog

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Digestive problems and IBS

Food intolerances and sensitivities are an indication that intestinal function is compromised, therefore it’s recommended to look at supporting the underlying cause or causes of the problem. It is recommended to do this with the guidance and support of a qualified health professional, experienced in working with gut health issues, and supporting the gut ecosystem back to a healthy environment.

My Simple Gut ReSet was designed specifically to investigate the causes of your health problems. This is done by eliminating the offending stimuli, and rebalancing gut bacterial diversity, supporting the gut microbiome back to the flourishing ecosystem it was designed to be.

You can read more about it here:

My clinic is currently operating in a virtual setting, via Zoom or Skype, so distance is not an issue. Book in for a FREE 15 minute call so we can determine how best I may be able to help you find relief from your symptoms.

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  1. Bischoff et al. (2014) ‘Intestinal permeability - a new target for disease prevention and therapy’, BMC Gastroenterology. doi: 10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7.

  2. Fasano and Shea-Donohue, 2005. Mechanisms of Disease: The Role of Intestinal Barrier Function in the Pathogenesis of Gastrointestinal Autoimmune Disease. Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology and Hepatology. doi: 10.1038/ncpgasthep0259.

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