The digestive system is an 8.5-meter long tube from the mouth to anus. It has two closely related purposes. Firstly, it breaks down food into smaller particles so that nourishing, life-sustaining nutrients can enter the bloodstream and can be used by the body. Secondly, it blocks toxins, pathogens, and undigested foodstuffs from being absorbed into the body. Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability as it’s known academically, allows the uncontrolled passage of undigested food particles, toxins, and pathogens into the body from the small intestine.
In the small intestine, the epithelial lining itself is only one cell thick. It functions like a cheesecloth with only small molecules intended to pass through the intestinal barrier. As food winds its way through the small intestine, it is broken down into smaller and smaller components until they are small enough to be absorbed through the cheesecloth.
However, when there is inflammation in the intestine and increased intestinal permeability, larger macro-molecules, pass through the cheesecloth unchecked. It is as if the cheesecloth has tears in it which let the larger molecules through. This is bad news as the immune system recognises these molecules as undesirables and produces anti-bodies to these molecules, leading to inflammation, and the potential for a host of health issues.
Epithelial lining and mucus work together
The good news, the epithelial lining is protected by a layer of mucus, known as the mucosal immune system (MALT). While the epithelial lining restricts access to the body of ‘troublesome’ macro-molecules and secretes antimicrobial substances, the mucus prevents unwanted organisms from adhering to the lining – this is where the good commensal bacteria live, limiting the colonisation of unwanted organisms.
In healthy states, the MALT provides protection against pathogens but maintains tolerance against non-threating substances. In the gut, the secretion of IgA provides an immune response to potential antigens in food without a large and unnecessary systemic immune response.
Luckily, there are dietary and lifestyle changes, aswell as nutrients that can be taken to help repair this protective firewall.
How can I tell if I have leaky gut?
While there is testing that can be done for intestinal permeability, the truth is MOST people with a chronic health issue will have some degree of increased intestinal permeability.
And remember, you don’t have to have gut symptoms to have a leaky gut. Leaky gut can manifest as autoimmune conditions affecting the thyroid (Hashimoto’s) or joints (rheumatoid arthritis), mental illness, depression, skin problems like eczema or psoriasis and more.
12 signs you have leaky gut:
- Food sensitivities or intolerances – As food particles may enter the bloodstream through a leaky gut, the immune system of a person with increased intestinal permeability may react to a food (especially gluten and dairy). Leaky gut and allergies have been found to be linked.
- Poor Immune System Function: Including susceptibility to viruses and parasites
- IBS and bloating – Particularly diarrhea-predominant IBS
- Candida, Parasites and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Chronic Fatigue – Inflammatory compounds, called cytokines are associated with increased intestinal permeability and can lead to fatigue
- Auto-Immune Diseases– read more here including Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – PCOS has been associated with increased zonulin, a biomarker of increased intestinal permeability
- Nutrient Malabsorption – This may be associated with fatigue
- Skin issues – such as psoriasis, acne, rosacea, or eczema
- Mood issues, Depression, Anxiety, and Mood Swings
- Brain Fog and Memory Issues
Now, the good news is intestinal permeability is completely reversible, and the mucosal firewall can be repaired. This may then improve health conditions outside of the gut so that you feel the difference.
But first, read the next article to find out how intestinal permeability is key to the development of an auto-immune disease…
If you are ready to get your health and vitality back so you can lead a better life but need a little bit of help, I offer one-to-one consultation plans. I will help you get to the root cause of your gut issues, and address it with an effective personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan, that is manageable and sustainable, without nasty side effects.
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