Did you know our digestive system has two purposes?
Of course, it allows us to break down food into smaller and smaller particles to be absorbed into the bloodstream and be used by the body. Naturally, we need those nutrients to live!
But also, it blocks larger particles known as macromolecules from being absorbed into the body. These macromolecules include toxins, pathogens, and undigested foodstuffs. This unseen barrier is vital to our long term health and wellness.
Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability as it’s known academically, allows the uncontrolled passage of these macromolecules 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 antibodies to these molecules, leading to inflammation, and the potential for a host of health issues.
The state of health or the state of disease is the combination between what we are – meaning what genetically makes us the way we’re engineered – and the environment that’s around us. And the gut is the point of entry in which these two elements meet
Alessio Fasano, MD
The gut lining and mucus layer work together
The good news is 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 sticking to the lining. The lining is where the good ‘good’ bacteria live, limiting the colonisation by unwanted organisms.
In healthy states, the MALT provides protection against pathogens but maintains tolerance against non-threating substances such as food molecules. In other words, the MALT should be smart enough to react to things that may be bad for us, but not react to other things which are harmless. Our microbiome plays a part in training our immune system to react in this way.
Luckily, there are dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as nutrients that can be taken to help repair this protective firewall and increase the diversity of our gut microbiome.
It is now recognized that the interface of the individual’s intestinal immune system with their gut microbiome has a critical effect on metabolism and immunity spanning the function of many organs and diseases including cancer, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, anxiety/depression, and autism.
Dr. J.Bland (Founder and PIONEER IN FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE)
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 are looking for the steps you need to heal your gut, you probably need to read this article.
Stephen Ward (MSc) is trained in assessing the root cause of your health issues and together, we can work this out.
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