For decades, scientists have known that the intestinal barrier can become compromised – more permeable than normal – in cases of gastrointestinal (GI) disease. The term “leaky gut” was popularized to describe the inability of the intestinal lining to maintain normal exclusion of unwanted material. Read on to learn more.
Your entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is a flexible tube that is really an extension of the outside world. It allows health-promoting nutrients “inside” the body and keeps undesirable agents “outside.” The GI tract’s protective, discerning lining (including its healthy mucosa) is referred to as the intestinal barrier.
Intestinal Permeability, Health and Vitality
Intestinal permeability allows small parts of bacterial membranes (endotoxins) into the blood, triggering an immune response. Researchers found healthy adults complained of fatigue, low mood and cognitive difficulties even when very little endotoxin passed through this barrier. This study has been replicated many times and the implication is that there may be many “walking wounded” who may not connect daily symptoms such as these to a so-called leaky gut! Intestinal permeability may be more common than previously thought and has been linked to multiple diseases and disorders.
This is a two-way street, though. In other words, intestinal permeability may cause symptoms and add to the progression of illness, but it is also a disease consequence. For example, research has shown that hypertension can cause a leaky gut.
Non-illness Intestinal Permeability
As for everyday causes of intestinal permeability, consistent culprits are apparent: psychological and physical stress, sleep disturbances, excess alcohol, environmental toxins and/or the Western Diet.
The Western Diet, with its excess processing, sugars and refined fats, severely lacks colourful dietary polyphenols, fibre and omega-3 essential fatty acids which feed beneficial microbes in the gut – for healthy gut ecology and mucosa, both critical to healthy functioning of the intestinal barrier. Fermented foods and certain probiotics may also be protective against intestinal permeability. Nutrients which support the health of the gut lining include zinc, vitamins A, C, D, and glutamine-rich vegetables.
By Dr. Alan Logan, ND