Increased Intestinal Permeability /
Leaky Gut

Increased Intestinal Permeability / Leaky Gut: Overview

Alternative Names: Leaky Gut Syndrome, LGS, Intestinal Hyper-Permeability, Increased Intestinal Permeability

Leaky gut is a poorly recognized but very common problem, which is rarely tested for.  This condition results from an overly-permeable intestinal lining with spaces between the cells of the gut wall.  These spaces allow 'foreign' material (bacteria, toxins and food particles) to leak into the bloodstream where they should not be, placing an additional burden on the immune and detoxification systems.

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The barrier maintained by a healthy intestinal mucosa is an incomplete one to begin with.  Small numbers of molecules of different sizes and characteristics do cross the intact epithelium by both active and passive mechanisms.  Generally, the larger the molecule, the less likely it is to be allowed across.  Once the gut lining becomes inflamed or damaged, it becomes more difficult to keep foreign, larger particles out.  As the spaces between cells open up, larger particles are allowed to be absorbed into the body.

Close-up of an intact gut barrier showing villi
An intact gut barrier with villi at the top and bloodstream below the bottom of the image.

Normally the body sees only tiny food antigens and limited amounts of bacteria.  When it sees these new, larger ones, it considers them foreign invaders.  Antibodies are then produced against once harmless foods and your immune system becomes increasingly occupied with chores it should not have to be performing.  Your health becomes more difficult to maintain as increasing numbers of foods must be avoided for you to feel well.

Even though the gut is becoming leakier, vitamin and mineral absorption becomes reduced – not increased, as you might expect – because some carrier mechanisms of absorption become damaged as part of the process.  Many nutrients have to be carried across the barrier and will not otherwise be absorbed.

The junctions between cells not only need to be 'tight' but the surface area of the small intestine must be large for normal nutrient processing to occur.  Continued irritation and inflammation of the gut lining causes an even greater malabsorption by reducing the overall surface area of the lining.  Even when consuming the healthiest of diets, inadequate nutrient absorption may compound the problem of having to deal with all these new foreign invaders.

Causes and Development

Close-up of compromised intestinal barrier
A damaged gut barrier allows larger molecules such as part-digested food and toxins to pass into the bloodstream.

Leaky Gut Syndrome occurs when the wall of the GI tract is damaged.  A healthy intestinal wall allows only nutrients to pass into the bloodstream; when it is damaged, larger molecules – such as incompletely digested fats, proteins and toxins – slip through as well.  The body recognizes these substances as foreign and forms antibodies to them, which is why a person can suddenly become allergic to foods they have always eaten without a problem.  LGS also causes 'environmental allergies' which make an individual respond negatively to various inhalants from the environment.

Furthermore, a compromised gut barrier with poor mucosal immune function causes inflammation, and can lead to autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.  The immune system can form antibodies to proteins which are similar to (or the same as) human proteins, and then start to attack parts of the body.  This is how autoimmune diseases – such as MS or arthritis – 'work'.  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common in those with leaky gut because they lack sufficient cells to move minerals and vitamins from the gut to the blood.

Candida albicans is a major cause of leaky gut.  A person with Candida overgrowth in the GI tract will also suffer from Leaky Gut Syndrome.  When Candida changes from yeast to fungal form it forms rhizoids – root-like structures – that break through the intestinal walls.  Even when Candida is balanced and the gut heals, food allergies will remain for a while because the antibodies to that food still exist.

Stress. The intestinal lining replaces itself, on the average, every 14 hours.  To replace intestinal walls requires blood and the first organ to lose blood during stressful situations is intestinal tract.  In those who experience a lot of stress, the intestinal lining will not regenerate and leaky gut becomes more likely.

Antibiotics and steroids decrease number of friendly bacteria, allowing Candida to proliferate, which causes LGS.

Hormonal imbalance allows Candida to proliferate, a primary cause of LGS.

Alcohol and caffeine decrease number of friendly bacteria, and again allow Candida to proliferate.

Parasites or bacteria such as Giardia or H.  Pylori.

Food allergies aggravate LGS.

Enzyme deficiencies e.g. celiac disease, lactase deficiency causing lactose intolerance.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.  interfere with mucus production.

Chemicals in fermented or processed food.

Complications

If the gut is not healthy, the rest of the body cannot be either.  LGS makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of wellness.  Chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia and escalating food allergies are among the many manifestations of a leaky gut.

Conditions that suggest Increased Intestinal Permeability / Leaky Gut:

Allergy

Autoimmune

Multiple Sclerosis

The leakage of toxic waste from the gut into the bloodstream is believed to be a primary cause of Multiple Sclerosis.

Digestion

Immunity

Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome

The leakage of toxic waste from the gut into the bloodstream is believed to be a primary cause of Chronic Fatigue.

Infections

Respiratory

Symptoms - Liver / Gall Bladder

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Risk factors for Increased Intestinal Permeability / Leaky Gut:

Addictions

Allergy

Autoimmune

Diet

Digestion

Bacterial Dysbiosis

It is likely that both yeast and bacterial overgrowth commonly occur together; overgrowth of either can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Drug Side-Effect

Habits

The Effects Of Overtraining

According to research published in June, 2017 in the Australian sports journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, long periods of intense exercise can trigger Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Immunity

Infections

Yeast / Candida Infection

It is likely that both yeast and bacterial overgrowth commonly occur together; overgrowth of either can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Musculo-Skeletal

Parasites

Roundworm Infection

Types of roundworm called Strongyloides and Ascaris lumbricoides can cause increased intestinal permeability.

Supplements, Medications, Drugs

Pain medication use

The overuse of pain medication can eventually lead to leaky gut syndrome.

Symptoms - Allergy

Symptoms - Head - Nose

Symptoms - Respiratory

Increased Intestinal Permeability / Leaky Gut suggests the following may be present:

Addictions

Autoimmune

Diet

Digestion

Bacterial Dysbiosis

It is likely that both yeast and bacterial overgrowth commonly occur together; overgrowth of either can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Drug Side-Effect

Immunity

Infections

Yeast / Candida Infection

It is likely that both yeast and bacterial overgrowth commonly occur together; overgrowth of either can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Musculo-Skeletal

Recommendations for Increased Intestinal Permeability / Leaky Gut:

Amino Acid / Protein

Diet

Gluten-free Diet

Removal of wheat and dairy products from the diet will produce temporary relief of some of the symptoms of increased intestinal permeability.  Patients suffering from this condition as well as reduced amounts of normal gut flora have high levels of antibodies to gliadin and casein.

Dairy Products Avoidance

See the link between Intestinal Permeability and a Gluten-free diet.

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