The gut requires nutrients to pass through the gut lining and into the blood to be used by the body. A stable gut barrier function ensures the following things occur:
- Vitamins are properly synthesized
- Short chain fatty acids are properly synthesized
- Pathogens are prevented from colonizing and leaking into the blood
- Immune system function remains stable and intestinal cells mature in a healthy manner
- Toxins and foreign substances from food are properly metabolized
If the amount of permeability becomes abnormal and large particles are allowed to pass through the lining of the gut, the inflammatory process of the gut is initiated and several issues arise:
- Foreign materials and pathogens are more easily passed into the bloodstream
- Nutrient synthesis is disrupted to due excessive inflammation
- Immune system becomes unstable and cellular function is destabilized
Am there are studies that suggest that gut permeability may in part be responsible for, or at-least connected to, several health issues . This list includes:
- Autoimmune disease (abnormal functioning of the immune system against normally present substances)
- Diabetes (high correlation between type 1 diabetes and small interesting permeability)
- Crohn’s disease (abnormal permeability appears to be present prior to disease expression)
- Coeliac disease (some studies suggest that increased small intestinal permeability precedes gluten sensitivity)
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (high percentage of individuals with this disease have been shown to exhibit increased intestinal permeability)
- Atopic dermatitis (some studies showed no correlation while others found some correlation)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (intestinal permeability appears to be present, but most evidence suggests infection component involved)
- Helicobacter pylori infection (most patients with helicobacter pylori infection have increased gut permeability)
This list is likely incomplete, and there are other associations with gut barrier dysfunction and disease states. The overall impact that it has on the overall immune system is likely to lead to a myriad of future health issues. Thus, it becomes essential that gut barrier function remain normal. Without it, our digestive process becomes handicapped and health issues are likely to occur.
However, gut permeability doesn’t come about all by itself. Some items that may impact gut permeability and barrier function include :
- Dietary choices
- Low plant food intake
- Consumption of poor quality food
- Consumption of too much acidic liquids
- Eating while on the move
- Not enough gastric acid
- Chronic stress
- Decreases gastric and pancreatic secretions
- Weaker muscle contractions
- Constriction of sphincters
- Increased cortisol levels can cause decrease immune function and rapid bodily consumption of nutrients
- Prolonged use of medication (specifically antibiotics)
- Environmental contaminants
- Frequent exposure to dietary antigens, bacteria, and toxins
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Imbalance of gut flora (the gut’s microbial community)
- Disease and infection
The truth is, that at-least one of these can be applicable to just about anyone in the modern world. This makes it quite difficult to understand if you are really at risk of developing gut barrier issues. Additionally, studies appear to implicate that genetic factors also heavily impact whether or not someone is susceptible to developing gut barrier issues.
Gut dysbiosis occurs when the microbiota of the gut undergo alterations in the bacterial community that are unfavorable to digestion and absorption. Eventually, if we are unable to re-balance the microbial community, we risk becoming deficient in certain nutrients and face immunity related health issues and a variety of connected disease states.
Additionally, a negative shift in the intestinal community can lead to the build up of toxin producing bacteria, fungi, or yeast and increase gut toxicity . These then basically “eat away” the gut’s protective layer resulting in intestinal permeability and dysregulation of our immune system.
As discussed earlier, the biggest items that impact the microbiota are diet, genetics and stress. Thus, it becomes essential we learn to listen to our own bodies and try to adapt the dietary choices of our close relatives (considering they demonstrate good health).
How Gut Permeability is Diagnosed
Self-diagnosis is exceptionally difficult and the internet is full of wild assumptions in this area. This makes it difficult for regular people to really understand what to look for if they believe they are experiencing the effects of a compromised gut barrier.
Luckily there are medical tests that can help determine if you really are experiencing intestinal permeability issues. These tests typically rely on consumption of small, water soluble, non-toxic compounds which are not metabolized by the human body and not destroyed by the gut. Once consumed, the amount excreted is tested and this determines how much has escaped through the gut barrier .
These tests have become quite advanced and can even detect specific regions of the gut where permeability may be an issue. Thus, if you really believe that you may have a compromised gut barrier, the best thing to do is to seek the help of a qualified medical professional.
Don’t spend your time second guessing; if you feel that you really have gut issues, perhaps it may be time to see a gastroenterologist.
This section presented potential issues which can arise from an instable gut barrier and the importance of a healthy intestinal microbiota composition. Key points include:
- A stable gut barrier is essential for proper synthesis and digestion of various nutrients and is key layer of defense from pathogens/toxins
- Instability in the gut barrier allows unwanted particles to pass through the gut lining and this creates a myriad of immune issues
- Inadequate functioning of the gut barrier has been linked to a variety of health issues, including diabetes, crohn’s, IBS, atopic dermatitis and various others
- Large number of factors have been shown to impact gut barrier stability, the top 3 include diet, antibiotics and microbiota composition
- Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota reduces our ability to digest essential nutrients and creates a toxic environment which degrades our gut barrier
- Self-diagnosis of gut permeability is not recommended, consulting with a professional gastroenterologist is the best approach