Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can lead to diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food allergies, obesity, and metabolic diseases like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, all of which are characterized by inflammation (1).
The mucosal lining of the body provides our greatest contact with our external environment, covering a surface of about 400 square meters, or 4300+ square feet, most of which is found in the gut (digestive tract) (1)!
The intestines serve two opposing functions, first, when we eat food the intestines allow needed nutrients and molecules to enter the body to be used for energy or support of body functions, and second, the intestines also prevent harmful substances like potentially harmful microorganisms from entering the body (2 ).
The intestinal barrier function can be compromised in three areas, through our biological barrier made up of intestinal flora (the gut microbiota), the immune barrier comprised of gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), T cells, B cells, and other lymphoid cells; and the mechanical barrier of closely linked intestinal epithelial cells joined by tight junctions (2).
Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can occur if the gut microbiota is out of balance (dysbiotic), the mucus layer is altered, or if the epithelial cells and tight junctions are damaged. This can result in substances entering the body (bloodstream) that would normally have been prevented if the intestinal barrier was not compromised. For example, larger proteins from our food may get through inflamed cells tight junctions and lead to food intolerance or allergies as the body begins mounting a defense against what it considers to be a “foreign” substance. If this situation continues the individual with the damaged intestines may become “reactive” to more and more foods.
Many lifestyle and dietary factors can lead to intestinal permeability, such as the Standard American Diet that is largely comprised of calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient foods (1).
The first step to healing a leaky gut is to remove the factors that lead to the damage.
What we eat has been shown to play a large role in either damaging or healing the gut, and moving away from the Standard American Diet is a good first step toward healing a leaky gut.
You can read more about intestinal permeability and disease here.