“Leaky Gut” is a condition that is increasingly in the headlines and, as research begins to accumulate, is becoming more understood in the medical and wellness communities. However, there are still many questions surrounding this condition and an abundance of incorrect or outdated information. Here are the basics that you need to know, so you can better understand this detrimental condition.
Understanding The Importance Of Your Gut Lining
To understand leaky gut, it is first important to understand the purpose and function of your intestinal mucosal barrier, commonly referred to as the gut lining. Your gut lining consists of a single layer of epithelial ('skin') cells, covered by protective layers of mucus. Its primary purpose is to act as a barrier between your gut and bloodstream, preventing harmful substances such as pro-inflammatory molecules and toxins from entering your body, while also facilitating the selective absorption of life sustaining nutrients and water.
What is Selective Permeability in the Gut?
Selective permeability is the term used to describe the process by which your gut lining can absorb life sustaining nutrients across the gut lining, while also maintaining a protective barrier against harmful molecules. This is achieved via two routes known as transcellular and paracellular transportation:
Transcellular transport – This involves the absorption of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids through enterocytes, a specialised form of epithelial cell found in the gut lining and designed primarily for nutrient absorption.
Paracellular transport – This involves the transport of substances such as ions, solutes and water across the gut lining barrier via the space in-between two adjacent epithelial cells. In order to create a continual gut lining, the single layer of epithelial cells are joined together by tight junctions. These tight junctions are like 'gates' that control the selective permeability of substances through this gap.
Defining Leaky Gut
So now armed with a better understanding of the gut lining and its functions we can appreciate that leaky gut is characterised by an increased permeability of your gut lining, typically caused by inflammation within the gut, and resulting in compromised tight junctions used in paracellular transport. This increased permeability can subsequently result in unwanted substances such as bacteria and food allergens leaking into the bloodstream, triggering a continual low level inflammatory immune response. This can have a negative effect on your health, even spreading to your brain, impacting cognitive and mental wellbeing.
A variety of conditions can lead to the compromise of your gut lining integrity and/or function, including imbalances within your gut microbiome (dysbiosis), poor nutrition, stress, illness, certain medications (antiobiotics) and lifestyle choices (smoking and alcohol/drug use).
Today there is a rapidly growing body of clinical research demonstrating how the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in supporting and protecting the gut lining. Skipping slightly ahead, modulating the gut microbiome through diet and supplementation can serve as a potential method for repairing a leaky gut and regulating intestinal permeability (see How to heal a Leaky Gut).
Medical Consequences of Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is typically recognised and diagnosed by its primary symptoms, which can include:
- Fluctuating appetite that differs from the norm or expectation, and that may be disruptive to your comfort or lifestyle
- Chronic diarrhoea, constipation, gas, bloating or gastrointestinal discomfort
- Chronic fatigue that goes beyond normal tiredness due to work, school or lifestyle
- Unexplained weight fluctuation that is not tied to diet or eating habits
- Non-dietary nutritional deficiencies, i.e. your diet contains suitable dietary nutrients but your body is having difficulty metabolising and using those nutrients
- Diminished immune health that manifests as stubborn colds and frequent illnesses, or illnesses that last longer than normal
- Chronic joint pain, including symptoms of arthritis
- Headaches, brain fog, memory loss and related neurological issues that can result in confusion, difficulty focusing or inability to concentrate
- Troubled skin with rashes, including eczema or rosacea
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn’s
The symptoms of leaky gut can obviously result in a large variety of complaints that impact your health and the ability to live your best life. Leaky gut can be particularly problematic for individuals with a genetic predisposition to the condition, as environmental factors may be allowed into the body that can trigger the initiation and development of autoimmune disease.
That’s why it’s important to recognise the signs of a leaky gut early, so you can act quickly to restore the integrity and healthy function of your gut lining.
If you think you have leaky gut, it’s not all bad news. The condition can be repaired through considered changes to diet, lifestyle and the use of specialty supplements like our Gut Repair™.
Click through to our article How to Heal a Leaky Gut to learn more about the solutions available to treat your leaky gut and live a healthier, more comfortable and more satisfying life.