The intestinal barrier is a crucial barrier against the external environment. Made up of a single layer of cells, the intestinal barrier is selectively permeable, allowing the absorption of nutrients, electrolytes and water, whilst making an effective defence against toxins, antigens and intestinal microflora. Below this physical barrier is the body’s second line of defence, the immune system, ready and waiting to act upon any unwanted or unrecognised molecules.
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability occurs when this barrier, the mucosal membrane, becomes compromised allowing potentially harmful molecules to enter the interstitial fluid and then into the bloodstream. This is the cue for various mechanisms of the immune system like leucocytes and macrophages, monocytes, and neutrophils to kick into action to stop any of this foreign matter entering the bloodstream. White blood cells that have quietly been mopping up unwanted material go into over-drive and call for help, stimulating an inflammatory response.
This single layer of cells, enterocytes are cemented together by tight junction proteins creating the intestinal barrier. It was recently discovered (Fasano 2000) that a human protein called Zonulin was responsible for regulating these tight junctions. Zonulin causes the ‘cement’ to give up its hold between cells resulting in the gut lining becoming loose as they separate. The intestinal lining becomes ‘permeable’. The mechanisms of Zonulin release is still being studied, suffice to say the wrong bacteria or a condition known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Over-growth (SIBO) and plant lectins, like Gluten (grains) and Candida over-growth (high sugar diet), have been identified as major triggers.
Normally bacteria in the gut play a crucial role in actively maintaining a healthy intestinal barrier but when their composition and their location in the gut goes wrong, the resulting damage can cause abdominal pain and bloating, flatulence, reflux, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea, inflammation and poor absorption of micronutrients. The immune response can become exaggerated and disordered. SIBO has been linked with autoimmune disorders like diabetes, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis and coeliac disease, obesity and many other conditions. This disturbed or damaged gut can result in food allergies and sensitivities, skin disorders such as acne and rosacea, and generalised inflammation. Mal-absorption of nutrients is likely to lead to deficiencies of iron, B12, calcium, zinc and fat-soluble vitamins A, D & E. These deficiencies result in fatigue, anaemia, weight loss, as well as mood and behavioural disorders like anxiety, depression and exaggerate conditions like ADHD and autism.
A combination of other things like the environmental toxins, chemicals like glyphosate, medications and alcohol, age, stress and lack of sleep can also lead to either Zonulin dysfunction and / or damage to the equilibrium of the microbiome. Either way the tight junctions give way and toxins or partially digested material is able to enter the bloodstream. The good news is, these enterocytes are renewing all the time and depending upon the level of damage, the lining of the gut will repair and re-new anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks. Consuming grains with gluten will lead to ‘leaky gut’ but depending upon the frequency, this sort of damage can repair in a relatively short time. However over time complications can arise and the damage may take longer to repair and if gluten and other lectins are consumed several times a day, seven days a week the gut is never given a chance to ‘heal’.
Come and talk to me about minimising damage to your gut, what it takes to eat heal and maintain a healthy gut lining, to calm your immune system and avoid autoimmune conditions developing. Most people don’t show any symptoms of chronic disease and inflammation until the damage is done, until a doctor diagnoses a condition. I see this inflammation in people all the time, dry flaky skin, rashes, acne, aching joints, flushed faces, bags under their eyes, fatigue and brain fog. The indicators are there. Don’t let disease develop. Change your diet.