We will consume between 3 and 7 tonnes of food and drink in our lifetimes, all of which has to be broken down and then the appropriate nutrients absorbed across the gut barrier, before it can be utilised by the body. The gut barrier of the small intestine, is the size of a tennis court and is made up of a single layer of cells that not only regulate the flow of nutrients and water into the body, but also play a central role in how our immune system responds to the significant amount of dietary proteins and microbes that are ingested on a daily basis.
Nothing put into the digestive system is technically speaking inside the body until it has been absorbed across the gut barrier. It is the gut barrier that decides what to both let in and keep out of systemic circulation.
Research shows that the integrity of the gut barrier is fundamental to health and well-being. If the gut barrier is compromised, by ‘leaking’ between and/or through the cells (para and/or trans cellular hyperpermeability), unwanted substances might permeate through the gut barrier and provoke unwanted immune responses – fuelling chronic inflammation. As we have discussed many times before, chronic inflammation is the route cause of all chronic disease and is a recognised key factor in the development of autoimmunity.
Some of the conditions directly associated with ‘leaky gut’ include: coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, spondylitis, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, eczema, Crohn’s disease, colitis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.
Leakiness between the cells of the gut barrier is controlled dynamically by a protein called zonulin. The higher the levels of zonulin, the greater the leakiness between the cells. The zonulin pathway is initiated by either the presence of pathogenic bacteria and/or gluten in the gut (which gives you a clue as to how the body treats gluten!).
Dysbiosis (imbalances in the micro ecology of the gut) and leaky gut will typically co exist. The presence of either or both of these conditions will drive a state of chronic inflammation. Fortunately you can repair ‘leaky gut’ and rebalance the micro ecology of the gut, regaining control of health and well-being.