The digestive system is lined with a mucosal surface called Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). This surface provides a barrier between you and the external environment. The digestive system is designed to break foods down into small molecules to be absorbed through the GALT and the cells of the small intestine into the bloodstream. The cells of the small intestine form tight junctions amongst themselves so that larger molecules cannot pass through. “Leaky gut” is a term that describes a small intestine whose tight junctions have been compromised allowing larger molecules to pass through the gut into the bloodstream. The technical term for this is intestinal permeability. When this happens the immune system begins to recognize these larger particles in the bloodstream as foreign invaders and will begin to develop antibodies against them. This is how food sensitivities are born. Additionally, the normal bacteria in the gut can leak through this barrier and cause sensitivities to the lipopolysaccharides found in the cell membranes of these bacteria.
This should lead you to wonder how a gut becomes “leaky” in the first place. There are several different mechanisms that can lead to intestinal permeability including:
Bacterial infections (gram-negative)
Autoimmunity against signaling proteins in the tight junctions between gut cells (occluding/zonulin)
Autoimmunity against a component of the gut cells themselves (actomyosin)
The sensitization of the immune system resulting from the presence of these unwanted antigens in the blood causes systemic inflammation which often leads to Chronic Fatigue and depression. Those with a genetic predisposition toward autoimmunity are even more at risk, and should be tested regularly for intestinal barrier integrity.
The condition of your gut is of vital importance to your overall health and well-being. If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic fatigue, depression or multiple food sensitivities contact Integrated Health Systems to schedule a consult with one of our doctors to learn more about testing and treatment for intestinal permeability.