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Guest blog post by Vital Food Therapeutics Intern, Brooke Hopfauf.

The intestinal lining acts as a first line of defense for our immune system. The function of the intestinal barrier is to regulate the absorption of nutrients, electrolytes, water, as well as preventing pathogenic or toxic substances from entering circulation. 1

Tight junctions hold the cells that line our intestines closely together. Normally, these tight junctions stay closed and open selectively. This forces everything to be screened before being absorbed; they act as the “gate keeper”. 1

If these junctions become damaged, they are unable to stay tightly closed, become more permeable, and the regulation of molecules entering our blood stream is decreased. 1

Leaky Gut: 6 Causes

  1. Diet – Diets high in refined sugar and processed foods can contribute to inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can damage the intestinal barrier, change our microbiome, and increase intestinal permeability.
  2. Stress – Chronic stress not only creates inflammation but also impairs our immune system. With decreased immune function and added inflammation, intestinal integrity can be greatly comprised.
  3. Celiac Disease – Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition where the microvilli (hair-like projections at the surface of cells in our intestines) are damaged,creating a compromised intestinal barrier. When this happens, nutrient deficiencies from malabsorption may become a serious issue.
  4. Food Aversions – Consuming known allergens or food sensitivities triggers an immune response, which creates inflammation and thus, added irritation and damage to the intestinal barrier.
  5. SIBO – Small intestine bacterial overgrowth causes a microflora imbalance, which in itself can shift the integrity of the intestinal barrier. This change and overgrowth in bacteria also creates added inflammation.
  6. Low stomach acid – Acid is responsible for digesting food as well as killing harmful pathogens. Insufficient stomach acid leads to undigested food particles, which causes irritation, malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, and infections.

Leaky Gut: 4 Ways to Heal

 

Remove

Remove stressors and aggravators that may be contributing to leaky gut.

  • This includes excess stress, refined sugar, highly processed foods, and any known food allergen or sensitivities.

Replace

Replace the diet with healing foods.

  • Bone broth contains important amino acids to support healing the gut and decreasing inflammation
  • Coconut oil has medium chain triglycerides, which make it easier to absorb than many other fats. This is beneficial for individuals with malabsorption.
  • Grass-fed ghee is a clarified butter with the lactose, casein, and whey removed. Great alternative to limit inflammation for individuals with a dairy intolerance.

Repair

Repair the gut lining using supplements that promote healing.

  • Glutamine is an amino acid than reduces permeability and inflammation while increasing intestinal barrier function. 2
  • Digestive enzymes, apple cider vinegar, & bitters all help to ensure food is being completely digested. This can decrease inflammation and prevent food particles from entering the blood stream and causing an immune response.

Repopulate

Repopulate the gut microbiome with pro and prebiotics.

  • Probiotics can benefit the intestinal barrier function, decrease inflammation, and modulate the immune system.
  • Great sources include fermented foods and cultured dairy products.
  • Prebiotics are non-digestible components of food, which stimulate growth and activity of microflora. 3 * Individuals with SIBO should introduce prebiotics slowly to assess their tolerance.
  • Great sources include chia seeds, green bananas, and fiber supplements.

 


  1. Kelly JR, Kennedy PJ, Cryan JF, Dinan TG, Clarke G, Hyland NP. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015;9. doi:10.3389/fncel.2015.00392.
  2. Rapin JR, Wiernsperger N. Possible Links between Intestinal Permeablity and Food Processing: A Potential Therapeutic Niche for Glutamine. Clinics. 2010;65(6):635-643. doi:10.1590/S1807-59322010000600012.
  3. Stewart AS, Pratt-Phillips S, Gonzalez LM. Alterations in Intestinal Permeability: The Role of the “Leaky Gut” in Health and Disease. J Equine Vet Sci. 2017;52:10-22. doi:10.1016/j.jevs.2017.02.009.