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Reversing Intestinal Permeability or Leaky Gut

Intestinal Permeability Leaky Gut  - Can it be reversed?

Leaky gut has gained quite a bit of attention lately. Leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability, is a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are able to pass through the intestinal wall.

There is a mounting amount of scientific evidence that leaky gut does exist and may be associated with multiple health problems.

The Digestive tract

The digestive tract is where food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed. The walls of the intestines act as barriers, controlling what enters the bloodstream and what does not. Intestinal permeability refers to how easily substances pass through the intestinal wall. The Intestinal wall has tight junctions that control what passes through into the bloodstream such as water and nutrients.

Intestinal Permeability – Leaky Gut

When the tight junctions of the intestinal wall become loose, the gut becomes more permeable, which may allow bacteria and toxins to pass into the bloodstream. This loss of intestinal barrier function is referred to as leaky gut. Leaky gut is associated with inflammation and may affect the immune system. (1 )

Leaky gut  exists in certain  chronic diseases and may be the underlying cause of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and other autoimmune disease, food sensitivities and autism. (2) ( 3 ) (4 ) and suggests that the autoimmune process can be arrested if the interplay between genes and environmental triggers is prevented by re-establishing intestinal barrier competency.  (5) 

A protein called zonulin is the only known physiological modulator of intercellular tight junctions. When it's activated in genetically susceptible people, it can lead to leaky gut.  (6) (7) (8) (9)

Zonulin release is triggered by bacteria in the intestines and gluten. (10) (11)

Other factors that could contribute to leaky gut include an unhealthy diet high in sugar (12), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (13, nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc have each been implicated in increased intestinal permeability (14) (15) stress and chronic inflammation (16) (17) (18), dysbiosis and yeast overgrowth (19)  (20).

Leaky Gut and Chronic Disease

Studies have connected increased intestinal permeability with multiple chronic diseases.

Celiac Disease, Crohn's Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Celiac Disease, Crohn's Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome all are associated with increased intestinal permeability. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease with a severe sensitivity to gluten. Studies have found that intestinal permeability is higher in patients with celiac disease. On the other hand, a study found that intestinal permeability in people with celiac disease returned to normal in 87% of people who followed a gluten-free diet for over a year. A  gluten-free diet is the standard treatment for celiac disease. This suggests that the abnormal intestinal permeability may be a response to gluten ingestion, rather than the cause of celiac disease.

Crohn's is a chronic digestive disorder characterized by persistent inflammation of the intestinal tract (21)  (22) (23) (24) (25)

IBS is a digestive disorder characterized by both diarrhea and constipation. One study found that increased intestinal permeability is particularly prevalent in those with diarrhea-predominant IBS (26) (27) (28).


Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.There is some evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a role in the development of type 1 diabetes (29) (30). It has been suggested that the immune reaction responsible for beta cell destruction may be triggered by foreign substances "leaking" through the gut (31) (32). One study found that 42% of individuals with type 1 diabetes had significantly elevated zonulin levels. Zonulin is a known moderator of intestinal permeability (32).

Food Allergies

A few studies have shown that individuals with food allergies often have impaired intestinal barrier function (33) (34). A leaky gut may allow food proteins to cross the intestinal barrier, stimulating an immune response. An immune response to a food protein, which is known as an antigen, is the definition of a food allergy (35).

Improving Your Gut Health

To decrease your risk of leaky gut syndrome, focus on improving your gut health by eating a healthy diet (36) and increasing the number of beneficial bacteria.

Other steps to improve gut health is to limit refined carbohydrates as this ca increase the bad bacteria in the gut as well as interrupt gut barrier function (37) (38) (39). Using a good probiotic and including fermented food in the diet such as plain yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso and kombucha. (40) (41) (42). Increase consumption of highfibre foods such as fruits and vegetables as they are prebiotic and feed the good bacteria in the gut. Consume Glutamine rich foods such as bone broth as this help heal barrier function.