Leaky gut is the phenomenon by which the lining of the intestine becomes damaged, leading to increased intestinal permeability. The intestinal lining is one of the immune system’s major lines of defense against infections, toxins, and other threats that are introduced into the body through food and drink. Normally, the intestinal epithelial cells sit together closely and are joined by tight junctions that form a barrier to prevent unwanted substances from passing through into the bloodstream. The intestinal barrier can become damaged from a variety of factors, including:
- A poor diet, such as the standard American diet that is high in processed carbohydrates, excess sugar, and hydrogenated oils
- Food sensitivities
- Certain gut-irritating foods, such as grains, legumes, dairy, and alcohol
- Chronic stress
- Hormonal imbalances
- Certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,antibiotics, steroids, hormonal contraceptives, and chemotherapy drugs
- Chronic endurance exercise and overtraining
- Environmental toxins
- Infections and parasites
- Imbalance of the gut flora.
When the lining of the intestine is damaged, the junctions between the cells are widened and begin to allow substances into the bloodstream that usually would not be permitted to pass through the barrier. These substances include undigested food particles, toxins, microbes, waste, and larger-than-normal macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats). When these substances pass directly into the bloodstream, it provokes an immune response that can lead to food sensitivities, systemic inflammation, autoimmunity, and a variety of diseases. Conventional medicine recognizes that increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) exists, but it does not recognize the role that it plays in overall health and the development of disease.