“Gut permeability,” “intestinal permeability,” and “leaky gut” are some of the most talked about topics in the functional medical world.
Within the past decade, these conditions have gained momentum, especially among alternative medicine enthusiasts. Recent research shows that gut permeability causes other health issues if left untreated. However, conventional medical practitioners fail to recognize an increase in gut permeability as a medical condition.
So, what exactly is gut permeability, and how do you prevent it?
What Exactly Is Gut Permeability?
The digestive system consists of organs that break down and absorb nutrients in the body. They also protect the body from harmful substances, thanks to the intestinal walls.
Gut permeability describes a carefully regulated function in the gastrointestinal tract that facilitates the absorption of nutrients, water, and electrolytes and acts a barrier against the movement of toxins and other harmful substances—like foreign antigens and microorganisms—from the intestine into the bloodstream.
Gut permeability is a normal function in a healthy human body. But when there is an increase in permeability, there will be a hyper-permeability in the gut—this becomes a health issue.
How to Prevent Increased Gut Permeability
Before we talk about prevention, it’s ideal that we first answer the question: what is the cause of increased intestinal permeability, or the opening of tight intercellular junctions?
Research proves that the activation of a protein called zonulin in genetically susceptible people can lead to intestinal hyperpermeability. The release of zonulin is triggered by gluten, a protein found in some grains. Some bacterial species also induce the expression of zonulin in the intestines. The long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and antibiotics (NSAIDs) has been shown to damage the gut lining and lead to inflammation of the gut.
To prevent increased gut permeability, you should eat unprocessed, nutritious foods and avoid foods that trigger inflammation in the intestine.
Food allergies and sensitivities can cause increased gut permeability. Doctors typically advise their patients who have increased intestinal permeability to eliminate foods that either inflame the gut or promote changes in gut flora.
People who are allergic to gluten, soy, and dairy should avoid foods containing these ingredients because their bodies may treat these allergens as foreign invaders, triggering an immune response like diarrhea, headaches, and joint pain.
Consumption of healthy fats like fish, coconut and olive oil, and probiotics to restore healthy bacteria in the gut is a good idea.
The quality and variety of vitamins, herbs, and nutrients included in the hundreds of men’s multivitamin options available today is staggering. A multivitamin created to support heart health many include glutathione and amino acids like methionine to help with homocysteine levels.
A men’s multivitamin for prostate health support could have pygeum, nettles, or saw palmetto included among other common vitamins to support overall health. Certain gummy vitamin manufacturers even include essential fatty acids to help with the texture of the vitamin. All these options make it difficult to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for the best multivitamin for men. So, it’s a good thing that there are various types of multivitamins on the market.
For men over the age of 40, supporting prostate health is a common priority. A multi-vitamin that includes selenium, copper, and zinc will help support the prostate gland and fertility in general. Lycopene, the carotenoid that comes from tomatoes, is an important antioxidant that’s good for the bladder and prostate.
Studies show that excessive alcohol intake is connected to the destabilization of tight intercellular junctions of enterocytes, which results in the influx of harmful substances into the bloodstream. Long-term chronic use of alcohol also increases zonulin in the intestines of healthy individuals.
Diagnosis of Increased Gut Permeability
Can gut permeability be diagnosed or tested in an individual?
Although increased gut permeability is not typically diagnosed, many tests can measure the health of a human gut. These tests include gastro-intestinal testing (GI testing), the zonulin test (measuring the amount of zonulin in the gut), and a urine test called the lactulose mannitol test.
Some gut permeability is normal, but increases in gut permeability levels can cause many health problems. Once you recognize the symptoms, be sure to consult with an integrative health practitioner so that you can take steps to get your gut back to normal levels of permeability.
Dr. AnnAlisa Behling is a licensed and accredited Naturopathic Medical Doctor practicing general family medicine, specializing in natural and complementary medicine with a focus on women’s health and Laser Medicine. She received her BA from Duke University and her Doctorate from National College (NCNM) in Portland, OR. Dr. Behling has been in private practice for 14 years and dedicates her practice to treating each person as an individual considering all the aspects essential to recovery and prevention of disease.
¹"Effects of Ethanol and Acetaldehyde on Tight Junction Integrity - NCBI." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3339854/. Accessed 6 May. 2019.