Intestinal Permeability

Many of us think that once our food or drink enters our mouth it is “inside” our body. However this is not actually the case, until it is absorbed through the epithelial lining (See image below) of the small intestine and into circulation.

As already described, many processes have to be working in tandem before this happens, but it is not just the task of absorption that epithelial tissue performs. Epithelial tissue (image below shows simple columnar type as found in small intestine) forms an essential barrier interface with the environment, and is a highly complex and adaptive system, able to respond to changes in the environment, regulating metabolism, immunity, digestion, absorption, nervous and endocrine function, and detoxification.

Disruption to the lining of the intestine can lead to both local dysfunction (e.g. IBD, IBS) as well as systemic (whole body) effects as seen in autoimmune conditions, allergies, nervous system disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety) and major chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease. This makes the cells that comprise the intestinal lining of great importance, and a significant gatekeeper of our continued good health.

These cells are also extremely vulnerable to dysfunction, as they are constantly in a state of flux, being completely re-modelled over a period of about 5 days. They are also reliant upon many nutrients as building blocks during this constant remodelling process, especially the essential fats, vitamin A, zinc, and vitamin D.

There is also the need for optimal protein digestion, to ensure the availability of growth factor proteins, which are vital for epithelial tissue repair. This further underlines why ensuring quality HCL production in the stomach, is so very important.

Certain all to common dietary & lifestyle factors can cause the epithelial barrier to decline in both function and integrity, which has become known as intestinal permeability or leaky gut, which may be a primary mediator in many of the chronic health conditions facing the UK and Western society as a whole.

The following dietary and lifestyle factors may cause the epithelial barrier to lose its integrity and optimum function, or in other words allow intestinal permeability to develop:

  • Long term stress
  • Dysfunctional or insufficient sleep
  • Both lack of and excessive exercise
  • UK/Western diet
  • Certain long term medications
  • Toxin exposure

So in our future blog topics we will try to explain how each of these specific dietary & lifestyle factors, can cause dysfunction to the integrity of the epithelial tissue and the digestive environment as a whole, starting with the detrimental affects of long term stress.

Next Post: Detrimental Effects of Long Term Stress

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