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What Is Intestinal Hyperpermeability (aka Leaky Gut)?

One way your gut protects itself and your other biological systems is by regulating its intestinal permeability -- the potential for materials to travel from your GI tract to the rest of your body.

In its ideal state, this natural regulation is essential to your general wellbeing. It allows enough space for the optimal flow of nutrients from your gut to other organs and sufficiently barricades harmful substances from escaping through your intestinal lining. With consistent support from you and your healthy lifestyle, it promotes a healthy and stable microbial balance.

Unfortunately, however, your gut can also lose control of this ideal flow and put you at risk through intestinal hyperpermeability, aka “leaky gut” syndrome.

When the tight junctions between the cells of your intestinal lining increase, your body endures a sharp and often immediate influx in toxic, harmful substances passing through your intestinal lining into pivotal biological systems. This potentially disastrous form of permeability not only risks your intestinal wellbeing but your general health as well. Put simply, you want to avoid it by any means possible.

So, what causes this unfortunate condition and how can you help prevent it?

For these answers and more research-driven insight on protecting your gut lining, read on for our Living Proof Guide to Intestinal Hyperpermeability:

Primary Causes of Intestinal Hyperpermeability

There are two major causes of a leaky gut: chronic health conditions and harmful lifestyle factors.

Let’s break down both to help you identify any predisposition(s) you may have for this intestinal condition and what aspects of your daily life can also contribute to it:

Chronic Health Conditions

Chronic health conditions are long-lasting diseases that often require consistent medical attention from both the sufferer and their doctor(s).

These diseases vary widely in name, origin and severity, but they are typically an undesirable and regular aspect of the afflicted person’s daily life.

When it comes to intestinal hyperpermeability, there are two broad categories of chronic health conditions that can contribute to or worsen this unfortunate intestinal affliction:

Inflammatory Diseases

Inflammatory diseases occur when your immune system malfunctions and harms your body’s healthy tissues by excessively inflaming them through an overactive immune response.

This undesirable biological occurrence can damage many parts of your body, including your intestinal system, which is especially sensitive to inflammation. Chronic inflammation can cause severe distress (cramping, bloating, diarrhea and the like) and contribute to hyperpermeability of the gut lining.

Examples of common inflammatory diseases that can raise the risk of a leaky gut include:

  • Celiac Disease
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Ulcerative Colitis (UC)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
  • Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver
  • Liver Cirrhosis

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system attacks and even destroys healthy cells instead of supporting them.

While even experts aren’t sure of the exact cause of this type of disease, research clearly shows the consequences of autoimmune malfunction can be dire for many of your biological systems - - including your GI tract.

Examples of autoimmune diseases that can raise the risk of a leaky gut include:

  • Lupus
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Dietary and Lifestyle Contributors

In addition to chronic health conditions, a poor diet and other aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle can directly contribute to increased intestinal permeability.

While essential habits like adequate sleep and regular exercise certainly influence your gut health (as we will discuss later), the leading lifestyle factors contributing to a leaky gut are a lack of essential vitamins/minerals and the overconsumption of harmful substances through foods, drinks and even medications.

Specific examples of dietary and lifestyle factors that can raise the risk of a leaky gut include:

  • Excess Consumption of Refined Carbs
  • Excess Consumption of Sugar
  • Excess Consumption of Pro-Inflammatory Fats
  • Excess Consumption of Alcohol
  • Low-Fiber Diets
  • Zinc Deficiency
  • High Levels of Stress
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Taking Care of Your Gut

If you want to best protect yourself against the unfortunate woes of intestinal hyperpermeability, you need to take consistent and proper care of your gut.

While there is no magic pill, diet or workout routine that can reverse prior damage to your GI tract and the systems it supports, there are several simple, affordable and effective ways to give your gut the support it needs:

Eat A Nutritious Diet

Proper nutrition is vital to your body’s ability to defend itself from harm and carry out each of its many essential functions - - including the regulation of your gut permeability.

When you support your gut with a meal plan high in fiber-rich fruits and veggies, essential nutrients and antioxidants and low in refined carbs, sugars and inflammatory fats (processed vegetable oils, hydrogenated & trans fats) your gut and microbiome (your natural population of beneficial microorganisms) have the essential fuel they need to thrive.

If you’ve long put off the transition from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one, there is never a wrong time to make the switch. We promise it can be more enjoyable and rewarding than you may even realize.

Plus, if you are stumped on where to start, we offer several blog posts on nutrition-related topics like Eating the Rainbow, Feeding your Immune System and The Benefits of Eating Seasonally to demystify gut-boosting healthy diets that can help you look, feel and perform your best.

Consume Probiotics and Prebiotics

In the pursuit of a healthy gut, prebiotics and probiotics are a superhero team on par with the Avengers or the Justice League.

Probiotics are beneficial, living microorganisms that populate your gut and provide support throughout your body, and prebiotics are the plant fibers that give probiotics the fuel they need to flourish and repopulate.

Together, they increase and strengthen the population of crucial bacteria and yeasts in your microbiome and can minimize the presence and destructiveness of harmful bacteria in your intestines.

These efforts can have remarkably positive effects on many aspects of your physical, mental and emotional health, not the least of which is a healthy permeability in your gut. 

Delicious and healthy sources of probiotics include:

  • Yogurt
  • Fermented Foods (Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Apple cider vinegar)
  • Pickles
  • Kombucha

Delicious and healthy sources of prebiotics include:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Bananas 
  • Beans & Legumes

Sleep, Exercise and Manage Stress

Finally, we also want to discuss the impacts of sleep, exercise and stress on the prosperity of your gut and microbiome.

As it does for all parts of the body, sleep provides essential support to your gut and the many vital microorganisms that call it home. If you can consistently get quality hours of nightly sleep (ideally 7-8 hrs for most), your GI tract can have the fuel and tools it needs to fight off inflammation and maintain proper permeability.

Similarly, in tandem with a healthy diet, regular exercise has also been shown to boost gut flora, meaning that it can help your microbiome better regulate your intestinal function.

Last but not least, healthy stress levels are also crucial to a thriving gut.

Why?

Because stress - - even over a short period - - can seriously damage healthy microorganisms, reducing their ability to perform their necessary functions (like regulating your gut’s permeability).

So, next time you feel like beating yourself up over a mistake or overanalyzing a bad day, try your best to take it easy.

Opt for meditation, a long walk or whatever naturally calms you down. Your gut will thank you for it. 
For any questions about nutrition, self-care or other healthy living protocols, feel free to contact us at any time.

About the Author: Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee is a New York State Certified Dietician-Nutritionist, who has been counseling individuals on sustainable weight management and disease prevention for over 20 years. Her mission is to empower individuals to obtain healthy food relationships and to clearly understand the concept of food as medicine. Lisa chose to create a functional nutrition practice where what, why and how we eat are all part of the conversation. There is no One-Size-Fits-All dietary approach, but Ms Jubilee has experienced great success utilizing specific dietary protocols such as intermittent fasting, time restricted eating, low carb/ketogenic dietary regimens and AIP (autoimmune protocol) in her practice.

In 2005, Lisa co-created Living Proof Nutrition Strength Pilates, a private nutrition, HIST (high intensity strength training) and Pilates studio, located in midtown Manhattan. The inspiration behind Living Proof was to create a private fitness and wellness space, where the importance of nutrition and functional movement are emphasized in tandem.

As of March 2020, in order to continue to service her clients and the public at large during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Jubilee is offering all of her nutrition counseling and support services remotely. Feel free to contact Lisa with any questions: Lisa@livingproofnyc.com