Our digestive tract is one of the primary places where our bodies interact with the ‘outside’ world. The lining of the small intestine acts as an important barrier, letting nutrients in and preventing bacteria, viruses, toxins, and other unwelcome substances from entering the body. In the process of digestion, we absorb nutrients from food while eliminating various toxins and other by-products produced in the digestion process.
A special layer of cells line the small intestine and are responsible for absorbing nutrients and protecting the body from harmful substances. Between each cell is a space called a “tight junction.” The health of the cells that line the small intestine, and the health of these tight junctions, are key to what is absorbed in the digestive tract and what is not.
What Is Intestinal Permeability?
Intestinal permeability is defined as how porous or leaky the small intestine lining is.A leaky lining occurs when the protective barrier of cells are damaged and are no longer tightly connected. While some intestinal permeability is normal, increased intestinal permeability (also referred to as a “leaky gut”) allows harmful substances, and partially digested food, to enter the bloodstream at higher levels than our bodies can often manage. Intestinal permeability can reduce the absorption of essential nutrients important for health. When this occurs, the immune system can become activated and lead to inflammation, food reactions, and the increased likelihood of a variety of diseases. Some studies show that increased intestinal permeability may be an underlying cause of migraines, depression, and even various autoimmune diseases, such as Celiac disease and rheumatoid
What Causes Increased Intestinal Permeability?
There are many possible causes of increased intestinal permeability.Viral and bacterial infections, antibiotics and other medications, toxins, stress, inflammation, food intolerances, and imbalances in gut bacteria all have been suggested as causes. There are a variety of ways to address this, with dietary and other lifestyle changes as well as specific nutritional supplements as a recommended first line of defense to re-establish your intestinal barrier’s protective function.
What's the Connection Between Intestinal Permeability and Food Sensitivities?
Food sensitivities can cause reactions that are delayed by hours or even days which make them very difficult to pinpoint. These food reactions are usually caused by an imbalance in the gastrointestinal system that is affecting the immune system. One such imbalance is intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut syndrome.” Symptoms of food sensitivities differ from person to person, and can depend on the type of food eaten and quantity of exposure. Symptoms extend well beyond the digestive tract, and include: headaches, dizziness, unintentional weight loss or gain, dark under-eye circles, asthma, irritable bowels, bloating, muscle or joint pain, and skin hives to name a few.
Common sources of food sensitivities are cow’s milk (and dairy products), eggs, gluten (from wheat, rye, spelt, and barley), soy, shellfish, and tree nuts.
What's the Gold Standard for Identifying Food Sensitivities?
An elimination diet is acknowledged in the medical community as the gold standard for addressing food sensitivities. However, it is meant to be a SHORT TERM nutrition plan to help you find relief from a variety of symptoms.
A comprehensive elimination diet removes common food triggers; such as, gluten, dairy, corn, and corn for a trial of 4 -6 weeks to calm down the immune system. After several weeks, a reintroduction period begins that helps you identify specific foods that may be causing ongoing symptoms.
Where Do I Begin if I Believe I Have Food Sensitivities?
If I had the option, I would start every client with suspected food sensitivities on a comprehensive stool analysis called a GI Map test. This allows us to look at the health of the microbiome, intestinal health markers, and even intestinal permeability (which as you read above is a huge driver of food sensitivities). Not only is this a cost effective option compared to food sensitivity tests, it also enables our clients to reach their goals faster.
Before you start eliminating all of your favorite foods as you set out on a mission to feel better, find a professional that can guide you while allowing you to hit your nutrient goals without feeling deprived. Elimination diets are not only an arduous task, they can be dangerous for anyone who has struggled with food restriction in the past.
If you are interested in learning more about how to improve your digestion and overall health, schedule a free discovery call with us here today.
In good health,
Kristie Butler, RD