Gut Permeability or Leaky Gut

Gut permeability, commonly known as leaky gut, occurs when the spaces between the cells in our gut become weakened allowing larger particles of food to pass through. These spaces or tight junctions are designed to allow minute particles of digested food through to nourish our bodies however when they become weakened our immune system on detecting larger particles of food sets up an immune reaction that results in us having symptoms.

Symptoms associated with certain foods can range from hayfever, itching, digestive issues of all sorts, headache and even autoimmune disease.

Food sensitivities have become a modern phenomenon. People wonder (and rightly so) how come so many people complain about such things now when it was not such an issue years ago.

Over the years our bodies are bombarded with processed foods, alcohol, chemicals in our environment and heavy metals, medication both prescription and over the counter. All of these factors add up and can weaken the gut wall.

An intact gut is there to protect us from the environment - when it is weakened it is a recipe for chronic long term disease.

According to Allesio Fasano three things are needed for autoimmunity to occur:
Genes, environmental trigger and gut permeability

The trigger in CD is gluten which causes gut permeability. This means that even if you follow a gluten free diet, after diagnosis many people still do not feel 100% better because they have not addressed the healing of the gut.

This does not only apply to gluten, the constant bombardment of the modern western diet on our gut wall, chemicals in our food and GMO eventually leads to what we call the loss of oral tolerance (see the gluten summit).  Our immune system is called into action so much due to the presence of what it considers to be invaders in our bodies, that it becomes hypervigilant and may eventually begin to attack self tissue. The amino acid sequence of certain foods can be very similar to the amino acid sequence of some of the tissue in our body hence confusing our immune system. When our immune system is called into action to attack these so called invaders it recognises the amino acid sequence in our tissue as foreign and also attacks it.

Attacking of self tissue is the begining of autoimmune disease
Between 70% and 80% of our immune system is contained in our gut

Alessio Fasano, a leading paediatric gastroenterogist in Boston has researched extensively and written many papers on CD and Gluten Sensitivity including research on a protein called Zonulin in our gut responsible for opening and closing the cells in our gut to allow properly digested food through to nourish our bodies. However when this protein is upregulated and too much is produced it can cause the cells in the gut to remain open therefore allowing larger particles of food to enter, flaring up an immune response.

Alessio Fasano has many youtube videos showing his lectures on this interesting subject.

Undigested food particles entering our bloodstream may cause an inflammatory response. This response is the immune system reacting to what it considers to be foreign invaders. Inflammation is the root cause of many diseases.


Dysbiosis refers to our unbalanced gut bacteria. Good gut bacteria is essential for our overall health. Again the majority of our immune system is contained in our gut up to 80%. Our bacteria is also responsible for making vitamins, hormones including seratonin, short-chain fatty acids and for keeping our bad bacteria in check. The gut is now known as the second brain due to the fact that most of our seratonin is made in the gut. The gut brain connection is becoming a very important subject for research.

Overuse of antibiotics is a major cause of dysbiosis. Antibiotics are great in their place and we cannot do without them but overuse causes not only the targeted bacteria to be eradicated but also our very valuable good bacteria that keeps us healthy. Research is also ongoing in this area and many studies have been published.

When we have a leaky gut endotoxins from bad bacteria can also enter our blood-stream. These are called Lipopolysaccarides and depending on the quantity may also make us ill. Lipopolysaccarides can also contribute to a leaky gut. Increased inflammation in the gut also contributes to gut dysbiosis as does stress levels. Different strains of bacteria have been implicated in the pathogenesis of numerous diseases.  It is important to try to bring our gut bacteria back into balance as much as possible.  Research is taking place constantly on the subject of gut bacteria and its importance in everyday life.

No Processed Foods

One way to promote a healthy gut is to enjoy a diet devoid of processed foods as much as possible, introduce fermented foods such as saurkraut, kefir or tempeh. Fermented vegetables have always been part of a normal diet in Eastern Europe and this practice is becoming ever more popular here in Ireland. Buying or making saurkraut yourself is quite easy.

Prebiotics to feed our gut bacteria are equally important e.g. onions, garlic, artichoke, bananas, berries, oatmeal, leeks, leafy greens and fibre from whole grains.

The ever increasing amounts of sugar in our diet including hidden sugars is also encouraging our bad bacteria to get out of control, and one condition is over-growth of yeast in our gut which can lead to candida if left to get out of control. Always consume sensible levels of alcohol and avoid smoking.

Eating a gluten or wheat free diet is not for everyone but it is necessary for those with gluten or wheat issues. There are an abundance of products in the shops now that are labelled gluten free. Most of these products are heavily processed. It is not necessary to consume these products all of the time, however they are good in thieri place. Everyone and not just coeliacs and gluten sensitive individuals should be consuming as natural and real a diet as possible. This is the best way to help keep us free from chronic disease and off medication for as long as possible. 

According to Dr Tom O'Bryan "A Gluten Free diet is not bad for you, a bad Gluten Free diet is bad for you".

References: 2016
Pizzorno J, Murray M. Text book of Natural Medicine. 4th ed;2013