The Gut’s Mucosal Lining & Leaky Gut
This is an excerpt from a longer article originally posted on 5/10/2015. For the full article, see INCREASED GUT PERMEABILITY – CAUSES & CONSEQUENCES.
Those of you who have been following this blog know I’m interested – for personal reasons and also just because it’s fascinating – in how the state of the probiotics in our gut microbiomes affects our health in general.
So this development is of great interest to me: A different kind of PREbiotic dietary supplement, Good Gut Daily, has recently entered the market. PREbiotics provide the nourishment for our PRObiotics. This kind is polyphenol-based and has been clinically shown to calm acute digestive symptoms in as little as 30 minutes and enhance immune health. For those of you who, like me, suffer from ongoing digestive health problems and haven’t found a satisfactory solution, the arrival of this new supplement is excellent news.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants – including fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, and wine.
I’ve written about Good Gut Daily in more depth in an earlier post but, in the interest of not overwhelming you with information, I thought it useful to do a preliminary post on some of the causes of increased intestinal leakiness so you can see how your GI problems originated and how poor gut health creates major health problems elsewhere in your body.
This post grew out of a phone and email conversations with molecular biologist Rob Wotring, the Founder and CEO at Greenteaspoon. Many thanks, Rob, for sharing some of your wealth of information on how the gut works. (Wotring, 2015).
DIGESTION – FROM MOUTH TO ANUS
The human digestive tract runs from the mouth at the top to the anus at the other end. Foreign matter (food) is taken in and partially broken down by chewing in the mouth. It then travels down through the esophagus to the stomach and from there into the small and large intestines, where it is selectively digested. During this trip, various phases of digestion take place and nutrients are extracted and absorbed. The liver, gall bladder and pancreas, organs that aid in the digestive process, are located along the length of the GI tract.
The total length of the GI tract varies from person to person. In an adult male the range is 20 to 40 feet. On average, the small intestine in adults is 22 feet long and the large intestine is 5 feet.
As you can intuit, a lot could go wrong during that long trip – and much of that depends on the quality of what you deliver to your mouth as ‘food’.
You can see the location of the mucosal layer (called ‘mucous coat’ in the diagram below) and the intestinal villi in this cross section of the human small intestine. The empty space in the center, just below the villi (the spikes you see in the image of a healthy mucosal membrane in the image to the left above), is called the lumen, the tube in which food travels through the intestines.
INCREASED GUT PERMEABILITY – AKA LEAKY GUT
Increased gut permeability – also known as hyper-permeable intestines or “leaky gut” – describes the intestinal lining’s having become more porous than it should be so the process of what is allowed out into the body no longer functions properly. Larger, undigested food molecules and other bad things (such as yeasts, toxins, and other forms of waste that normally would continue on and get excreted through the anus) flow freely through these too-large holes in the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream, where they don’t belong and are treated as dangerous invaders.
The gut’s mucosal layer is thin, delicate – and very important. This is where our probiotic bacteria live, so degrading it also degrades the strength of our immune systems. The probiotics residing in the gut mucosal layer make up 70-90% of the human immune system.
Damage to the gut’s mucosal layer leads to a whole range of serious problems as the body tries to cope with the invaders being released into the bloodstream. Once this lining has become disturbed, allowing problematic things to flow through it into the blood stream, a cycle of chronic irritation begins, leading to chronic inflammation in the body and a whole series of autoimmune conditions. For an easy to understand explanation of increased gut permeability, see Leaky Gut Syndrome in Plain English – and How to Fix It. (Reasoner, undated)
Symptoms associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome (Age Management & Hormone Balance Center, 2013)
Abdominal Pain (chronic)
Gluten Intolerance (celiac)
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
Poor Exercise Tolerance
Recurrent Vaginal Infections
Swollen Lymph Glands
Constant Hunger Pains
Shortness of Breath
Fears of unknown origin
Recurrent Bladder Infections
Recurrent Skin Rashes
Here’s a partial list of diseases and conditions associated with increased intestinal permeability (Galland, undated) (Age Management & Hormone Balance Center, 2013):