Calum Gore is an expert in medical biochemistry and health, and the founder of biochemical diagnostic testing services company Gore BioScience. He is based in Leicester, Leicestershire.
The old adage states ‘you are what you eat’. In reality ‘you are what you absorb’. The efficiency of your digestive system dictates not only how much muscle you can build and how much fat you can burn, but more importantly the overall state of your health.
If it’s working well, then you’ll feel happy and healthy and get leaner and stronger. If it’s dramatically underperforming then you’ll know about it all day long. There are a variety of factors that lead to the complications associated with digestive disorders and can range from something easily treatable, such as following a poor diet, right up to a genetic disorder.
Guts and glory
Intestinal permeability relates to the gut wall in our bodies. It is perfectly normal to exhibit some permeability, where a certain amount of substance can pass through the gut wall. However, it is important to maintain a strong barrier so potentially harmful compounds are prevented from passing through the gut wall and into the bloodstream, where the immune system may attack them. Our intestinal barrier is not fully developed at birth, and won’t be until the age of two. This two-year time period is thought to be when food sensitivities develop, either because of exposure to common allergenic foods, such as cow’s milk, chicken, eggs and peanuts, or hereditary issues.
The most common reason is food insensitivity. A study of 60 people with food allergies reported that higher intestinal permeability markers were found after a dual-sugar permeability test in a fasting sample compared to a control sample, indicating a strong link between gut permeability and food sensitivity. Other factors can also affect the permeability of our gut wall, specifically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – such as aspirin and ibuprofen – antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents, estrogen, cocaine and amphetamines.
Increased permeability in the intestinal gut will allow larger proteins or polypeptide molecules from the food you eat across a leaky mucosal barrier where they can negatively interact with the gut-associated immune system and cause physical and psychological symptoms, including the following.
These can arise from an inappropriate immune response by the body against substances or compounds you consume. For example, when foods such as like casein and gluten break down in the digestive tract they form protein fragments that can be perceived as a threat by your immune system, which can create inflammation of the gut, and tissue damage and loss because the immune system attacks specific organs and tissues.
Celiac disease – one of the more common complaints – is a T-cell mediated autoimmune disease of the small intestine that is induced by ingestion of gluten proteins from wheat, barley or rye. Research found that the candida albicans yeast was a trigger for the onset of celiac disease.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a serious condition caused by a variety of reasons and is often misdiagnosed without finding the root cause. A possible connection can be food sensitivities. Research shows that patients with CFS have alterations in the microbial flora: 39 CFS sufferers received either a probiotic containing 24 billion colony-forming units of lactobacillus casei strain shirota (LCS) or a placebo daily for two months. Overall results showed that there was an improvement in the CFS patients when taking the probiotic, and positive health resulted with a rise in energy and a reduction in anxiety.
It therefore appears that food sensitivity that elevates permeability in the intestinal gut can increase the symptoms of chronic fatigue. Research concluded that all CFS sufferers should check for food sensitivity, having reported increased gut intestinal permeability in CFS patients.
Obesity is a serious health condition that is very commonly linked with fat and sugar intake. When we look closer and take into account intestinal permeability, it becomes much more complex than that.
Research suggests that obesity-associated non-alcoholic liver disease is linked to changes in intestinal permeability and translocation of bacterial products to the liver.
Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestines is also responsible for endotoxemia (the presence of endotoxins in the blood) which causes severe inflammation and its consequences include obesity9.
In animal models of obesity and type 2 diabetes, permeability of the intestine is increased because of impairment of tight junction proteins allowing translocation of bacterial endotoxin and resulting in low-grade systemic inflammation.
Human studies examining intestinal permeability using chromium urinary recovery in 12 well-controlled males proved that intestinal permeability was significantly increased in the diabetic group and was correlated to levels of systemic inflammatory markers. It concluded that intestinal permeability may be a feature of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Intestinal permeability has a big impact on the way we look and feel. There are a number of conditions and autoimmune diseases that contribute to food sensitivity such as celiac disease, chronic fatigue and obesity, while certain drugs that can lead to intestinal permeability and result in food sensitivity. You should always be aware of the suggested dose with drugs and know the possible side effects.
Taking all this into account, testing food sensitivities for body composition or health benefits has become ever more important to ensure optimal health and function.
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4 Cappell and Simon (1993)
5 Nieuwenhuizen, W, F. Pieters,R, H. Knippers, L, M. Jansen, M, C. Koppelman, S, J (2003) Is candida albicans a trigger in the onset of coeliac disease. Lancet. 361 (9375), 2152-2154
6 Rao et al (2009)
7 Mases, M. Mihaylova, I.Leunis, J, C (2005) Increased serum IgA and IgM against LPS of enterobacteria in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): Indication for the involvement of gram-negative enterobacteria in the etiology of CFS and for the presence of an increased gut intestinal permeability. Journal of Affective disorders. 99 (1), 237-240
8 Ritze, Y. Bardos, G. Claus, A. Ehramann, V. Bergheim, I. Schwiertz, A. Bischoff, S, C (2014) Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG protects against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in mice. PLoS One. 9 (1)
9 Duseja, A. Chawla, Y, K (2013) Obesity and NAFLD: the role of bacteria and microbiota. Clinics in Liver Disease. 18 (1), 59-71
10 Horton, F. Wright, J. Smith, L. Hinton, P, J. Robertson, M, D (2013) Diabetic medicine. A Journal of the British Diabetic Association. 10