Maybe you’ve heard of the term leaky gut or intestinal permeability but not sure what they’re talking about? A leaky gut is a digestive condition that affects the lining of the intestines. In leaky gut syndrome, gaps in the intestinal walls allow bacteria and other toxins to pass into the bloodstream. What causes these gaps to break or separate?

We’re going to take a look at the term leaky gut from a very simplistic approach in order to better understand some of the causes and some options to consider if you’re suffering from this condition. Dr. John Thomas explains that one of the best ways to describe leaky gut is to think of a screen door or screen on a window. Why do we have screens? Screens act as a barrier designed to let air flow freely through an opening and to keep bugs or insects out of your home or personal space.

Now apply the concept of a screen barrier to our intestinal lining. This barrier is designed to let small particles of nutrients pass into our bloodstream but to keep the large particle size foods like undigested food or pathogens from passing through the screen wall into our blood by crossing our gut barrier. Once there’s a breach in your gut barrier this is where the term leaky gut syndrome gets its name because our gut is literally leaking intestinal waste and traveling to other parts of the body including the brain.

Leaky gut can happen in multiple ways but for now we will keep it simple and talk about a few common ways our gut can become compromised and how we can test to find out what might be the culprit to our gut issues.

Intracellular Breakdown

Our gut lining is designed with tight junctions to keep the larger food particles from leaking into the bloodstream. Intracellular digestion is the process in which large molecules, from outside or from a cell’s own metabolism, are broken down into smaller molecules within the cell. Products and wastes of intracellular digestion are either used by the cell or excreted. Over time, due to stress, inflammation, antibiotic use, or food sensitivities there can be a tear those tight junctions. If we were to further investigate, we can actually see a tear in the tight junctions and then larger particles like undigested food can cross through the gut barrier into our bloodstream causing a leaky gut. You may ask, how do we know this is happening? One way to tell is to do a test called Zollulin antibodies.


Zonulin is a protein that is synthesized in intestinal cells and liver cells. It is a key biomarker for intestinal permeability. Zonulin is one of those tests that can help to diagnose a leaky gut, along with finding a sensitivity to Candida and multiple Food Sensitivities. It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 100 percent of food intolerance sufferers have increased intestinal permeability. Increased intestinal permeability can be caused by food allergies and sensitivities, stress, infections, and low stomach acid, among other causes. When we test for Zonullin and include those antibodies components we can find out if there’s an intracellular break down in the tight junctions of the gut lining.

Transcellular Breakdown

When a transcellular breakdown occurs this is actually the breakdown of the cell itself. Transcellular transport is the pathway needed for substances passing through the intestinal epithelial cells. When a transcellular breakdown occurs the cell rips in half and the food particles can pass through the cell without the benefit of receiving the nutrients. How can we test to find out if the breakdown is in the cell? We can do a test called Actomyosin which refers to the actin-myosin complex that forms within the cytoskeleton. This test helps to determine if the breakdown is in the cell lining of the gut.


Another contributor to gut disturbances may occur if malabsorption is the culprit. This occurs when we get an increase of sludge across our gut lining itself. This happens when we have inflammation, a bacterial infection, or parasitic infection in the gut. The main role of your small intestine is to absorb nutrients from the food you eat and get it into your bloodstream. Malabsorption can occur in a number of disorders in which the small intestine can’t absorb enough of certain nutrients and fluids. To find out if we have malabsorption in the gut we would do a test called Lipopolysaccharides antibodies. LPS are bacterial toxins that can cause inflammation and health issues if they reach the bloodstream. Polysaccharides are pretty large particles that are found on the outer wall or outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria. This is where testing is important because we can go and investigate to find out if it’s a bacterial infection or a parasitic problem and find a solution to irradicate further damage of the gut barrier.

Leaky gut is a very common condition that can manifest in many ways. Some of the contributors can be lifestyle factors, bacteria, and infections. We can investigate many options to get to the root cause of these conditions associated with increased intestinal permeability. As we have learned these microscopic gaps in the intestinal walls can make it easier for bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to pass through the intestinal walls into your bloodstream and create damage in the body.

Health Studio Labs and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Health Studio Labs is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.

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