If you hang around the holistic health and wellness sphere for any amount of time, you are likely to hear about intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut”, and how it can wreak havoc on the body in many different ways. Funnily enough, you don’t actually need to have any of the classic digestive symptoms that one might conjure up when hearing the name, “leaky gut”.
Although some sufferers of intestinal permeability very well may have digestive issues like: chronic diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, belching or acid reflux; others may have seemingly unrelated signs and symptoms like: constant skin rashes, acne, joint pain, headaches, or even depression/low mood.
So..what exactly is intestinal permeability?
The cells that line the intestinal tract, are supposed to have tight junctions, to form a nice barrier to the outside (your body). Unfortunately, these tight junctions can become compromised, allowing things like larger protein molecules, toxins, microbes and undigested food particles to be able to escape out into the bloodstream. When these undigested food particles are present where they should not be, the immune system thinks they are are foreign invaders, and creates an inflammatory attack. Having this intestinal permeability makes one more susceptible to getting an autoimmune condition and/or food sensitivities.
How does intestinal permeability interfere with weight loss?
Having a leaky gut could make it hard to lose weight due to a few reasons. First off, when your intestines are permeable, you cannot absorb nutrients optimally and your metabolism needs certain essential nutrients to perform well.
Another reason is that leaky gut can often be correlated with insulin resistance. When the hormone, insulin, is resisted by cell receptor sites due to being called upon to lower blood sugar too often, this can cause a pre-diabetic state of insulin resistance and make it much harder to lose fat. A healthy gut experiences more stable blood glucose levels, which in turn makes one crave sugar less often and release less of the insulin hormone resulting in higher insulin sensitivity, which is the desired state for blood sugar regulation.
What about other hormones and weight loss?
A lot of hormones can be impacted by leaky gut…
Having a leaky gut can allow estrogen metabolites to re-circulate rather than being eliminated through waste pathways (urination and defecation). This can then upset the balance between estrogen and progesterone. When progesterone is too low in relation to estrogen, this can result in issues with menstruation, hormonal acne, ability to burn fat, and mood stability.
Another way leaky gut can impact hormones is with the conversion of T4 to T3 Thyroid hormone. This conversion occurs in the gut and is extremely important as T3 is the active form and needs to be working well for healthy thyroid function. The thyroid controls our metabolism and low thyroid symptoms can include weight gain or an inability to lose weight.
80-90% of serotonin and melatonin are actually produced in the gut. These hormones are vital for mood stability (serotonin) and sleep regularity (melatonin). When the gut lining is compromised, the production of these hormones can be hindered. This is why the “gut-brain” connection is so strong. There is also a correlation between people who do not get enough sleep and weight gain/ inability to lose weight.
Leaky gut promotes an unhealthy balance of gut flora which can actually manipulate the levels of the hormones ghrelin (hunger hormone) and leptin (satiety hormone). Not only this, but the gut flora imbalance can also impact your cravings and even how food tastes to you.