Is 'Leaky Gut' the Root of All Ills?

John Watson

Disclosures

May 23, 2019

In This Article

A Possible Underlying Mechanism

Another question drawing the focus of researchers is why the gastrointestinal disorders most closely associated with increased intestinal permeability, such as IBD, IBS, and celiac disease, are becoming more common.

Julia Liu, MD, MSc

The best explanation is offered by the so-called "hygiene hypothesis," said Julia Liu, MD, MSc, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, whose lab is elucidating the underlying mechanism of intestinal permeability.

"If you think back to how we were living 200 years ago, we were not in these confined spaces with clean water where everything is hygienic and untainted. Instead, we were dealing with infections and infestations that were causing people to die in large numbers."

However, increased hygiene practices and medical breakthroughs may have left us more vulnerable to these gastrointestinal disorders because our immune systems were no longer required to fortify themselves by interacting with such a large spectrum of hostile elements.

"Once we moved to a very clean environment without all these infections and infestations, all of a sudden the innate immune system lost the checks and balances that were originally in place," Liu said. "It's counterintuitive. You would think that if you have all these horrible infections, your gut would be experiencing increased permeability, but it's the exact opposite."

It appears that in our bid to better our health by keeping dangerous elements at bay, we may have overcorrected somewhat. Yet, as researchers learn more about the intestinal mucosal barrier, they are hoping that they can better address these gastrointestinal disorders and other problematic conditions facing patients today.

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