A. Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, specialized ambulatory and nutrition support dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “The intestinal lining is a tight barrier, controlling what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Leaky gut, defined as increased intestinal permeability, refers to a loosening of this barrier that allows for the absorption of material that does not normally enter the body. This may lead to inflammation and changes to the gut microbiome, potentially causing adverse effects related to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract—and perhaps even beyond.
“Increased intestinal permeability plays a role in GI conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Researchers are exploring a possible role in autoimmune conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis, but much more research is needed.
“Although there is no proven cause-and-effect relationship, heavy alcohol use, stress, and a typical American diet (low in fiber and high in refined sugars) have been associated with drivers of gastrointestinal inflammation linked to leaky gut syndrome. Shifting to a dietary pattern with plenty of fiber-rich plant foods is one way of eating that not only improves gastrointestinal health but is also good for general health.”