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Food Sensitivities Part Two: Leaky Gut

As explained in PART ONE of this series, in medical school I was taught to evaluate symptoms in order to form a diagnosis. That diagnosis was then used to determine which medication to prescribe - such as a pill for your headache or a cream for your rash.

20 years later my approach has changed. Rather than focusing on which medication to prescribe for your symptoms, I ask the question:
WHY are you experiencing these symptoms?

I use Functional Medicine to evaluate and treat the root causes of illness.

While there are many factors that can contribute to illness, perhaps none are more important than FOOD. I see it with patients every day - the food that you eat has an immediate and significant impact on the way that you feel.

In PART ONE of this series I outlined how food sensitivities were different from food allergies and food intolerances. Today in PART TWO we dig into the WHY.
Why are you experiencing food sensitivities? The answer lies in your gut.


The digestive tract (which starts at your mouth and ends where your poop comes out) is one of the primary places where the inside of your body interacts with the ‘outside’ world.

In the digestive tract, food is digested (broken down), nutrients are absorbed and various toxins and other by-products produced in the digestion process are eliminated.

Nutrients are absorbed into the body through your small intestine.

Your small intestine plays a very important role in the digestive process, letting nutrients in while simultaneously preventing bacteria, yeast, viruses, toxins, and other unwelcome substances from entering the body. This is accomplished through a special layer of cells that line your small intestine.

This layer of cells plays a very important role in your health! Between each cell is a space called a “tight junction”.

The health of these cells that line the small intestine, and the health of these tight junctions, are key to what is absorbed in the digestive tract and what is not.


Intestinal permeability is defined as how porous or “leaky” the small intestine lining is. A leaky lining occurs when the protective barrier of cells are damaged and no longer are tightly connected.

While some intestinal permeability is normal, increased and prolonged intestinal permeability (also referred to as a “leaky gut”) may reduce the absorption of essential nutrients and allow harmful substances and partially digested food to enter the bloodstream at higher levels than your body can properly manage. When this happens, the harmful substances and undigested food particles can lead to activation of the immune system and chronic inflammation.

This chronic inflammation can be experienced as a variety of symptoms throughout the body. It also increases the likelihood of developing many chronic medical conditions and even autoimmune diseases such as Celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

When the lining of the small intestine becomes porous or “leaky”, poorly digested food particles can enter the bloodstream, activate the immune system, and promote inflammation. This is the underlying factor behind most food sensitivities. Common symptoms of food sensitivities are a result of this inflammation and include:
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Rashes
  • Irritable Bowel
  • Fatigue and brain fog
  • and more
There are many factors that can promote increased intestinal permeability, including:
  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Antibiotics and other medications
  • Toxins
  • Stress
  • Inflammation
  • Poor diet
  • Food intolerances
  • Imbalances in gut bacteria
  • Poor digestion
Food sensitivities are the result of your immune system creating inflammation in response to food. Many symptoms throughout the body may be related to food sensitivities, and the root cause underlying most food sensitivities is increased intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”.

Stay tuned for PART THREE of this series to learn more about how to treat symptoms of food sensitivities.

Are you suspicious that food sensitivities may be casing your symptoms? Are you ready to start your journey to feeling better by addressing the root cause of your symptoms/illness? Contact our office to schedule an appointment! 231-638-5585

Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic I continue to see both new and returning patients using our secure, easy video-visit format. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.
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Food Sensitivities - Part One

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