Healing Gut Permeability: What You Need to Know

Brush border enzymes are embedded in the tiny microvilli of the small intestine.

The small intestine, with a surface area of roughly 250 square meters (think, tennis court), is where much of the digestive action in your gut takes place. On the absorptive surface, small villi or mucosal finger-like projections protrude into the lumen of the small intestine.

These villi are made of epithelial cells that are covered with microvilli and make up a fuzzy fringe, known as brush border cells. Brush border enzymes are the enzymes found on the brush border of the small intestine. These are:

  • Amylase
  • Cellulase
  • Invertase (Sucrase)
  • Peptidase
  • Malt Diastase (Maltase)

Brush border enzymes can be effective in digesting carbohydrates, proteins, and fats without causing irritation of the intestinal walls. The intestinal walls are often irritated in those with intestinal permeability.

The space in between the epithelial cells of the small intestine is called a tight junction.

When a large protein like gliadin from wheat gluten or an antigen passes through a broken tight junction, the immune system goes into action, and the gut becomes inflamed. This is one way that a permeable gut develops. When the epithelial cells themselves are damaged, large molecules will also pass through the gut lining transcellularly, or through the cell itself. This is another form of what is known as permeable gut.

Whether the gut becomes permeable from Candida that has set down roots through the small intestines or from damaged epithelial cells, oftentimes pathogenic bacteria can overpopulate the area, causing gut dysbiosis.

  • Bacterial overgrowth can actually lead to even more damage of the protective endothelial lining of the gut.
  • Bacteria produce their own enzymes: bacterial mucinase destroys the protective mucus coat of the intestinal lining while protease degrades pancreatic and brush border enzymes.
  • Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can also lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition in the gut can slow down or even prevent the lining of the gut from healing. This can lead to further loss of brush border enzymes and damaged epithelial cells.

Intestinal inflammation and impaired digestive function is in part related to loss of brush border enzymes.

Bacterial overgrowth in the gut can cause malnutrition! It is critical to repair gut permeability by avoiding foods that cause inflammation.

Studies have shown that villous atrophy, or damage to the villi and microvilli in the small intestine, is associated with decreased activity of digestive enzymes. Likewise, overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria will negatively affect brush border enzyme activity, decrease the brush border itself, and damage this very delicate and important “fuzzy fringe.”

Under normal conditions, intestinal epithelium cells have one of the fastest rates of reproduction of any tissue in the body.

New epithelium is generated every 3-6 days. Therefore, providing proper nourishment to the cells of the small intestine is essential when healing the lining of the gut.

Glutamine is the most important nutrient that you can give to your body to support the repair of the intestinal lining. It is the preferred fuel and nitrogen source for the small intestine. Studies have shown that glutamine supports the regeneration and repair of the intestinal epithelia.

Repairing intestinal permeability is about avoiding foods that create inflammation and making sure that your gut epithelial cells have what they need to restore balance.

  • Body Ecology Assist, a full spectrum enzyme supplement, provides a potent dose of brush border enzymes to support not only the digestion of food but also the healing of the inner lining of the gut. Brush border enzymes are amylase, cellulase, invertase (sucrase), peptidase, and malt diastase (maltase). The most effective way to begin repairing a permeable gut is with brush border enzyme supplementation and feeding the cells of the small intestine with glutamine.
  • Body Ecology’s Vitality SuperGreens uses GlutImmune, the most bioavailable and stable form of glutamine available. GlutImmune is able to deliver 10 times more glutamine into the bloodstream than L-glutamine. This is because GlutImmune is covalently bonded, meaning that it is a form of glutamine that is bonded to other amino acids on an oligopeptide chain.
  • Consuming fermented foods and probiotic beverages introduces healthy, beneficial bacteria to the gut. Often, damaged microvilli and loss of brush border enzymes leads to small intestine dysbiosis. Food becomes stagnant and ferments because your body simply does not have the enzymatic power to break it down quickly enough. Beneficial microbes cool the inflammatory process in its interaction with the immune system. They are able to balance out pathogenic overgrowth and reduce the pain, bloating, and spasms that are associated with gut dysbiosis.


Intestinal permeability is a complex circuit of cause and effect. Healing the inner lining of the gut means addressing several layers at once. Reducing the inflammatory immune response is key, and this can only be done once the intestinal epithelia are healthy.


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  1. Nightingale, Jeremy. M.D. Intestinal Failure. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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