Intestinal permeability in human nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Toon J. I. De Munck*, Pan Xu, Harm J. A. Verwijs, Ad A. M. Masclee, Daisy Jonkers, Jef Verbeek, Ger H. Koek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background The gut-liver axis is considered to play a critical role in the development and progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The integrity of the epithelial barrier is crucial to protect the liver against the invasion of microbial products from the gut, although its exact role in NAFLD onset and progression is not clear.

Methods We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that addressed the intestinal permeability (IP) in association with NAFLD presence or severity as defined by the presence of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and the degree of steatosis, hepatic inflammation or fibrosis. A total of 14 studies were eligible for inclusion.

Results Studies investigating IP in adult (n = 6) and paediatric (n = 8) NAFLD showed similar results. Thirteen of the included studies focussed on small IP, two studies on whole gut permeability and none on colonic permeability. In the pooled analysis, NAFLD patients showed an increased small intestinal permeability compared to healthy controls based on dual sugar tests (standardized mean difference 0.79, 95% CI 0.49-1.08) and serum zonulin levels (standardized mean difference 1.04 ng/mL, 95% CI 0.40-1.68). No clear difference in IP was observed between simple steatosis and NASH patients. Furthermore, whole gut and small intestinal permeability increased with the degree of hepatic steatosis in 4/4 studies, while no association with hepatic inflammation or fibrosis was observed.

Conclusion Based on the limited number of studies available, IP appears to be increased in NAFLD patients compared to healthy controls and is associated with the degree of hepatic steatosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2906-2916
Number of pages11
JournalLiver International
Issue number12
Early online date21 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • gut&#8208
  • liver axis
  • intestinal barrier
  • intestinal permeability
  • nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

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