If you’re struggling with an autoimmune or chronic disease…the root cause can likely be traced back to a digestive tract issue, such as leaky gut. In fact, gut health impacts the function of virtually every system in the body.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
A healthy gut microbiome is made up of a diverse collection of genes and microbes-good and bad bacteria. Together with other digestive components, this gut flora helps to regulate metabolism, digest food, and absorb nutrients. In addition, the gut microbiome plays a key role in fighting off foreign antigens and support immune function.
Leaky Gut – also known as “intestinal permeability” – occurs when there is damage to the lining of the intestines. This lining is made up of a single layer of side-by-side cells connected by networks of proteins.
When this barrier is damaged or inflamed, small particles (like bacteria, toxins, and chemical molecules) are able to “leak” out of the gastrointestinal tract-and into blood vessels.
Once in the bloodstream, these particles are able to reach tissues in every part of the body, resulting in systemic inflammation. As a result, this exaggerated immune reaction can also cause symptoms of food sensitivities and allergies.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The condition of your gut affects your mood, your nervous system, and even your body’s ability to mount an effective immune response. In fact, 70-80% of the body’s immune cells are actually found within the gastrointestinal tract. Not to mention the enteric (gut) nervous system is even sometimes referred to as the body’s “second brain”.
Some particles and chemical molecules interact directly with the nervous system via the gut-brain axis. These foreign particles influence the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, responsible for involuntary actions in the body such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion.
In the case of leaky gut, escaped particles often interfere with essential components of digestion. They can affect the rate of digestion, secretion of stomach acid, and production of protective mucus.
Top Triggers of Gut Inflammation
Unfortunately, many of the foods we eat-and common environmental toxins we are exposed to-are triggers of gut inflammation.
The main culprits of leaky gut and intestinal inflammation:
- Environmental Toxins (ie. GMO foods contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, viruses) – kill gut microbes, alter the balance of gut flora
- Antibiotics – wipe out beneficial bacteria & alter the gut microbiome
- Chronic Stress – results in constant cycle of inflammation, decreases immune system function
- Gluten (sticky protein found in grain/wheat) – not properly broken down by the small intestine, stimulates Zonulin, a chemical that opens up the tight junctions between intestinal cells
- Poor nutrition – diet low in fiber and high in processed sugars/refined vegetable oils, increases inflammation and feeds yeast and other “bad” bacteria
- Dairy – triggers inflammatory response in large percentage of people, most conventional dairy contains hormones, antibiotics, and gut-disrupting chemicals
- Food sensitivities/allergies – result in overstimulation of immune response, causing cycle of inflammation
- Alcohol – alters gut microbiota and causes intestinal inflammation
- Infection (bacterial, viral, fungal, + parasitic) – cause inflammation, stress, and widening of spaces between cells of intestinal wall, pathogens able to move from digestive tract into bloodstream
- Medications such as NSAIDS, steroids, proton pump inhibitors, birth control pills – alter gut flora, suppress natural inflammatory response, damage protective mucus, and irritate intestinal lining
Common Signs of Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is not just a digestive problem, but an issue that affects the entire body. For example, common signs of leaky gut include:
- joint pain/rheumatoid arthritis
- food sensitivities
- malabsorption issues
- sugar/carb cravings
- bloating, cramping, & gas
- skin issues like acne & rosacea
- inflammatory bowel issues (IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis)
- thyroid/adrenal issues, fatigue
- autoimmune disorders
- mood issues (anxiety, depression, ADHD)
Effects of a Leaky Gut
The overall health of the gut affects which nutrients are absorbed by the body, as well as what chemicals and toxins are filtered out. Because leaky gut impairs the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients, even a diet full of the healthiest foods won’t be effectively utilized.
Over time, persistent gut inflammation also contributes to autoimmune issues and organ dysfunction (such as thyroid problems and Hashimotos). Gut inflammation has even been found to increase the risk of developing arthritis, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to autoimmune disorders, leaky gut is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular issues. One study determined a “causal relationship between microbiota composition, inflammation, and atherosclerosis”.
Can Leaky Gut Be Cured?
Stay tuned for part two of this leaky gut series – where we’ll dive into steps to take to jump-start the gut-healing process.
Have you experienced any of these leaky gut symptoms? Share your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comments below!