Leaky Gut is big news. It is being linked with all sorts of health issues including (but not limited to) food sensitivities, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, autoimmune diseases, skin problems and a weak immune system.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, uncomfortable (and anti-social!) digestive issues, nutrient malabsorbtion, constant fatigue, have thyroid or hormonal problems, muscles and tendons which never seem to heal, or quite simply catch every cold and ‘flu that is going around, then it is just might be that you have a Leaky Gut, or Increased Intestinal Permeability
In this post I address the following questions:
- What is Leaky Gut?
- What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut?
- What Causes Leaky Gut?
- Should I be Worried about Leaky Gut?
- How can I Heal – or Prevent – Leaky Gut?
- Where can I Read More about Leaky Gut?
What Is Leaky Gut?
To understand Leaky Gut, it’s important to make the connection between the Gut and the Immune System.
The Gut plays the biggest and most important role in the Immune System. It is there to protect you. Every substance that enters the body from outside must go through the Gut’s intensive selection process. The epithelial cells which line the walls of the Gut discriminate between those substances which benefit the body, and those substances which are damaging. The good are let in, and the bad are politely refused.
What constitutes ‘good’ are the macro and micro nutrients which the body metabolises for energy, hormonal balance, coping-with-stress etc. What constitutes bad are the bacteria, the viruses, the toxins, and the things that can’t be broken down and digested.
Just beyond the lining of the Gut, an army of Immune Cells are on guard, ready to attack and destroy any dangerous substance that manages to slip through. One of the combat techniques of the Immune Cells is to create acute, localized inflammation which halts the onslaught of the invaders and creates the space for healing. Another is the production of antibodies which identify and destroy particular bad guys. Working together, the healthy Gut and the Immune Cells are a team of unbeatable body-guards. This is where 80% of your immune system is located.
Unfortuantely, the layer of selectively permeable epithelial cells, which intuitively know what to let in and what to keep out, is a very fine and delicate sieve. It is just one-cell thick. And it is not invincible.
If constantly aggravated, these cells and the structures which hold them together may become damaged, creating a situation of Leaky Gut or increased intestinal permeabilty. This is not a good thing. It means the nutrients that are meant to pass through are not effectively absorbed. And it means the things which are normally and easily kept out of the system manage to slip through. Once through, the immune cells go into over-drive to try and combat them. If there is too much for them to deal with, they simply start losing the battle.
When this happens, not only can they not protect you from common ailments – colds and ‘flu’s, cuts and grazes, insect bites and stuff carried in by your dog – but they may get so overwhelmed that they start making mistakes. They may lose the ability to distinguish between good proteins and bad proteins. These confused reactions may reveal themselves, for example, as seasonal allergies and food intolerances, whereby they think that flower pollens or peanut proteins are serious risks to your health. They fight. And keep fighting. Their once-protective technique of acute, localized inflammation may develop into chronic, systemic inflammation.
It can get worse. If the immune cells lose the ability to distinguish between the proteins of dangerous invaders and the proteins that are naturally present in your own body, then they may produce antibodies specifically to attack and destroy the nucleus of the cells of your own body: these are known as Autoantibodies. If those cells have the opportunity to propagate and go haywire, then an Autoimmune Disease may develop. This confusion can happen anywhere: in the organs, the glands, the digestive system, the tissues, the nervous system. There are around 80 identified Autoimmune diseases, all of them pretty nasty, and painful.
What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut?
The symptoms of Leaky Gut may be the things which you think are sort of ‘normal’: a bit of gas, constipation or diarrea every now and again, uncomfortable bloating.
If the Leaky Gut is contributing to Systemic Inflammation through an over-worked immune system, then the symptoms may include any of those issues which have inflammation as the root cause, such as (not limited to) allergies and intolerances, bronchitis, obesity, high blood pressure, joint pain, eczema and tendonitis.
If the Leaky Gut has preceded or is related to an Autoimmune Disease, then the symptoms may include any and all of those of the Autoimmune Disease itself, such as (but not limited to) arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s and scleroderma.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut, it seems, is triggered by several factors. Inflammatory, aggrevating and toxic foods play a large part. Alcohol and sugars, dairy products and certain proteins found in cereal grains seem to contribute to leaky gut. Infections such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and Candida don’t help. Certain medications such as NSAIDS and antacids are definately not good for the lining of the intestine. And lifestyle factors such as inadequate sleep, too little sunlight, over-activity and chronic stress may all contribute to the wearing down of the fragile intestinal cells.
Should I be worried about Leaky Gut?
Everyone should be worried about Leaky Gut because we are talking about the Immune System. You should be especially worried about Leaky Gut if your diet contains a lot of cereals and grains, dairy products, sugar and alcohol – all of these in any form.
How can I heal – or prevent – Leaky Gut?
The most empowering way you can heal and/or prevent Leaky Gut is by adapting your diet and lifestyle. Get all inflammatory and aggrevating foods out of your body and out of your home. Fill that space with foods which promote a healthy gut, which support the hormones and the immune system, and which are nutrient-dense. Get out into the sunlight, spend time in nature. Learn de-stressing techniques such as yoga and meditation. And go to bed early. These are the principles of the Paleo Diet and Lifestyle.
Where can I read more about Leaky Gut?
I am a huge, huge fan of the Whole 30 program. Dallas and Melissa Hartwig have done – are doing – an amazingly inspirational job of educating and changing the eating patterns and lifestyles of hundreds of thousands of people. They changed our life: let them change yours. Visit their site, buy their books ‘It Starts With Food’ and ‘Whole 30’, and start your Whole 30 tomorrow.
However… Don’t take my word for it!
I hope this post is helpful, but please bear in mind that I’m no scientist. I’m just picking up information from around the web and sharing what I learn. I believe that, with regards to our health and many other things, it’s important that we are all working together to be better informed and personally empowered. If you think I’ve missed any important points, please add them in the comments below!
Best wishes, big blessings!