The lining of your intestines is a sensitive environment critical to your health.
When it lacks integrity and is damaged by chronic stress, the good (nutrients) don’t get in and the bad (toxins, parasites, etc) is allowed to take up residence in your body.
The condition known as Leaky Gut Syndrome is finally getting the attention it deserves. Most of us live in a toxic world and make dietary mistakes. We have damaged guts!
Intestinal barrier function can be measured with functional lab testing and supported with specific nutrients.
What is Leaky Gut?
To understand just what leaky gut is, you first have to understand digestion.
When you eat foods (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) your digestive process breaks these foods down to their smallest building blocks (proteins are broken down to amino acids, carbohydrates are broken down to simple sugars, and fats are broken down to smaller fats). In a perfect digestion world, these small building blocks are all that would be absorbed into your bloodstream – but this is not what happens when you have leaky gut.
All the cells that line your digestive system are held together by a brick and mortar system called the “tight junctions”. These tight junctions hold the cells close together (like a glue of sorts) and allow only the smallest of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to pass by them into the bloodstream.
In leaky gut, those tight junctions fail. This means that large food particles, toxins, bacteria, and other microorganisms can now sneak through your gut wall and into your bloodstream.1
It may not seem to be a big deal that large food particles are sneaking through your gut (through what is known as the mucosal barrier) and into your bloodstream. Maybe it seems that the body’s intelligent design would have a great way of dealing with this. But your immune system considers this type of intrusion to be a major deal.
The majority of the immune system is located around the digestive system. The immune system is housed near the gut, because this is the most likely place to have to deal with a foreign invader. Think about it from your body’s point of view: Every time you eat, you are taking pieces of the outside world and putting them into your body. It is your immune system’s job to determine if these bits of outside world are safe or not.
When you have a leaky gut, large proteins are entering the bloodstream every time you eat, causing the immune system to jump into action. The immune system has many tools to deal with these proteins, but the one it uses most often is inflammation. Leaky gut results in a systemic inflammatory response (inflammation that occurs throughout the entire body). It is this systemic inflammatory response that is thought to be the real problem with leaky gut and plays a role in diverse diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes, allergies, asthma, arthritis and maybe even autism.2 Crohn’s disease has also been associated with leaky gut and increased intestinal permeability.3
So what can be done to help with inflammation? One place to look is the hormone system, especially cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone. If cortisol production and distribution is performing poorly due to chronic stress, inflammation runs unchecked and goes out of control. This makes the HPA glands (which produce cortisol) work that much harder and, with their ongoing fatigue, their ability to keep up with the demand for cortisol suffers. Over time, the HPAs become exhausted and cortisol is not adequately produced, with terrible consequences for the intestinal barrier, in terms of both inflammation control and immunity.
With functional lab tests called “HPA stress profiles”, the key steroidal hormones—including cortisol—are measured for their quantities and rhythms. Based on this data, treatments such as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) can be administered to renew the vitality of the hormone system, while continuing to identify and eliminate causes of chronic stress. Get tested through an integrative clinic.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
There are many things that can cause leaky gut. Scientists are now discovering that certain bacteria and yeast have the ability to disrupt the tight junctions as part of the disease process. Certain drugs such as antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also disrupt the tight junctions. NSAIDs are used to reduce overall inflammation (many people take them for heart disease), but new evidence shows that long-term use of NSAIDs damages the intestines in more than sixty percent of patients taking these drugs long term.4
Emotional stress can also play a role in disrupting the tight junctions and increasing the permeability of the intestinal barrier.5Large amounts of alcohol or sugar are also thought to play a role. Many experts consider eating foods that you are allergic to be the prime source of disruption of the intestinal barrier. Certainly parasitic infections are another key contributor to erosion of the intestinal barrier.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Besides the conditions above, general symptoms of leaky gut are vast given the indirect impact of a leaky gut on the entire body’s health and capacity for handling stressors. Some of the most common include:
- Allergies and skin rashes
- Anxiety, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, moodiness
- Digestive complaints including diarrhea, bloating and gas
- Impaired immune functions or frequent colds
What to do about Leaky Gut
Medical doctors don’t generally recognize leaky gut syndrome, so there is no specific drug treatment for the condition. This speaks to the fact that conventional medicine has little interest in the subtleties of the human body and how they interact, despite the fact that all diseases start with compromised system function.
Integrative Approaches to Leaky Gut
- Get Tested: First of all, you need laboratory data to zero in what is really going on. In the interest of leaky gut and intestinal permeability, looking at antibody function in the mucosa of the intestinal barrier can be done using lab tests from Biohealth Diagnostics; also, HPA hormone balancing will help: When the HPA glands are performing at their best, the negative effects of allergic conditions are drastically reduced. With saliva based lab tests that measure cortisol and DHEA patterns, natural therapies for hormone balance can be developed. Find a doctor to get started on functional lab testing.
- Diet: A diet low in sugar and alcohol and high in vegetables and fruits is generally suggested for leaky gut. Gluten-free, dairy-free, anti-Candida and allergy elimination diets have all been suggested.
- Probiotics: Healthful bacteria, also known as probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum and others), are probably the best researched supplement for restoring the gut barrier.6 See the store forrecommended probiotic supplements.
- Digestive enzymes: Digestive enzymes help break down food into its smallest form and therefore reduce the chance of large molecules passing through the digestive tract. See the store for recommended enzyme supplements.
- Gut Barrier Nutrients: Many nutrients are thought to help the gut barrier to remain intact, including: glutamine,8 vitamin A, zinc and others. See the hugely popular BioMatrix product Support Mucosa here.
1 Madara JL, Nash S, Moore R, Atisook K. Structure and function of the intestinal epithelial barrier in health and disease. Monogr Pathol. 1990;(31):306-24.
2 Liu Z, Li N, Neu J. Tight junctions, leaky intestines, and pediatric diseases. Acta Paediatr. 2005 Apr;94(4):386-93.
3 Hollander D. Intestinal permeability, leaky gut, and intestinal disorders. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 1999 Oct;1(5):410-6.
4 Lanas A, Sopeña F. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and lower gastrointestinal complications. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2009 Jun;38(2):333-52.
5 Lambert GP. Stress-induced gastrointestinal barrier dysfunction and its inflammatory effects. J Anim Sci. 2009 Apr;87(14 Suppl):E101-8.
6 Isolauri E, Salminen S. Probiotics: use in allergic disorders: a Nutrition, Allergy, Mucosal Immunology, and Intestinal Microbiota (NAMI) Research Group Report. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008 Jul;42 Suppl 2:S91-6
8 van der Hulst RR, von Meyenfeldt MF, Soeters PB. Glutamine: an essential amino acid for the gut. Nutrition. 1996 Nov-Dec;12(11-12 Suppl):S78-81.