Think of the mucosal lining of your small intestine as a window screen, which lets air inside but keeps insects out. This enables you to breathe in fresh air without being swarmed by pests. However, when it is punctured and a variety of “foreign” ingredients sneak in, trouble ensues.
What is a Leaky Gut?
Essentially, leaky gut syndrome is an increase in intestinal permeability and it can aggravate a list of symptoms including pain, diarrhea, rashes, fever, poor concentration/memory, fatigue, bloating/gas, irritability, headaches, fat storage/weight gain and abdominal discomfort. A symptom we are most likely all familiar with, is that of food sensitivities.
Our intestinal lining is made to be semi-permeable. Every 3 to 5 days, it sloughs off a layer of cells and produces new cells to keep itself that way. Its role is to absorb nutrients and at the same time act as a barrier to toxins. In a healthy intestine, only properly digested fats, proteins and starches are able to pass through to be assimilated. However, when the lining becomes too porous, it allows food particles, bacteria and other organisms and/or their toxins into the bloodstream and the rest of the body. The immune system sees these as invaders, and stimulates an antibody reaction. When these particles are re-introduced into the body, the immune system responds in a defensive attack, leading to silent inflammation, auto-immune disorders and food sensitivities. This is the root of many conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, IBS, asthma, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes and migraines, to name a few.
What causes a Leaky Gut?
The gut becomes “leaky” because of inflammation. When it becomes irritated, the intestinal membrane inflames and normally tight cell junctions loosen up and allow large molecules to squeeze through. This irritation can be caused by multiple factors. One of the main causes of leaky gut is incomplete or impaired digestion generally due to enzyme deficiency, inadequate chewing, overeating, excessive fluid intake with meals, diet high in processed foods or improper food combining. When intestinal bacteria acts upon undigested food particles, toxic chemicals and gases are produced. These are known as endotoxins and can damage mucosal lining resulting in inflammation. Due to repeated attacks, the gut lining erodes over time, causing leakage of food particles, toxins and pathogens into the blood stream.
Other potential causes are infections (bacterial, viral, fungal/candida or parasitic), stress, drugs (particularly birth control, antibiotics and NSAIDS), alcohol and caffeine. Factors such as allergic reactions from foods and chemicals, nutritional deficiencies and exposure to environmental toxins also play a role.
How Do I Correct My Leaky Gut?
Step one is to eliminate any triggers/stressors in your diet and environment including chemicals, offending foods, bacteria/fungi, etc. Common ingredients to stay away from are dairy, gluten, sugar, yeast, caffeine, artificial additives and nuts. If you suspect food sensitivities, consider seeing a naturopath for further information on a pursuing an elimination diet in order to establish proper dietary guidelines and a treatment timeline. A liver detox can be considered to reduce toxic overload.
Step two is to replace unhealthy habits and behaviors with beneficial ones. In addition to choosing whole, organic foods, managing stress and being mindful while eating it is important to ensure the diet includes lots of fibre (35g/day) and water for regular elimination. Fibre also feeds healthy intestinal bacteria. Supplemental Vitamin D is recommended as well, as it is integral to the resistance of the gut and the balance of good bacteria.
Step three is to repair the digestive tract by doing the following:
- Heal and Strengthen Mucous Lining - with diet, herbs and supplements. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that heals the cell junctions along the digestive tract and it is one of the most effective nutrients in gut repair. Herbal considerations include deglycyrrhizinated licorice, chamomile or marshmallow as they soothe inflammation in the GI tract and increase mucous production to protect lining. Foods that help repair the gut lining include homemade bone broth and aloe vera juice. Fish oils should also be considered to fight inflammation and provide lubrication.
- Re-Inoculate & Protect The Gut - by replenishing the good bacteria in your digestive tract with probiotics and fermented foods, such as sauerkraut. Friendly bacteria create a protective layer along the intestinal membrane, produces butyrate fatty acids that nourish the lining, normalizes bowel movements, optimizes digestion, balances the immune response, and protects against pathogens and inflammation.
Step four is to ensure proper food breakdown to avoid further gut irritation and the development of any food sensitivities. This can be done with the help of digestive enzymes. Be sure to consider a supplement with HCL if stomach acid is low. Remember that when foods are properly digested, they are basically rendered non-allergenic!
As over 2/3 of all immune activity takes place in the gut, it is safe to assume that an impaired digestive system is one of the main roots of disease. In taking the utmost care in preserving the integrity of our intestinal membrane, keeping up our levels of good bacteria and ensuring we are properly breaking down our food, we are decreasing the risk of a wide range of conditions and symptoms. Be good to your gut!
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.