Before I begin, let me say upfront that "Leaky Gut Syndrome" is often dismissed by some within the medical profession as naturopathic mumbo-jumbo. And I have to admit, if you don't know much about it, it can sound a bit like quackery. There is, however, an extensive and growing body of quality research into gut permeability - and there are also a lot of medical doctors and researchers who acknowledge just how prevalent and important a leaky gut is.
The leaky gut syndrome may be the cause of many "etiology unknown" illnesses. Leaky gut syndrome may also explain many of the symptoms patients have that confound and confuse many physicians. In my opinion leaky gut syndrome is grossly under-considered as a "mainstream" medicine diagnosis.
In a nutshell, leaky gut is an inflammatory condition that causes the intestinal wall to become more permeable, allowing unwanted substances to pass into the bloodstream. This leads to a whole range of symptoms such as poor digestion, bloating, food intolerances, eczema, psoriasis, fatigue.... the list goes on. Gut permeability has been found in more serious conditions like inflammatory joint disease, anxiety and depression and some autoimmune disorders.
Your intestines have the important job of absorbing nutrients from your digested food into your bloodstream, where they are then transported all around the body to the cells that need them. Your gut has another important role - to prevent unwanted substances getting into the circulation. These substances include large particles of food, bacteria and parasites and toxic chemicals. Your intestinal wall does this by providing a physical barrier of tight "gap junctions" between it's cells. Molecules that are too large cannot pass through into the blood. More than half your immune system is actually found in the gut, and this another way your intestinal wall is able to keep unwanted substances from passing into the circulation.
The balance of healthy bacteria - or "gut flora" - that reside in your intestines play an important role in preventing a leaky gut. Under normal circumstances there are around 400 different species of these beneficial bacteria living throughout our digestive tract. They happily perform a range of functions for us, helping us digest our food, making certain nutrients like Vitamin K and B5 for us, and nourishing the gut wall. Any disturbance to these bacteria, via antibiotics, toxins like alcohol or a poor diet that doesn't provide them with the food they need and the permeability of the gut wall is affected.
The gut wall becomes inflamed and the tight gap junctions become wider. The micro-villi are damaged and are unable to produce the enzymes needed to digest your food properly, so large molecules enter the bloodstream. Your gut wall can no longer be as discerning as it should be as to what passes through into the bloodstream. Your immun system then goes into overdrive in response to all these foreign bodies floating around in the blood - harmful bacteria and parasites, large molecules of food, chemicals from the food we've eaten - things that shouldn't have been allowed through and should have been passed out of the bowels as wastes. A heavy load is placed on the liver as it is called upon to detoxify these unwanted items from the bloodstream. After a while, neither the liver or the immune system can keep up and some of these substances make their way to the tissues throughout the body, causing inflammation there too.
The immune system can then start getting very strict and will begin to identify some foods as antigens (bad guys) as soon as they are swallowed. It can also become confused and start attacking our bodies - cue autoimmune conditions.
I'd like to note here that the increasing number of people with food intolerances comes down to a leaky gut. Not the severe allergies like peanut allergy... but the ones where patients take a blood test for intolerances which comes back showing more than a dozen foods - often the ones they love and eat the most of. These poor people resign themselves to a life spent avoiding all these favourite foods, when if they just did some work to fix their leaky gut they would be able to tolerate these foods once more. This happened to me when I was infected during a trip to Bali with a nasty parasite called Blastocystis hominis. I lived like a Coeliac for years as a food intolerance test had shown I was highly intolerant to gluten (as well as pumpkin, apples and rye - some of my favourite foods to eat). The parasite had caused a leaky gut scenario and once I was able to get rid of it with a twelve week protocol and restore the healthy balance of gut flora - hey presto! I could eat all my favourite foods again. So what the point I am making is that the problem is often not the food, but a leaky gut.
The good news is, given the right attention your gut has an amazing ability to heal. Fixing a leaky gut is not an overnight job - you need to be prepared for a bit of change, a bit of diligence and some patience too.
The first thing we do is to improve you diet - you need to start eating a wholefood diet and also eat as organic or chemical free as possible. You then need to eliminate potential allergens from your diet - these are the foods you know make you feel yuck. Once your gut is fixed, you should be able to reintroduce these foods, so take heed. This is not goodbye forever! You also need to include lots of foods that will feed the good bacteria in your gut, so they can get to work repairing the damaged intestinal lining. Foods high in soluble fibre are the trick - oats, fruits and vegetables and linseeds are my favourite. Just make sure none of these foods are on the list that irritates you. I like to use home stewed or pureed pears and apples - adding them to a bowl of oats with unsweetened yoghurt is a great breakfast that will nourish your healing gut.
Taking some digestive enzymes with meals can also help - remember that your damaged micro-villi can no longer produce these enzymes so while we are in repair mode, supplemental enzymes can help us to digest our food better.
We need to get you eliminating better, which means moving those bowels. Herbs come into play here to help remove any faecal matter and toxins that have built up in the bowel. We also need to support your poor liver, to help it repair itself and continue to detoxify as we fix the gut. And if there are any parasite present, these will need to be dealt with via anti-parasitic herbs.
Once you're clearing that waste effectively, you can start taking a quality probiotic supplement. This will help to introduce some good bacteria back into the gut - and because you are eating well you are providing them with the nourishment they need to establish themselves as permanent residents of your gut. They'll repay the kindness by fixing up the walls of their new home/your intestines.
Taking some nutritional supplements to help repair the intestinal lining is a good idea - things like Slippery Elm Powder, L-Glutamine, glucosamine and glutathione can all be of benefit. Luckily there are some great gut repair formulations that contain all these beneficial substances to make things easier.
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, aspirin, NSAIDS (like ibuprofen) and antibiotics is important as these substances are all known to damage the intestinal wall.
Date posted: 2013-10-30 | posted by: debras