There are MANY factors that can contribute to causing a Leaky Gut. I this article I will define what Leaky Gut is as well as inform you of an unsuspecting offender that can cause it.
I. What Is Leaky Gut?
To start, let’s begin with a brief definition of the gut. The gut is your gastrointestinal tract. It begins in the mouth and ends at the ‘other’ end. It is comprised of your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum. (1) (2.)
The gastrointestinal tract is designed to protect the body simply by allowing what’s intended to be absorbed into the body through the gut wall while keeping out dangerous toxins. It is lined with a protective lining called the intestinal barrier. This intestinal barrier and is comprised of three layers: the mucus layer, the epithelial layer, and the underlying lamina propria.
The intestinal barrier covers about 400 m² and uses about 40% of the body’s energy expenditure. This proves the vitally important role the intestinal barrier plays in your body’s functioning. The three layers of the intestinal barrier work together to both allow nutrients and water to be absorbed into the body by passing through the gut wall and keeping parasites, fungi, pathogenic microorganisms and harmful toxins from entering the body. This multi-layer system works together to keep the contents of the gut separate from rest of the body. Essentially, everything that’s inside of the gut is ‘outside’ of the body.
The Epithelial (middle) tissue of the intestinal lining consists of a layer of epithelial cells which provides the main physical barrier between the mucus and lamina layers. It consists of protein cells which regulate the tight junctions of the gut wall. When these proteins fail to work properly, these tight junctions open up causing Intestinal Permeability, or a ‘Leaky Gut’.
Unwanted contents from the gut then spill into the body. The bloodstream is then overwhelmed with dangerous toxins triggering an immune response. This wreaks havoc on your body. If left untreated, a leaky gut can lead to autoimmune disorders, allergies, and countless more serious diseases.
II. An Unsuspecting Offender of Leaky Gut
There are many factors to contribute to causing Intestinal Permeability. An unhealthy diet (filled with processed grains, sugars, and gut-irritating foods), excessive use of antibiotics and medications, pathogenic gut infections (such as Candidiasis) and gut dysbiosis are all major factors that contribute to a ‘Leaky Gut’.
What you may not know is that Lifestyle factors also play a big role in causing gut permeability. One of the biggest offenders is…you guessed it…STRESS.
Let’s get one thing straight. Stress is NOT always a bad thing. We are wired to release the stress hormone Cortisol when in perceived danger. This ‘Fight or Flight’ response is a survival instinct that was wired into the brain and nervous systems and helped our ancestors survive danger (such as an attack from a bear or lion). Therefore, stress was a good thing as it kept us alive and gave us the push to survive.
However, in our modern world today, we aren’t faced with the same threats to our survival as our ancestors and don’t have to fight for survival on a day to day basis. Unfortunately, our ancient brains still release cortisol from encounters with modern day stressors such as traffic, constant demands at your job, a jammed-packed daily schedule where you over-commit to too many activities, running late to work, etc. etc. These stressors are NOT life-threatening. Yet our brain doesn’t know the difference.
This can have a dramatic affect on your gut health. There is much research on how the gut affects the brain, called the gut-brain connection. What scientists are now finding is that the brain also has an affect on your gut health, called the ‘Brain-Gut Connection’. (2)
III. How Stress Causes Leaky Gut
When the body perceives stress, it requires extra energy to ‘solve the problem’. Because your brain is directly connected to your gut via the Vagus Nerve, the gut is the first organ that the brain will borrow the extra energy from. It will notify the gut of it’s emergency and the gut will sacrifice optimal digestion to provide the extra energy the brain needs. This in turn restricts blood flow and mucus production in the digestive system.
This process works for short bursts of stress but was not designed to handle long, prolonged periods of stress. In the case of long term stress such as a highly stressful profession, grieving the loss of a loved one, or any type of a major life change, your gut health will suffer. The loss of blood flow and thinner protective layer of mucous will cause the gut walls to weaken. The tight junctions in the gut become weak leading to a Leaky Gut. (3-9)
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
What should you do?
How do you remedy this situation?
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1. Enders, Giulia. Gut: The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. Scribe, 2015. Print. pp. 32-43
3. Enders, Giulia. Gut: The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. Scribe, 2015. Print. pp. 133-134
8. Saunders, P. R., et al. “Acute stressors stimulate ion secretion and increase epithelial permeability in rat intestine.” American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 267.5 (1994): G794-G799.