Do you have a leaky gut? Do you know what the term ‘leaky gut’ means? Those questions will be answered and so much more in this article.
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 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 diseases.
II. How Do You Get a Leaky Gut?
How does this nightmare all begin? What causes a leaky gut? There are multiple factors that contribute to the malfunction of the tight junctions in your gut:
First and foremost, the biggest factor in determining the health of the gut intestinal barrier is diet. The Western Diet is anything but healthy. Processed foods dominate the shelves in local grocery stores and are loaded with chemicals, preservatives, and high amounts of sugar. Pasteurized dairy is devoid of any real nutrition and is loaded with hormones. CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meat from conventionally raised animals on factory farms is loaded with hormones and antibiotics. Most of the fruits and veggies you will find in your supermarket are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides while many are even genetically modified (GMO). Gluten and most grains are gut irritants and have been shown to irritate the intestinal barrier. Cultured and fermented foods are completely foreign to most people’s diets and not consumed regularly. There is sugar in everything so most people suffer from dangerously high amounts of sugar on a daily basis. The list goes on and on. All of the above factors each cause disastrous effects on gut health and can damage a healthy intestinal barrier. It’s safe to say that the Western diet is a recipe for disaster and not supportive of a healthy gut.
Surprisingly, there are many lifestyle factors that can weaken the intestinal gut barrier and contribute to causing a leaky gut. Some of these include high amounts of stress, lack of sleep, inappropriate physical exercise (such as too much or too little), weak immune systems as the result of insufficient immune stimulation ( aka the hygiene hypothesis: the belief that people who live in mostly sterile ‘anti-bacteria’ environments don’t get adequate exposure to bacteria to build a healthy immune system ), and psychological and emotional stress such as worry, anxiety, and anger.
Endogenous Factors from both the Body and Gut:
‘Endogenous factor’s is a fancy way of saying factors that already exist from within the body. There are many endogenous factors from both the body and inside the gut that can contribute to causing a leaky gut. These could include systemic inflammation, SIBO, Candida overgrowth, pathogenic overgrowth and infections ( such as H. pylori ), hormone imbalances, and genetics. A genetic history of autoimmune diseases (Celiac, Crohns, Hashimoto Thyroiditis etc.) can cause the family members to be more susceptible to intestinal permeability. (Source) Furthermore, individuals who have an autoimmune disease will usually have leaky gut.
One of the biggest factors that determines the health of the intestinal barrier is the state of an individuals microbiota (aka the gut flora in the large intestine). Gut flora resides on the inner most layer of the intestinal lining, the mucus layer. The body’s largest bacterial community is located in the gut with about 10¹² of bacteria per gram of tissue. In a healthy individual, their gut flora is dominated by beneficial microbes. A healthy gut flora includes beneficial fungi, protozoa, beneficial viruses, and even beneficial worms. In a healthy gut, all these beneficial microbes work together to live in harmony, keep the body balanced, and keep the tight junctions in the intestinal barrier working correctly.
Amidst the beauty of all the beneficial microbes, it is important to recognize that there are also hundreds of bad bacteria and pathogenic microbes that coexist along-side the beneficial bacterial strains. For an individual to be healthy and have strong immune system, these good bacteria must far outnumber the bad. When the gut flora is dominated by healthy microbes, the pathogenic bacteria are outnumbered and kept in check, often remaining neutral. However, these neutral microbes are very opportunistic and when given opportunity, will eagerly take over and turn pathogenic.
When the gut flora is out of balance, the immune system weakens, making that individual more vulnerable to sickness and disease (such as autoimmune diseases). The tight junctions in the lining of your gut walls weakens often resulting in leaky gut. (Source) Therefore, the condition of the gut lining is directly related to the health of the gut flora.
One of the biggest causes of gut flora imbalance is antibiotics. Upon taking a course of antibiotics, you not only wipe out the pathogenic bacteria but also the beneficial gut bacteria in your gut wall(3). This is devastating for your gut health. You don’t only ingest antibiotics when you’re taking a pill prescribed from your doctor. There are many sneaky ways they find their way into your system such as conventional CAFO meat and drinking water. (Source)
III. Do You Have a Leaky Gut?
A list of common signs and symptom of Leaky Gut are as follows:
- Constant Digestive Issues
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Nutrient malformation
- Autoimmune disease (Celiac, Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, etc)
- Food allergies (often, an ever-growing list)
- Sinus Congestion, itchy-watery eyes,
- Inflammatory skin issues (acne)
- Mood and Neurological Imbalances
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
The exciting news is, there’s SO MUCH you can do to turn this downward spiral up and in a different direction! YOU can take charge of your health and future. Thanks to the incredible research in epigenetics, you can modify what genes are expressed by diet and lifestyle factors.
So, set up a free 45 minute consultation with us. We’re here to help and serve you. We’ll get clear on where you are and where you want to go then hammer out a plan to get there.
Your time is now… step up and claim your health. Here’s our calendar.
1. Enders, Giulia. Gut: The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. Scribe, 2015. Print.
3. Stephan C Bischoff; Giovanni Barbara; Wim Buurman; Theo Ockhuizen; Jörg-Dieter Schulzke; Matteo Serino; Herbert Tilg; Alastair Watson; Jerry M Wells. “Intestinal Permeability – A New Target for Disease Prevention and Therapy.BMC Gastroenterol. 2014;14(189).