Leaky Gut: The what and the why
Before we dive into talking about leaky gut or intestinal permeability, we must first understand the basic structure of the digestive tract. The gastrointestinal tract is a long tube that starts in your mouth and ends with your anus. The purpose of this tube is to break down and absorb food while keeping out any unwanted materials such as undigested food, pathogens, toxins and food antigens.
The wall of our digestive tube is called the intestinal or epithelial lining. The intestinal lining is one cell thick and each cell is linked together by tight junctions. This wall acts like guards around a castle, separating the body from the external environment.
The food within the digestive tract is broken down into smaller components, such as amino acids from proteins; glucose from carbohydrates; triglycerides from fats; minerals and vitamins, by chewing, muscle contractions and digestive enzymes. Nutrients are absorbed into the cellular wall and then into the bloodstream to be distributed throughout the body, everything else that is too big, indigestible or pathogenic ideally stays within the digestive tract to be excreted. Our bodies can handle a few invaders, but imagine what happens when there is damage to this barrier!
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is when the epithelial lining is damaged or compromised allowing toxins, antigens, bacteria and large molecules to pass into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. This triggers an immune response locally and systemically, throughout the body.
What contributes to “leaky gut”:
Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as advil, ibuprofen, tylenol, motrin, aspirin
Corticosteroid drugs (e.g. prednisone)
Low stomach acid
Blood sugar dysregulation
Dysregulated immune system
Dysbiosis: imbalance of bacteria in the gut
Poor diet, processed foods
Excessive intake of tannins (found in wine, tea, chocolate)
Vitamin D deficiency
Low fiber diet
Constipation - stagnation
When there is poor gut integrity one is more susceptible to infections, food allergies, nutrient deficiencies, overactive or decreased immune function, inflammation, gastritis, & inflammatory bowel disease. Leaky gut can show up as a wide variety of symptoms such as digestive discomfort, hormonal imbalance, skin issues, food allergies, low energy and more…
So what do we do?
Here are some ways to support a healthy intestinal lining:
Chew your food
Relax while you eat
Remove food allergens & sensitivities
Make sure you have adequate stomach acid
Eat a nutrient rich diet full of color and fiber
Balance blood sugar
Drink clean water
Move your body
Quality fatty acids & proteins
Omega 3 fatty acids
Remove processed foods
Soup and broth made with veggies, meats & bones
Mindfulness & stress reduction
Gut healing teas with calendula, marshmallow, slippery elm, licorice, plantain, self-heal
I have created a list of healthy foods for you to get started on your healing journey… click the link below to download!
Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017;8:598. Published 2017 May 23. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598
Lee, B., Moon, K. M., & Kim, C. Y. (2018). Tight Junction in the Intestinal Epithelium: Its Association with Diseases and Regulation by Phytochemicals. Journal of immunology research, 2018, 2645465. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/2645465
Lynch, Ben. Dirty Genes. HarperCollins Publishers. 2018