Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is a term used as a simple explanation for increased intestinal permeability.  Imagine your intestines as a long hose. If the hose is not damaged, then water will move freely through one end and out the other side. Now, imagine that same hose with tiny punctures. The water now leaks out before reaching its intended destination. Leaky Gut Syndrome is similar to a damaged hose, as particles can leak out into the body where they shouldn’t be. This causes damage and dysfunction resulting in poor health.

Your intestines are designed to act as a natural and selective barrier allowing nutrients in while keeping foreign objects from entering and reaching the blood supply. With leaky gut, there is damage to this natural barrier, exposing our body’s immune system to objects it normally isn’t exposed to.  A vital component of this natural barrier is a tight junction and with leaky gut, tight junctions fail. Your tight junctions are what keep out toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles from reaching the blood stream.  As more individuals are affected by poor dietary choices, toxic and chemical exposures, high levels of stress, and dysbiosis (bacteria imbalance), it seems that the prevalence of leaky gut has increased significantly. A naturopathic approach can help address the root cause of leaky gut! 

What is a leaky gut?

To understand leaky gut syndrome, it is important to first look at the workings and general tasks of digestion. The human digestive tract’s role in the body is to break food down and facilitate its absorption into the bloodstream, which in turn transports it to the right place in the body to be used or stored. The digestive tract also plays an important role in protecting the body, as it is home to many immune cells and the overall function of the whole gut is that of a filter that only lets helpful substances reach the bloodstream. In a healthy gut, there are small gaps in the intestinal walls that  on the one hand allow water and nutrients to pass through and on the other hand block the passage of harmful substances. This passage and the rate and ease with which the substances penetrate the intestinal walls are measured as intestinal permeability. This becomes problematic when the intestinal walls become damaged and the whole gut becomes more permeable. Its function as a filter for bacteria and toxins in the digestive tract does not work properly in this case and these unwanted substances reach the bloodstream. This process can then lead to widespread inflammation and trigger a reaction from the immune system.

It is important to note that experts use the term “leaky gut” not for a final diagnosis but just like IBS, another commonly used term for digestive health conditions, to express that the exact cause or combination of causes that trigger the symptoms in the patient are not yet determined.

 

What does leaky gut entail

For those that suffer from the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, there is a wide variety of expressions of this condition. Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to gastrointestinal problems such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Some also postulate that the increased intestinal permeability will come to cause problems elsewhere in the body and associate leaky gut syndrome with autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, allergies, asthma, acne, obesity, and even mental illness. With a gap in scientific research and much to learn about the digestive system in general, much of this remains speculation.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

It’s important to note; it’s rarely one trigger that causes leaky gut. It’s an accumulation of some factors, over time, that attributes to leaky gut syndrome.

  • Diet
  • Alcohol
  • NSAIDs
  • Infections
  • Inflammation
  • Stress
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Bacterial imbalances
  • Oxidative stress

Addressing leaky gut syndrome with alternative medicine approaches can help address the root cause. One approach that is often taken to help patients suffering from the many consequences of increased intestinal permeability is a dietary one. It consists of removing foods that may cause inflammation and focusing on strengthening general digestive health. Recommended foods include certain vegetables, roots, and tubers, fruits, sprouted seeds, fluent-free grains, healthy fats, herbs and spices, and nuts.  Amongst the foods that should be avoided in order to avoid further inflammation are wheat-based products, all grains containing gluten as well as baked goods and snack foods, processed meats and dairy products, artificial sweeteners and generally high amounts of sugar, refined oils, certain sauces and beverages such as alcohol, carbonated beverages, and other sugary drinks. 

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