Leaky gut and it's complications
To these phrases, more than not my response generally is “as a result of your lifestyle, medication, diet and stress you might be suffering from a leaky gut”
Before we look at what a leaky gut is, let’s look at your gut in its normal anatomy and physiology. Although extremely complicated I will try and break it down and simplify it.
The gut like the skin is one of the largest barrier organs that protects the body from external invasion from bacteria, viruses, parasites etc. On top of that it need to rid the body of toxins, produced as by-products of your metabolism. While doing all this your nutrients need to be absorbed into your blood stream to maintain your health and functions.
This mainly happens within the small intestine via finger like projections called villi. Villi increases the surface absorption area. On top of Villi you find microvilli which is where nutrients are absorbed. In between these projections are small junctions called tight-junctions. This is where the nutrients pass from the lumen of the intestines into the blood stream into our cells. Toxins and large undigested particles can’t pass through these junctions and are thus passed out via the stool, as demonstrated in fig 1.
Like I always demonstrate to my patients. Imagine your hands were your gut with your fingers your microvilli. In-between the fingers are the tight junctions carefully regulating your nutrient absorption. Nothing falls through the fingers because of the skin connecting them. As demonstrated in fig 2.
What is a leaky gut then?
The basic short and sweet function of your immune system is to protect the body from pathogens or invaders that will cause harm to your body. Remember that your gut is rich in immune cells. Your entire body is protected from these invasions by only that one, thin single cell layer of the villi. When stretched open it can roughly cover the size of a tennis court. So basically your body is protected from a sewer by only one layer of cells. This is the exact reason why up to 80% of your immune function is active in your gut.
Once a toxin or “pathogen” enters the gut and your very delicate ecosystem within your gut can not deal with this, or an imbalance is created, your immune system is activated causing micro inflammation within the gut. This damage or inflammation causes damage to the tight junctions, creating a hole within the single layer of cells, resulting in toxins, and undigested food etc leaking through into your blood stream. This results in a massive immune response against all the foreign particles which will result in systemic inflammation. As demonstrated in fig 3
Should this response carry on, over time your immune system will be hypersensitive leading to things like eczema, sinusitis, headaches, rash, and depression to more chronic things like autoimmune disease, cancers etc.
- Low fiber diets.
- Diets rich in sugar, processed food or dead foods (nutrient poor food), leading to SIBO (small intestinal bowel overgrowth) or candida leading to an imbalance in the gut ecosystem which leads to damage of the lining.
- Inflammatory foods such as gluten, sugar, dairy and alcohol. It is now suspected that genetically modified foods (GMO) are a major cause of leaky gut as more and more people are seen with theses problems.
- Medication overuse especially medicines like NSAID, antibiotics, ant-acids, beta blockers and steroids damages the linings and interferes with normal digestion processes.
- Heavy metals, moulds, parasites or chronic low grade infections
- Chronic stress activated many fight or flight responses which leads to a cascade of hormonal changes resulting in gut alteration.
Signs that you might be suffering from a leaky gut
- Digestive problems such as Indigestion, IBS, bloatedness, diarrhoea
- Allergies especially seasonal
- Auto immune disease
- Depression or mental issues such as ADD or ADHD. Your gut is the manufacturing plant of neurotransmitters. Should you not absorb the correct nutrients for the right neurotransmitter formation, depression will result. Other neurotransmitters such as serotonin are produced within the gut. An unhealthy gut will lead to a decrease in serotonin which will result in mood changes.
- Hormonal imbalances such as PMS
- Skin problems
- It is always the best idea to consult your healthcare professional, but should your problems not be to major there are a few things you can do
- Avoid all the triggers as mentioned above. Eat live, whole, unprocessed foods.
- An Elimination diet might help to identify sensitivities or allergies
- Treat infections in the least harmful way
- Probiotics should be on top of your list
- Amino acids such as L-glutamine might be taken.
By: Dr. M Swanepoel