Leaky gut and it's complications
As an alternative health care doctor with a great interest in functional medicine, I see many patients in my practice suffering from chronic conditions for which they do not have any hope left. “I have tried everything”, “You are my last hope”, “I have been to every doctor”, “you must help me”, “I am desperate” are the phrases that I hear so often, if not on a daily basis.
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.
Intestinal health is the optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of food.
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.
Triggers or causes of Leaky gut
Signs that you might be suffering from a leaky gut
By: Dr. M Swanepoel