Leaky gut affects a large number of people worldwide and more often than not, people are unaware of it. This is not surprising when conditions or symptoms of leaky gut can fall outside the gastrointestinal system. Leaky gut is associated with allergic rhinitis, allergies, brain fog, Alzheimer’s, hormone imbalances, mood imbalances, brain dysfunction, urinary tract infections and other frequent infections. Yes, that’s right, the symptoms go far beyond digestive issues and are actually very often overlooked.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is a term used to describe a condition where the lining/wall of the gut has been damaged. Damaging the gut lining is actually much easier than you think as this important epithelial lining is made up of only ONE single layer of highly specialised cells called enterocytes. Enterocytes play a key role in the chemical processing of food, whilst also keeping a balance between suppressing and stimulating the immune system. Enterocytes cooperate with other cells in the intestinal mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in order to maintain a non-reactive state towards dietary and microbial antigens.
Your gut acts as barrier between the inside of your body and the outside world. This really unique barrier is designed to be semi-permeable, in order to allow important micronutrients to pass through your intestinal tract and into your blood stream. Ultimately, this is how you absorb the nutrients from your food.
Your gut Lining is like a Cheesecloth
I like to think of the lining of the gut as tightly woven mesh with very fine woven strands, a bit like a cheesecloth. Within these strands are tight junctions, proteins, that create a barrier and regulate substances that pass into your bloodstream. The primary function of tight junctions are to protect the gut, but also to allow the right micronutrients to pass through into the bloodstream. They also fend off any foreign substances such as toxins, microbes or food components.
Certain external factors such as toxins, infections, gluten and stress can all damage the tight junctions. This opens the mesh wider ultimately resulting in particles leaking into the bloodstream, hence the term ‘leaky gut’. The greater the opening the larger the food particles that can leak through the mesh and into the bloodstream, thereby setting off a cascade of inflammatory reactions. This might trigger generalised inflammation, an intolerance to a food or even an allergic reaction.
Have you wondered why out of blue you start to react to a certain food or product? The simple answer to this could be leaky gut!
Your Immune System goes into overdrive
Right on the outside of this gut barrier is around 80% of your immune system, eagerly waiting to pounce on anything that might try and cross the barrier. So, when these larger molecules enter the bloodstream, the immune system marks them as foreign invaders and attacks them. It is at this very point where the immune system goes into overdrive and starts to potentially pave the way to autoimmunity. A process where the body confuses self for non-self, resulting in damage to important cells and organs.
What causes leaky gut syndrome?
The main culprits tend to be food and toxins, but the environment, pharmaceuticals and stress all play a significant role in the establishment of leaky gut.
- Gluten is the number one cause for leaky gut. The reason for this is that gliadin, the protein in gluten, directly damages the tight junctions
- Pro-inflammatory foods such as sugar, refined foods
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Parasitic infections
- Low stomach acid
- Pharmaceutical drugs such as antibiotics, steroids, proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s)
- Plastic – yes BPA can damage not only the lining of the gut, but also the lining of the brain and bladder
- Chemicals such as pesticides, mercury (which include amalgam fillings)
- Endurance or strenuous exercise
What Are the Signs That You have a Leaky Gut?
For most people, the decline from normal digestion to digestive dysfunction and leaky gut is a gradual process. It might start with symptoms that are easy to ignore, such as gas, bloating, itching, brain fog, frequent headaches, but gradually over time the symptoms might get worse and present as psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or even Alzheimer’s. Here’s what to watch out for:
Signs and Symptoms of Leaky Gut
- Abdominal pain
- Digestive issues such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, indigestion
- Food intolerances or allergies
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic Fatigue
- Small Intestinal Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Brain fog, memory loss, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Alzheimer’s or Dementia
- Skin rashes, eczema, rosacea, acne rosacea
- Seasonal allergies
- Frequent colds or poor immune function
- Mood issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD or ADD
- Hormonal Imbalances such as PMS, PCOS, Endometriosis, Infertility
- Joint pain, muscle pain or inflammation
- M.E or Fibromyalgia
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Coeliac Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s Disease, M.S.
What to do if you suspect that you have Leaky Gut?
If you are suspecting that you may have leaky gut, then I would strongly suggest that you work with a nutritional therapist or functional medicine practitioner who can support you to repair the lining of your gut. These symptoms are often overlooked by conventional medicine or grouped together under the umbrella Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The problem with this is that more often than not, the lining of the gut is ignored, leading to ongoing health problems that can ultimately manifest in something much worse, such as autoimmunity and or cognitive decline.
If you want more information about how I can support you to heal your gut, you can schedule a 15-minute call to see how my services can benefit you.