To help understand Leaky Gut picture a mesh screen or sieve, with tiny holes that allow some things to pass, but filter out larger things you don’t wish to let through. Now think of your small intestinal wall like this screen or sieve. It should be tight enough to filter out the undigested food, toxins and pathogens from entering the blood stream, but with small enough holes to allow broken-down food along with nutrients through.
In a condition of leaky gut (intestinal permeability), larger holes exist within the small intestinal wall as the normally tight healthy junctions become damaged, leading to unwanted particles reaching through to the bloodstream, inturn causing digestive, respiratory, hormonal and neurological and immunological reactions, as the body detects these foreign particles in the blood stream and creates an attack to defend against them. This process is technically referred to as Intestinal Permeability.
SIGNS, SYMPTOMS & CONDITIONS CAUSED BY LEAKY GUT
- Burping and flatulence
- Abdominal pain
- Nutrient deficiency signs and symptoms (due to problems absorbing the nutrients).
- Memory, concentration
- Brain fog
- Behavioural issues
- Moods swings (leaky gut causes hyper permeability of the blood brain barrier, (the Gut Brain Axis ie. has been linked to mental health conditions).
- Fluid retention
- Weight gain (caused by inflammation).
- High LDL Cholesterol. This can happen when the leaky gut is due to imbalanced bacteria levels and in Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. The leaky gut causes the liver to produce these LDL particles due to their antimicrobial action. If these LDL cholesterol particles become oxidised, this will contribute to cardiovascular disease.
The intestinal epithelial lining, together with factors secreted from it, forms a barrier that separates the host from the environment. In pathologic conditions, the permeability of the epithelial lining may be compromised allowing the passage of toxins, antigens, and bacteria in the lumen to enter the blood stream creating a “leaky gut.” In individuals with a genetic predisposition, a leaky gut may allow environmental factors to enter the body and trigger the initiation and development of autoimmune disease.
COMMON CAUSES OF LEAKY GUT
Stress releases an inflammatory hormone called cortisol. This inflammatory stress hormone increases para-colonic permeability.
LOW STOMACH ACID AND ENZYME PRODUCTION
After chewing your food, the stomach acid is the next step towards adequate digestion. If you have low levels of stomach acid, your food, particularly proteins will be poorly broken down. When this happens, they hit your small intestines only partially digested.
Common causes of low stomach acid include eating in a stressed environment, eating on the run, inadequate chewing of your food, as well as the bacterial infection, Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori). This bacterium has the ability to damage the gut lining, including the parietal cells of the stomach, which are responsible for producing your stomach acid. Without strong stomach acid, food, especially protein, will not be broken down properly and important nutrients, such as minerals, amino acids and B12 are not completely absorbed.
On top of this, if your pancreas is overloaded (perhaps tied up with balancing your blood sugar levels), your digestive enzyme production may also be low and the rest of the digestion and absorption of your foods fail. When poorly digested food (due to low stomach acid) is passed from the stomach and onto the small intestines, the digestive enzymes struggle to break the food down small enough to be absorbed properly, (as nutrients), through the small intestinal wall.
Undigested food can be caused from and worsen an existing leaky gut. The large food particles push through and can damage the gut lining, and when a leaky gut already exists, the undigested food easily slips through the holes, causing inflammation and exacerbating any leakiness in the gut wall. This increases the prevalence of food intolerance reactions and leads to deficiencies of important nutrients.
When a leaky gut state is present, undigested foods are absorbed into the blood stream and the body can start to attack these (via the production of antibodies). This process creates more inflammation, which further aggravates the condition of a leaky gut. When the gut becomes compromised, sometimes then even foods that were not an issue prior to, can become intolerance’s (wheat and gluten, grains, dairy).
Among H. Pylori, other infections, such as parasites, Candida Albicans and imbalanced good and bad bacteria ratios, all contribute to the leakiness of the small intestinal wall. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, also known as SIBO (common underlying cause of IBS), where bacteria from the colon migrate upwards into the Small Intestines is another common culprit for worsening the digestive upsets that occur with leaky gut.
The usual culprits that must be eliminated from your diet to prevent and treat a leaky gut, include soy, trans-fats (from heated seed and vegetable oils), sugar, gluten (and for most people, also all grains). This also includes any foods you are personally intolerant towards, which in many cases of a Leaky Gut, can include healthy foods.
Research has revealed that gluten intolerance can affect almost every other tissue and system in the body, including the brain, endocrine system, stomach and liver, nucleus of cells, blood vessels; and smooth muscle.
Keeping blood sugar levels stable throughout the day is an important consideration. Imbalanced blood sugar levels cause inflammation and can then also lead on to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Toxins and chemicals from sources such as pesticides in conventionally farmed produce, cosmetics and external pollutants, recreational drugs, pharmaceutical medications, alcohol can all contribute to and worsen a Leaky Gut. Supporting our detox organs along with gut health are important on going steps to supporting our overall health.
As we now know the importance of good bacteria is essential in supporting the health function of our gut. Antibiotics, Oral Contraceptive Pill and other pharmaceutical medications can disrupt the balance of intestinal bacteria, contributing to yeast over growths.
If left untreated, these can affect not only your immediate health, but health in your life time to come. The integrity of our microbiome health also affects the microbiome of our children passed on through conception, having an overall effect on their intestinal permeability and over all immunity.
POSSIBLE RECOMMENDED TESTING
Comprehensive Gastrointestinal Stool Analysis for hyperpermeability (leaky gut), parasitology, yeasts, bacterial balance, inflammation levels and Secretory IgA (gastrointestinal immunity).
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) breath test, for Methane and Hydrogen. SIBO is an important consideration for any patients suffering from IBS (8/10 IBS suffers have SIBO), this test may recommended alongside the Comprehensive Gastrointestinal Stool Analysis.