Leaky Gut & Systemic Ill Health

The digestive system is responsible for breaking down food matter and facilitating nutrient absorption to promote immune and metabolic function, nutrient synthesis, cellular communication, and…pretty much every essential function within the body. Unfortunately, modern diet and lifestyle has done a pretty thorough job of destroying digestive function and threatens our health – physical and mental.

Maybe the most prevalent digestive disorder in highly industrialized economies is leaky gut. Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, is a response to systemic inflammation and imbalance and is associated with a wide variety of diseases like allergies, autoimmune disease, including Celiac and Crohn’s; mood and behavioral disorders; and mal-absorption syndromes. When the gut become leaky, the junctions that join the cells of the small intestines become irritated or inflamed and then loosen up to allow large food or bacterial particles to pass through into the blood stream. In response to this “invasion” of foreign material, the immune system stimulates an antibody reaction that creates more inflammation and further weakens cell junctions allowing even larger toxic molecules to pass into the blood. Eventually alarm substances called cytokines call lymphocytes to battle, which increases the production of byproducts known as oxidants, which cause even greater amounts of inflammation, intestinal permeability and what’s known as bacterial translocation. As time passes, people with leaky gut have a greater number of antibodies floating around in their bodies and become more and more sensitive to a wider variety of foods and environmental contaminants.

Factors that may contribute to the development of leaky gut include:

  • Chronic stress. Prolonged stress changes the immune system’s ability to respond quickly to and heal from the damage caused by foreign substances while slowing down peristaltic function to reduce blood flow to digestive organs while producing toxic metabolites.
  • Dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance, contributes to leaky gut when candida breaks down the brush border enzymes present in the small intestines.
  • Environmental contaminants. Daily exposure to household and environmental chemicals puts stress on our immune system and delays necessary biological repair. Connective tissue begins to slowly break down, trace mineral stores are depleted, acidosis sets in and cells begin to swell and leak.
  • Alcohol abuse. Chronic, heavy consumption of alcohol puts strain on the liver, which affects digestive competency, and also damages the intestinal tract.
  • Poor diet. Diets low in fiber and high in processed foods facilitate the accumulation of toxic by-products that irritate the gut mucosa and promote inflammation of the GI tract.
  • Use of medication. Nonsteroidal drugs like Advil, aspirin, and Motrin damage brush border enzymes, allowing large food particles and toxins to enter the blood stream.
  • Lectins, founds primarily in legumes, induce mast cells to produce histamine and bind to the intestinal mucosa making it more porous.

An indication of how serious leaky gut can become is the long list of symptoms that can manifest at various points around the body, a few of which include:

  • Aggressive behavior, anxiety, confusion, fuzzy thinking, mood swings, poor memory and nervousness.
  • Asthma and shortness of breath.
  • Bloating, Constipation, Diarrhea, Gas, and Indigestion
  • Fatigue, fever, poor immunity recurrent bladder and vaginal infections, and bed wetting

Obviously, leaky gut is some serious business, but we can help restore gut integrity through:

  • Stress management. Our bodies react to stress by producing be IgA and DHEA while slowing digestive function. Meditation, guided imagery, relaxation and a good laugh every now and then can be of tremendous value.
  • Food therapy. Cabbage juice, cabbage family foods, bone and vegetable broths, fresh vegetable and aloe vera juice, okra and slippery elm team have a healing effect on the small intestines.
  • Glutamine and zinc carnosine supplementation. Glutamine decreases the incidence of infection and bacterial translocation and stimulates the production of sIgA while zinc carnosine shows a lot of promise in gut healing.
  • Pre- and probiotics. Pre- and probiotics help the gut bacteria function in digestive food and help sooth the small intestines.
  • Digestive enzymes. Taking digestive enzymes with meals may ensure that all foods are completely digested and taking proteolytic enzymes between meals supports immune function and helps break down immune complexes.

What we don’t do is just as important as that which we do when we are attempting to heal the gut and the primary concern here should be the use of nonsteroidal drugs like Advil, aspirin, and Motrin. These drugs damage the brush borders, allowing microbes, partially digested food particles, and toxins to enter the bloodstream.

Related: Alcohol & Gut Health: Eating to Restore Balance

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All content on this blog is provided for entertainment purposes only. Information is based on research, discussions with health professionals and personal experience and in not intended to replace consultation with a licensed medical doctor or nutritionist.

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© Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.