Leaky gut. It sounds made up but I assure you it's very real and more importantly may be at the root cause of your health condition.
Leaky gut, also known as "intestinal permeability" can be caused by imbalances in gut flora or poor digestion and can contribute to food allergy or intolerance.
What is Leaky Gut?
Your gut runs from your mouth all the way down to your rectum. And think of your gut as a protective barrier keeping bad, unwanted things out like bacteria and toxins, yet allows things the body needs to operate in through the gut wall. Our focus will be on the small intestine. This is where the majority of nutrient absorption happens and more importantly about 80% of your immune system (the thing that protects us from the outside world) is located.
Here's how it works. The intestinal lining is the first line of defense for our immune system. The outer layers of intestinal cells (epithelial) are connected by structures called tight junctions. On the surface of all the villi are specialized cells called microvilli. The microvilli are responsible for absorbing and ushering nutrients from the foods we eat, into the bloodstream where it is carted off to specific areas of the body. This is the healthy way.
But when your gut becomes "leaky", there is a breakdown of this process and a breakdown of the cells protecting us from the outside world. Certain factors like processed food, infections, toxins, pathogens, medications, and stress can all have a giant impact on the health of our gut lining. When the cells become damaged, toxins from the outside world can easily "leak" their way into our bloodstream. When this happens, specialized cells see the invasion of "foreign" substances and has to react. The immune system then jumps into action and sounds the alarm that a "foreign invader" has entered the premises and it goes on the attack to neutralize the threat.
As part of the attack, the immune system creates massive amounts of inflammation using different inflammatory cytokines. If you could lay out your gut lining flat it would cover the size of a tennis court. So having inflammation all over something the size of a tennis court is extremely harmful to our health. But it doesn't stop there. Because the gut lining has been compromised, toxic invaders have now slipped by our defenses and are now into our bloodstream wreaking havoc all over the body. Yes, causing more inflammation all over the body.
As you can now see, this can and does affect multiple systems of the body including the brain. (1)
When this goes unchecked, leaky gut can lead to several symptoms and conditions.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut can vary from person to person depending on the level of damage and the tissues being affected. This is due in large part to how long you’ve been dealing with leaky gut.
Signs, Symptoms, and Conditions associated with Leaky Gut
Digestive issues like gas, bloating, and constipation
Stress, anxiety, and depression
Skin Issues like acne, eczema, and psoriasis
You get sick a lot
Low to no sex drive
SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth)
SIFO (small intestinal fungal overgrowth)
IBS, IBD, Crohn's, Celiac
Yeast Infections or overgrowths
Joint pain or anything with an "itis"
If you have one of more of the signs or symptoms from the list above you have some level of leaky gut.
The Leaky Gut Cycle
When we continue to take in "foreign" invaders, some you might see as "healthy" (I'll show you in a second), this prolongs the inflammatory response from the immune system. This can lead to a cycle of events such as nutrient malabsorbtion and even lead to autoimmune disease.
So let’s take a look at the leaky gut cycle and how things can quickly get out of hand. Take me for example. I am highly allergic and sensitive to almonds. Almonds for most people are "healthy" right? And for most they are. However not for this guy. Here's what happens.
So I eat almonds and my immune system see almonds as "not friendly" and foreign. It springs into action releasing tons of inflammatory cytokines to neutralize the invading so called "healthy" almonds. This causes inflammation in my gut and my gut lining erodes. If the cells of the gut lining are damaged they cannot absorb minerals and vitamins and nutrients. So you end up with certain deficiencies such as B12, and magnesium, iron, and so forth.
Also by taking in almonds I get an immune response. Remember we don’t want that because this causes inflammation. Lots of it. And if we have inflammation all over something the size of a tennis court we are going to see other systems of the body effected. This can show up as brain fog, joint pain, thyroid problems, and even weight struggles.
When this continues long enough, this can lead to GI issues and multiple food intolerances. Things like gluten, dairy, nuts and seeds. And if this continues it can lead to a full blown autoimmune disease where the body ends up not being able to distinguish good tissues or “self” from harmful invaders. And the immune system goes on the attack of our good guys, our good tissues like the thyroid. This is when you’ll see conditions like Hoshimotos or problems with our metabolism. Or it attacks the brain causing neurodegeneration resulting in things like dementia or ADD, or the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys.
I hope that you can now see how important and how real leaky gut is and why it is a gateway to many serious health conditions.
Be sure to check out the post How'd my gut get so leaky? to learn about the things I call the "thorns" that cause Leaky Gut.
Until next time...keep it healthy!