Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” This truism has never held more weight than it does in our modern age. Our guts are under constant strain from poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress, and exposure to environmental toxins.
One of the most problematic results of our unhealthy modern lifestyles is an ailment known as Leaky gut. Leaky gut is directly related to the unhealthy choices that plague modern life and is a precursor to various conditions and diseases. The modern industrial food system is a key contributing factor to the toxicity that negatively impacts our gut function. Unfortunately, the symptoms of leaky gut are ones that we have come to take for granted as normal sensations and ailments. These include low energy, inflammation, poor digestion, food allergies, and poor metabolic function.
Why is it vital that leaky gut is on your radar? Simply put, a healthy gut is the foundation of holistic, total-body health. An unhealthy and unbalanced gut is related to a host of varied health concerns and diseases. Because the gut is one of the largest contributors to a strong immune system it is absolutely essential that gut health is sustained for proper immunity and disease resistance.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
A lack of medical consensus on the existence of leaky gut has precluded its full definition until recently. Leaky gut, also known as intestinal hyperpermeability, is created by malfunctioning tight junctions in the intestines.
The intestines are protected by epithelial cells linked together by compounds called tight junction proteins. The tight junctions connect the intestines and the bloodstream and they control what the digestive system passes into the bloodstream. Tight junctions are necessary to your health as they monitor and balance the process of passing vital nutrients to the bloodstream and restricting xenobiotics from entering the bloodstream. Xenobiotics are disease-promoting entities caused by, among other things, poor diet and health choices. They reside in the digestive system and the tight junctions keep them from leaking into the bloodstream and wreaking havoc.
Leaky gut symptoms are essentially a result of a malfunction in how the tight junctions operate. The permeability of the epithelial lining is compromised through pathogens and an unhealthy internal environment. This in turn allows toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Proteins, fats, and waste materials are able to pass through the compromised gut lining and enter the bloodstream.
The immune system then kicks into overdrive which leads to chronic inflammation and dis-ease. This inflammation is the bodies autoimmune reaction to the foreign compounds in the bloodstream. Some people are more genetically predisposed than others to experience leaky gut. Their bodies may be more sensitive to triggers in their environment that prompt an autoimmune response. Most incidents of leaky gut, however, are triggered by elements within individual control.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
The modern lifestyle is a huge precursor to gut malfunction. A poor diet high in allergens and inflammatory foods is a huge trigger. Unfortunately, foods that prompt this unhealthy gut response are some of the most prevalent in our modern food system. These include GMO foods, refined oils, synthetic and chemical food additives, refined sugars, and antibiotic-enriched dairy products. All of the additives that have enabled cheap food to proliferate have promoted gut malfunction.
Other ubiquitous aspects of modern life, like drugs, tobacco, and alcohol play a part in gut malfunction. These things have a toxic effect on the body and put extensive strain on the gut and immune system. Antibiotics, cytotoxic drugs, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, aspirins, chlorine, and fluoride also exacerbate inflammation in the gut and body. Tap water in certain regions also promotes inflammation.
Bacterial imbalance, or dysbiosis, which is linked to exposure to toxins and industrial foods, allows harmful bacteria to thrive. Healthy bacterias are absolutely vital to optimal gut function. Positive microbiota help sustain the epithelial barrier and are elemental to strong gut function. When there is an imbalance between pathogenic and good bacteria in the gut the pathogenic bacteria can siphon nutrients and starve the good bacteria, creating a negative feedback loop.
Leaky Gut and Disease
Abnormalities in the gut have significant impacts on health as the gut is a major player in immune system function. These impacts are serious and include acute inflammation and the development of autoimmune disease, among various other conditions and ailments. It is important to remember that the conditions and diseases listed here have not been proven to have a causal relationship with leaky gut through conventional medicine. There is, however, strong evidence that these conditions are related to the symptoms and outcomes of leaky gut. The medical community is still debating the exact relationship between gut malfunction and the conditions listed below.
Some chronic, acute, and severe health conditions that are connected to leaky gut include the following, but are not limited to:
- Respiratory infections.
- Thyroid disorders.
- Concerns with inflammatory bowel disease may be connected to leaky gut. This might suggest that individuals could be at greater risk for Crohn's disease if they suffer from leaky gut.
- Celiac disease, a common condition that impacts countless people, is linked to leaky gut and exposure to inflammatory compounds.
- Chronic arthritis.
- Esophageal and colorectal cancer.
- Heart disease.
- Type II diabetes.
- Parkinson's disease.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Crohn's Disease.
What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut?
There are various signs that you may be suffering from leaky gut. Some of the more common and disruptive symptoms include ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea. However, some of the most salient symptoms of leaky gut are extremely common and many people live with them without knowing their root cause.
As we mentioned above, the modern industrial food system has introduced our bodies to new allergens and toxins. One of the results of this exposure is a heightened susceptibility to food sensitivities. Many people experience particular problems with gluten and dairy. Sensitivity to food can be a sign of leaky gut and chronic inflammation in the body. Exposure to GMO's and refined foods can heighten food sensitivities and promote allergic reactions.
Nutritional deficiencies borne from nutrient malabsorption can be connected to the poor diet that triggers leaky gut. Vital nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin B12 may not be absorbed by the bloodstream and can impact an individual's health.
One of the most concerning aspects of leaky gut is its relation to autoimmune disease. Related to this problem is the symptom of chronic thyroid conditions. Low thyroid function could be a symptom of leaky gut. The respective symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, low mood and a slower metabolism.
Inflammatory skin conditions like acne and psoriasis can be related to leaky gut. If you experience frequent breakouts or aggravated skin this could be directly related to internal inflammation. This speaks to how the different organs of the body are interconnected. Dis-ease in the gut can lead to a cascade effect, impacting all other systems and functions of the body. This is true for the skin and it is also true for mental health and cognitive function. One of the symptoms of leaky gut could be low mood and depression. The inflammation that is triggered by leaky gut releases cytokines that may in turn prompt the brain to experience depressive moods.
Our Holistic Approach to Leaky Gut
Leaky gut has been overlooked in the conventional medical community because there are simply a lack of diagnostic tools available to diagnose it. Many of the symptoms, like gluten intolerance and acid reflux, can be remedied but the root cause of leaky gut has evaded a clear and consistent solution. More and more integrative and natural medical practitioners have embraced the existence of leaky gut and work to treat it using a holistic approach.
These practitioners have embraced stool tests, allergen tests, and mineral deficiency tests as tools to isolate and identify leaky gut. Because leaky gut manifests in such a diverse range of symptoms it can be helpful to understand more about these symptoms using tangible tests.
Now that we have explored some of the symptoms and risk factors for leaky gut lets learn about some strategies to mitigate it, and heal the body using a holistic approach. One of the most foundational and fundamental changes that will impact your gut health? Removing allergen-inducing foods and replacing them with whole foods and organic produce. Avoiding genetically modified foods, high fructose corn syrups and refined oils and sugars will be a huge relief to your gut and your digestive system. Conventional dairy products and grain products are major contributors to food sensitivities and inflammation. These foods place enormous strain on your body and create the inflammation that can wreak such havoc on all other organs. Unfortunately, we live in a society that promotes and subsidizes inflammatory foods. They fill our grocery store shelves and are integral to the culture of convenience food.
Mindful eating habits are a first line of defense against leaky gut. Embracing organic and whole foods is essential to building up a strong immune defense system and reducing inflammation. Whole foods that have not been modified or refined should form the bedrock of your diet. An emphasis on simple ingredients, healthy herbs and spices, and unrefined oils will refine your taste buds and remove the reliance on fatty oils and sauces.
So which foods should you be incorporating into your diet? The same foods that promote whole body health. These include:
- Pesticide free, organic fruits and vegetables which can help you build up your nutrient stores and gently restore your body to optimal health.
- Fermented products like tempeh – a wonderful source of probiotics.
- Sprouted seeds like flax, chia, and hemp seeds.
- Sea vegetables and seaweed.
- Omega 3 fatty acids and fish oils.
- Fiber rich foods to support digestive health and regularity.
Infusing your diet with probiotics is also vital as bacteria are crucial to building a strong intestinal barrier. Good bacteria defend against pathogens by depriving them of a nutrient source. Good bacteria helps regulate the processes of the gut and supplies the epithelial cells with energy. Organic, probiotic yogurts are a delicious and pain-free way of incorporating probiotics into your diet. Probiotic supplements are an efficient way of ensuring you are bolstering your gut lining and increasing your stores of good bacteria. Glutamine, an amino acid that helps maintain metabolic function, can be beneficial when taken in supplement form.
Limiting exposure to tobacco and alcohol is crucial to reducing the impacts of a leaky gut on your health. Tobacco and alcohol are toxic compounds and they reduce the immune system's ability to defend itself from disease.
Reducing stressors may be a less tangible, but no less vital, way to detoxify your gut and mental environment. Chronic, low-simmer stress reduces your body's ability to heal itself. When paired with an anti-inflammatory diet activities like exercising and meditating can promote clarity and balance.
Environmental toxins and pollutants can also exacerbate inflammation in the body and that is why it is so vital to target this with a diet-exercise-mindfulness routine. Drinking lots of purified or fluoride free water will assist you in releasing toxins and pathogens from the body. Embracing a lifestyle of whole foods, physical activity, and meditative practice will support you in your journey of cultivating stronger gut health and reducing inflammation.