Leaky Gut Syndrome
Can your guts actually leak?
Leaky Gut has been a controversial topic in medicine since the term was first coined. Some doctors don’t believe it deserves to be considered a diagnosis while others believe it is the reason most disease exists. And so another great debate persists about why people get sick and how to treat them.
What is Leaky Gut?
This may be slightly perplexing, but our alimentary canal – the part of our digestive system where food goes in whole at the mouth and exists as waste at the anus – is technically part of the outside world. It’s not part of our body. The membrane of tissue that lines the entire canal is made of cells that are connected to each other very tightly, or at least should be. These cells are meant to absorb the breakdown products of digestion so we can utilize what we have consumed from the outside world to penetrate through the membrane to ultimately nourish our insides. Leaky gut occurs when something triggers the tight junctions between intestinal cells to form gaps, which allow substances other than broken down food to enter our system.
What do we know about Leaky Gut?
We know there are a few conditions like Crohn’s and Celiac disease that demonstrate what is medically termed ‘intestinal permeability’, which is really another way of saying intestinal cells are letting things through that they shouldn’t be a.k.a leaky gut. We know we can test this permeability and see just how much of certain substances pass through the barrier between our digestive tract and our bloodstream. One testing method has identified a substance called zonulin that modulates the intestinal wall cells much like a zipper handle, closing or opening the space between cells to allow proteins to enter. This has been implicated scientifically in autoimmune diseases. What we don’t know with confidence is what actual effect this has on causing disease or how to treat it.
Proponents of leaky gut suggest that there are many other instances where this leakiness disposes to problems like allergies, autism, eczema, psoriasis, IBS, mental illness, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and a whole host of other health concerns. It’s believed that when food proteins pass the gut barrier they interact with immune cells that normally would never be exposed to food proteins. Once exposed, the immune cells target tissues in the body that resemble these food proteins, a phenomenon called molecular mimicry, or develop complexes with them, which damage tissue as well as set up inflammation.
In practice many doctors are discovering how much leaky gut plays a role in most diseases. Here is a link to one doctor’s discovery:
More and more doctors are incorporating a program developed and clinically shown to treat leaky gut. The 4 Rs is a program that incorporates individual stages to Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, and Repair – all meant to help heal the intestinal lining and narrow the gap junctions that create so many problems.
Avoid all foods that are considered the most offensive and potentially allergenic to the digestive system. These can include dairy, gluten, sugar, eggs, nightshade vegetables, preservatives, and chemical additives. This can be a challenge and proper coaching is helpful to remove them safely and effectively.
After time of poor digestion or uncontrolled leaky gut, the digestive system sometimes needs support to break foods down. Consuming hydrochloric acid, bile salts, and pancreatic enzymes can all help take some burden off the digestive organs while they heal.
Our largest immune organ is our intestine, which mainly has this ability because of the trillions of bacteria that line its tract. When we have digestive or immune disturbance the balance of good and bad bacteria shifts in favour of the latter. It is important to choose the right kinds of bacteria to repopulate the intestinal terrain.
We have to heal our guts. The cells that make up the intestine eat specific nutrients like amino acids to plump back up from a dehydrated raisin form to juicy grape form so that the gap junctions between can more easily close. Demulcents are substances that can soothe the lining at the same time as hydrating them. I liken this stage to the coating effect of pepto bismol with more of the benefit and less of the side effects.
Evidence for leaky gut continues to grow. We see the effects of leaky gut in so many health concerns and it is very treatable. For more support and a fresh perspective consider consulting a qualified healthcare practitioner at evolve Nurturing Vitality.
Dr. Bobby Parmar ND