LEAKY GUT SYNDROME
It can cause so many unpleasant symptoms. But what exactly is it? Here’s all you need to know about...
All you need to know to avoid this condition
WHAT IS LEAKY GUT SYNDROME?
Imagine the lining of your digestive tract as a net, with incredibly tiny holes, tiny enough to allow specific particles through – but also to filter out larger particles that shouldn’t pass through. Then imagine a few breaks in this net. These damaged areas let bigger molecules – that ordinarily wouldn’t fit through the holes – pass through the net. You’re looking at a picture of a leaky gut.
Your gut lining is a barrier keeping large particles from going where they shouldn’t go. Leaky gut syndrome describes a ‘porous’ intestinal tract, or one with a permeable lining, causing the ‘tight junctions’ as they are known (cells lining the gut) to pull apart, which allows material to ‘leak’ into the bloodstream. Increased intestinal permeability or hyperpermeability is not yet a mainstream or generally accepted condition in the allopathic world, but it is re- ceiving more and more attention. Why? Because it’s becoming so common that it’s almost reaching epidemic proportions.
WHY DOES A PERMEABLE LINING CAUSE PROBLEMS?
Well, because undigested food molecules pass through the holes which have formed in the lining of the large intestine, and go straight into the bloodstream. Remember, these molecules are not supposed
to be in the bloodstream – they’re meant to remain in the gut. The intestinal lining is the first defence for our immune system. At the tip of the tight junctions are micro-villi: nutrients are supposed to be absorbed and transported through these cells into the bloodstream. Ideally, the tight junctions remain closed and screen everything that passes into the bloodstream … they’re like bouncers at the door of an exclusive club. But when you develop leaky gut, it’s as though the bouncers have left the door open and gone to sleep on the job – any old unscreened molecules are free to go wandering directly into the bloodstream. Not surprisingly, your body immediately starts trying to get rid of the problem. Imagine: various toxins, bacteria and viruses, waste, yeasts etc going where they’re not supposed to go – it has to elicit a reaction.
HOW DOES THE BODY REACT?
The breach in your intestinal wall causes inflammation, and inflammation itself evokes an immune response. Your immune system is mobilised and goes into battle mode – but if it can’t fight the invasion fast enough, and if the inflammatory process is not brought under control, the battle is basically lost. Pretty soon, your body is in full fight mode, and eventually it will turn on itself, often manifesting in an array of autoimmune diseases – anything from chronic fatigue to multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia etc. These are the most common autoimmune diseases seen with leaky gut, but there are also others – like severe skin problems, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and many other conditions of ‘a lesser nature’. These are equally distressing, but not seen to be as ‘serious’ as an autoimmune disease. Some other common (yet perhaps not often realised) side effects of leaky gut include brain fog, sinus problems, sore throats and headaches – seemingly ‘minor’ ailments. For others, there are more life-threatening and severe symptoms that manifest in serious disease like coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario: we’re not really sure whether it is caused by, or causes, leaky gut – but we do know that gluten damages the gut lining, and that coeliac sufferers may have a genetic predisposition to contracting this disease, given certain circumstances and environmental factors.
Antibodies are formed to fight the invaders. All undigested food is regarded as an invader which your immune system will wage war on, and will show up as food intolerance. The invaders can be the casein protein from milk, or the gluten from wheat, or other foods like nuts or eggs – a person with a leaky gut will often be sensitive or intolerant to a host of different foods. But that person is not truly intolerant to those foods; the bloodstream is just not the place for those proteins, so the body fights them as it sees them as alien. The microvilli along the intestinal tract lining become compromised, and the digestive enzymes needed to break down the last bits of undigested food for proper digestion are no longer able to do this efficiently.
Your digestive tract influences everything from digestion to communicating with the brain – it’s known as ‘the second brain’, in fact, that’s how much of an influence your gut has on you. By continually feeding yourself inflammatory food, you will never allow your gut to heal. The
Pretty soon, your body is in full fight mode, and eventually it will turn on itself, often manifesting in an array of autoimmune diseases – anything from chronic fatigue to multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, etc
anti-inflammatory LCHF way of eating is perfect for this condition. Chronic inflammation doesn’t stop there. As Dr Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Coeliac Research and Treatment in Massachusetts says, ‘the gut is not like Las Vegas – what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut’.
SO – WHAT CAUSES LEAKY GUT?
To back up a bit (no pun intended!), there are four main causes: poor diet, chronic stress, toxin overload (ie. antibiotic use, for example) and bacterial imbalance, coupled with a lack of zinc, which is needed to maintain a strong intestinal lining. The four substances which cause the most damage in the way of foodstuffs
are dairy, grains, sugar and genetically modified foods (GMO). Grains and GMO foods have lectins, which damage the lining of the gut, and may do a lot more harm than you realise. Other lectin-containing foods are spelt, legumes, rice and soya. Soya is by far the worst and most damaging, on a par with wheat.
Those are the primary reasons, but there are others: medications such as steroids and anti-inflammatories, long-term NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) use, pollution, a high sugar diet, stress, nutrient deficiency, yeast overgrowth … any and all of these, and dozens more, can contribute to leaky gut. Anything that damages the integrity of the intestinal mucosa will cause problems, and will also lead to severe malabsorption of vital nutrients including zinc, iron and Vitamin B12.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? COULD I HAVE IT?
It’s possible, as it’s so widespread and under-recognised these days. You’ll probably have quite a lot of, or at least some of, the following symptoms if you have leaky gut. Bear in mind that radiation or chemo can cause them too:
• Chronic constipation
or diarrhoea • Multiple food sensitivities • Chronic fatigue • Some sort of autoimmune
disease • Skin rashes; psoriasis;
acne; rosacea • Sinusitis/asthma/eczema • Joint pain, muscle pain
or arthritis • Yeast overgrowth
(candida) • Cravings for sugary
carbohydrates • Anxiety/depression • Severe hormonal issues • Gas, bloating, reflux • Thyroid problems • Overweight or underweight for
your height • Weight gain • Digestive complaints or
Leaky gut will often manifest in the allergic response (often seen in asthmatics, those with eczema, urticaria etc), malnutrition (the lining of the gut is not properly ‘fed’ or protected by good bacterial flora); bacterial dysbiosis (an imbalance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, often due to antibiotic use), and hepatic (liver) stress. The liver works overtime to remove the toxins from the body, and depletes important reserves needed to keep up the good work.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
You absolutely have to eliminate sugars, starches, grains and inflammatory processed food in order to starve the yeast and quieten the inflammation, which will allow the gut to heal. While there is no magic bullet, the low carbohydrate lifestyle is ideal for healing the gut. Diet, lifestyle and some targeted nutrients all work together to correct the problem. Some good supplements would be zinc, vitamin D3, omega-3 fish oil (not flax) and a good multivitamin. Probiotics are paramount here too as they are the most important part of a healthy intestinal tract. We have trillions of bacteria – up to 3kg just in the large intestine in an adult. These are the friendly bacteria that protect us and make up 85% of our immune system. In fact, we have more bacteria in and on our bodies than actual cells making up our bodies! We are a parasitic heaven, if you like, and most of these are beneficial to us. Without them we would not survive.
Follow LCHF principles,
be focused and determined and don’t slip up.
So: treat yourself to lots of home-made bone broths and fermented vegetables – two extremely healthy and tasty ways to repopulate healthy bacteria while healing the gut. Follow LCHF principles, be focused and determined and don’t slip up. Each slip-up sabotages your efforts to heal your gut. And get enough sleep, plenty of clean water and some exercise to help your body support this vital healing process. Give yourself time, and treat your body with the respect it deserves: it will reward you handsomely and do what it does best – heal itself when given the chance.