What Is Leaky Gut?
Before I can explain what leaky gut is, you need to know a little anatomy. The intestinal system absorbs nutrients from the food we eat and eliminates the elements that can harm the body. Inside the tube of the intestinal system is considered outside of the body. We have many barriers to protect the body from being invaded by bacteria, viruses and harmful chemicals from entering the body and cause harm. One example is the skin. The gastrointestinal system prevents harmful elements from entering our body as well as absorbing necessary nutrients the body requires.
The gastrointestinal system has many ways of protecting us from absorbing harmful elements.
The first is the good bacteria in our gut. They inhibit pathogenic bacteria. They talk to our genes to prepare the body for possible invaders. They also produce vitamins that we need for health.
Fighting right alongside of the good bacteria there are immune cells that are sensitive to bacteria and other proteins. This special class of immune cells is called secretory immunoglobulin A. The key component of this part of the immune cell is that it does not create a systemic inflammatory reaction. If you remember in previous articles, a systemic inflammatory state is an underlying cause for most chronic diseases.
The third barrier in our gastrointestinal system are the tight junctions between the cells that line our gut. These tight connections between cells prevents large molecules from entering into our body.
When these three systems breakdown, large molecules from partially digested foods such as gluten as well as bacteria, viruses and chemicals can enter into the body. This is known as leaky gut. Unwanted particles leak into our bodies which eventual cause a systemic inflammatory response.
These unwanted elements from a leaky gut activate two types of immune cells in the wall of the intestines. One type of immune cell produces antibodies to fight off the invader. The other type of immune cells creates a systemic inflammatory response. This response activates the immune system of the entire body, which protects our body from invaders.
How Do We Get Leaky Gut?
There are many factors that cause leaky gut. The Standard American Diet, (SAD) is a major contributor. Our diet consists of foods containing; hormones and antibiotics, sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, additives and chemicals from processed foods and genetically modified food. There is also a lack of nutrients needed for optimal health.
The overuse of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, as well as environmental pollutants and foodborne illnesses changes the good bacteria in the gut, exhausts the immune cells lining the intestines and eventually widens the gaps between cells allowing large particles to enter into our bodies.
What Chronic Illnesses Are Caused by Leaky Gut?
The association between systemic inflammation and chronic illness is extremely strong. Leaky gut is one mechanism that causes systemic inflammation. However, the most alarming result of leaky gut is autoimmune disease. I discussed the mechanism in a previous article. If you would like to reread this article you can go to my website and click on the blog section where you’ll find the article.
Leaky gut also is associated with compromised liver function, malnutrition, multiple chemical sensitivities, psoriasis, IBS, and the list goes on.
How Do You Fix Leaky Gut?
In functional medicine it is known as the 5 R program.
Remove-foods that you may be sensitive to, chemicals, toxins and processed foods. This is known as the elimination diet.
Replace-digestive enzymes which helps the body break down food. In leaky gut digestive enzymes are often insufficient to break down foods completely.
Reinoculate-introduce beneficial bacteria.
Retain-to prevent leaky gut from reoccurring. Dietary recommendations, nutritional supplements, exercise, stress reduction techniques, and quality sleep are all considered and tailored to the individual.