Gut health is an important component of overall wellness and something that many people struggle with. A root cause of many gut issues, as well as many other autoimmune disorders, is leaky gut syndrome. Normal, healthy mucosal cells lining the inner wall of the intestines are formed together and packed closely. These closely aligned healthy cells create what are called “tight junctions” between themselves. These tight junctions allow us to absorb only good, fully digested nutrients into the bloodstream while keeping other substances such as toxins, harmful bacteria, undigested food particles, and digestive enzymes out of the bloodstream. Leaky gut occurs when these mucosal cells become damaged, and the tight junctions between the cells become separated. These wide gaps allow the harmful substances to “leak” through the gut wall and directly enter the bloodstream.
There are several causes of leaky gut, the most important being poor diet. The standard American diet is notorious for consuming high levels of processed foods such as gluten, dairy, and sugar, while not getting enough good nutrients needed to keep the cells healthy. The combination of too much bad and not enough good is enough to damage the intestinal walls. Toxins are also a cause of leaky gut syndrome, and they come from things we ingest, things we inhale, and things we absorb through the skin. Pesticides, pollution, and insect repellant are great examples of these. These toxins enter our body and create systemic inflammation, which can have a negative impact on the gut. Chronic stress can also affect gut health because when we are under duress, digestive processes slow down. If we are stressed for too long and digestion slows too much, food material can sit in the gut for too long and rot, releasing harmful toxins that can damage the cells. Finally, bacterial imbalances are also a major cause of leaky gut syndrome. About 70% of our immune system relies on having healthy bacteria in our gut to fight off bad bacteria, viruses, and parasites we may ingest. If we kill off these bacteria via antibiotics, over the counter medications, stress, and not eating enough probiotic-rich foods, it creates an imbalance and the bad bacteria may take over, leading to leaky gut.
Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to autoimmune diseases, which occur when the body’s natural immune system attacks normal healthy tissue. This occurs because when the toxins, bacteria, and food particles leak through the gut into the bloodstream, our immune system identifies them as “foreign invaders” and creates antibodies to fight them off. These antibodies can be overproduced, and eventually can make mistakes and turn on the body when they shouldn’t, leading to different conditions depending on where and how severe this immune response occurs. Examples of these autoimmune diseases linked to leaky gut include irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
So what can you do to heal your gut? Follow the “4-R approach to gut health.” First, you must remove unhealthy foods such as processed grains and sugars. Then replace those with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and lean protein. Next, repair the gut by adding supplements to decrease inflammation and heal gut tissue such as omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Finally, rebalance your healthy gut bacteria with a good probiotic supplement.
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex