Stress at work, overindulgence in alcohol and processed foods, certain medications, and bacteria can harm your gut. Abnormalities in the gut can cause leaky gut, which can lead to a host of health problems. Let’s face it: modern life can be a double-edged sword sometimes.
You may have heard or read about leaky gut, but how much do you really know about it? And do you know what’s causing it? Read on to find out if you have leaky gut and the lifestyle choices that could be causing it:
What is Leaky Gut?
Your gut lining has two important functions; it enables the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream and it serves as a barrier to prevent harmful substances, such as pathogens and toxic substances from passing through.
Your gut lining is your immune system’s first line of defense. It is made up of epithelial cells with the outer layer fused together by tight junctions. At the tips of the cells are tiny finger-like structures called microvilli that absorb fully digested nutrients into the epithelial cells and the bloodstream.
The tight junctions stay closed during the digestion process to ensure that molecules of different substances are properly screened before they get to the bloodstream. Imagine these junctions as bouncers in a classy bar carefully screen people before they are allowed inside.
If the gut lining becomes inflamed or damaged, these junctions will remain open or can become wider allowing harmful large particles to pass into the bloodstream, a condition called increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome.
When bacteria, viruses, toxic substances and undigested proteins leak into the bloodstream and all over your body, your liver will filter them. However, your liver may not be able to cope with the continuous flow of toxic substances. This is when your immune system enters the picture. It will send cells that will attack these toxic substances resulting in inflammation and in turn, will cause the manifestation of varying symptoms.
This is out of the topic but did you know that most of the nutrient absorption from the foods you eat takes place in the small intestine? From the small intestine, food particles will transport to the large intestine, which is mainly responsible for absorbing water. Then, the undigested particles will be eliminated from your body as feces.
Symptoms You Might Have It
The leaky gut syndrome often remains undiagnosed especially when a person suffers from digestive issues or when diagnosed with other medical conditions. However, leaky gut could also be the cause of digestive issues, other medical conditions and a host of many other health problems.
The following are symptoms of leaky gut syndrome:
When the gut lining becomes inflamed or damaged, not only does it become more permeable allowing toxic substances in but it may not be able to absorb nutrients properly. Inflammation of the gut lining will affect the function of microvilli which is mainly for nutrient absorption.
When the tight junctions of the gut lining are wider or if they remain open during digestion, undigested protein and fats from the food you ate may be able to pass through them and get into the bloodstream. Your body will negatively respond to these substances and your body’s allergic response may also lead to the worsening of the symptoms of medical conditions, such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, asthma and skin diseases, such as eczema and psoriasis.
Bad bacteria in your gut releases harmful toxins that cause inflammation could get into the bloodstream when you have a leaky gut. Your immune system will release cells to fight off these substances resulting to fatigue. The more toxic substances to enter the bloodstream, the more immune cells will be released and the more fatigued you will be.
A leaky gut will allow cross-reacting antigens to get into the bloodstream. The normal automatic response of your body to ward off these antigens is the release of antibodies from your immune system.
Before we go on, a cross-reacting antigen is an antigen produced by an infectious substance similar to the antigen found in the tissues in different organs of the body, hence they are considered as cross-reactive.
Now, when an antigen that entered into your bloodstream is cross-reactive to the antigen in your heart or the skin, your immune system will automatically send antibodies to fight off these antigens including those in your heart ad in your skin, which then result in autoimmune diseases.
Examples of autoimmune diseases are:
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Celiac Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Thyroid Disease
Undergoing treatments for leaky gut may resolve the leak in your gut but it won’t resolve autoimmune diseases.
The intestinal tract has the second highest number of nerves in the body. Your brain and your gut will communicate with each other by sending impulses through these nerves. Some studies show that inflammation in the gut may result in neurological disorders, such as:
- Autism spectrum
- General Anxiety
- Multiple Sclerosis
Other digestive disorders not related to a leaky gut might also be the cause of these neurological disorders.
As what have been previously mentioned, a leaky gut can allow byproducts of bad bacteria into the bloodstream, which trigger an anti-inflammatory response including the release of cytokines. These cytokines are capable of communicating with the brain and may disrupt how the brain produces neurotransmitters responsible for regulating your mood and feelings and this could result in depression.
A study conducted in Hungary found that leaky gut syndrome or increased intestinal permeability tends to be confined in the large intestine in people with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS and ulcerative colitis.
Bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fatigue are common symptoms of IBS and ulcerative colitis, which may explain why people with leaky gut experience these digestive issues.
If you suspect your symptoms are of a leaky gut, see your doctor as soon as possible.
What Causes Your Gut To Become Leaky?
Prevention is better than cure so arm yourself with knowledge on what causes leaky gut syndrome. It can occur for several reasons, including:
Different studies on humans show that overgrowth of Gram-negative bacteria in the small intestine tends to be more common in chronic alcoholics. Moreover, alcoholics are three times more likely to have bacterial overgrowth than people who have no history of habitual consumption of alcohol.
Overgrowth of Gram-negative bacteria can lead to the increased levels of endotoxin, a toxic substance attached to the cell wall of the Gram-negative bacteria which is released once the cell dies.
The gut lining normally allows a small amount of endotoxin to pass through which will then be filtered by the liver. However, increased levels of endotoxin due to bacterial overgrowth may result to increased permeability of endotoxin in the gut lining.
Other studies on animals also showed that alcohol consumption can cause mucosal damage in the small intestine leading to increased permeability of toxic substances including endotoxin.
There are medications that can irritate the gut lining and reduce the mucosal levels, which then lead to inflammation of the lining. Medications that are known irritants of the gut lining are:
o Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDS
According to gastroenterologists or physicians who specialize in gut conditions, these medications will cause mild irritation only in a certain part of the intestine. You may not notice any symptoms and the irritation of the intestinal lining may go away once you stop taking these drugs.
Certain Medical Conditions
Most of these medical conditions cause inflammation on the gut lining resulting in increased permeability. Medical conditions that can cause a leaky gut are:
o Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
o Bacterial or Viral Infections in the Digestive Tract
o Coeliac Disease
o Chronic Kidney Disease
o Cystic Fibrosis
o Type 1 Diabetes
Treatment for a leaky gut resulting from these medical conditions is not crucial. On the other hand, treatment of these diseases may improve leaky gut.
Candida is a type of yeast normally found in the gut. Candida has tentacles that can help attach itself to the lining of your gut. These tentacles are capable of forming holes where toxins and pathogens can pass through.
Zinc is a vital nutrient in maintaining optimum digestive health. Without enough zinc, your gut lining may become weak and more permeable.
Highly processed foods, preservatives, fatty foods and foods high in sugar are all pretty toxic to the digestive system. When consumed regularly, these toxins build up and cause inflammation in your gut.
The approach of treating leaky gut may vary. Usually, it includes diet changes and nutritional supplementation.
Your gut lining is your first line of defense against diseases and other health problems. In fact, Hippocrates and others believe that a healthy gut equates to a healthy body. Consult your doctor, but first things first: try cutting out irritants, such as sugar or alcohol, and adding a probiotic supplement (Please visit heartland nutrients to learn more about probiotic supplements) to your diet. The good news? Leaky gut is absolutely preventable through lifestyle and diet.