‘Leaky gut’ describes a gut which is inflamed and has got very porous (much more porous than it should be), and is letting large food proteins, bacteria, fungi, metals and toxic substances straight into our bloodstream or, in more scientific terms an increase in permeability of the intestinal mucosa to macro molecules, antigens and toxins associated with inflammatory, degenerative and/or mucosal damage.
Once in the bloodstream, our immune system is the last line of defence to deal with these susbstances and will eventually become overwhelmed if a leaky gut is not rectified. Another problem that a leaky gut creates is a mineral deficiency because the damage that happens to the carrier proteins which are needed for the transport of specific minerals are damaged by the inflammatory processes. For example, where there is a magnesium deficiency, even if a very high dose of magnesium is supplemented, this will not get into the body where it is needed if the carrier protein for this mineral is damaged.
Our intestinal lining replaces itself approximately every few days, meaning that every cell that the lining is composed of is digested or sloughed off and a new one grows to take its place. All this activity means that the gut uses more blood when it is resting that any other organ but it is also the first to lose its blood supply when in a fight or flight situation which is what stress is. If you have a lot of stress then the gut will always be starved for blood and the lining will be impaired exacerbating leaky gut.
There is no single cause of leaky gut syndrome, but some of the most common causes include:
- Stress: Prolonged stress changes the immune systems ability to respond quickly and affects our ability to heal. Stress also slows down digestion and reduces blood flow to digestive organs.
- Dysbiosis: Dysbiosis in the gut contributes to leaky gut syndrome. Candida push their way into the lining of the intestinal wall, parasites irritate the intestinal lining and cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Environmental Contaminants: Daily exposure to hundreds of household and environmental chemicals put stress on our immune defences and the bodys ability to repair.
- Poor Food Choices: Low fibre diets cause an increase in transit time, allowing toxic by-products of digestion to concentrate and irritate the gut lining. Diets of highly processed foods injure our intestinal lining. Processed foods are low in nutrients and fibre, with high levels of food additives, hydrogenated fats and sugar. These foods promote inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Even foods we think of as useful can be irritating to the gut, eg milk is highly irritating to people with lactose intolerance.
Leaky gut, which should be suspected in the following conditions:
- Abdominal pain
- Ankylosing sponylitis
- Joint pain
- Coeliac disease
- Environment illness
- Food intolerance
- Liver dysfunction
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Poor exercise tolerance
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rashes
- Mood swings
- Viral, bacterial or yeast infection
A leaky gut can seriously compromise health, not just from acute and chronic allergic illness, or from acute digestion symptoms. Nutrients may not have found their way into the circulation and cells due to years of malabsorption because of damage to the gut lining. In effect, nutrient deficiencies occur – not blatant enough to give you beriberi or scurvy but certainly significant enough to affect metabolism and either cause or predispose a person to chronic disease and ill health. To make matters worse, a leaky gut will permit bacterial and fungal toxins to enter the circulatory system, where they do not belong.
Foods to Avoid:
- Sugar encourages fermentation and growth of unfriendly bacteria in the bowel so high sugar foods such as cakes, sweets, chocolate, biscuits and fizzy drinks should be avoided.
- Avoid alcohol as this increases fermentation in the gut.
- Any foods to which there is an intolerance will aggravate the problem, the most common foods being wheat, citrus fruits and cows milk.
- Avoid heavy large meals which place too much strain on the digestive system.
- Cut down or avoid low fibre foods such as pasta, white bread and processed meals.
- Avoid tea, coffee and fizzy drinks, which dehydrate the bowel.
Foods to Add:
- Eat more natural live yogurt containing the friendly bacteria acidophilus/bifidus.
- Pineapple and papaya are rich in enzymes which improve protein digestion, making it less likely that undigested proteins end up in the bowel.
- Beetroot, artichokes, radishes and celeriac are good liver cleansers which also improve digestion. They contain inulin, which helps encourage the growth of bifidus bacteria within the bowel. This helps to reduce the load on the liver in the long-term.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of filtered or bottled water a day.
- Use fresh root ginger in cooking or added to juices as this helps heal the gut.
- Garlic helps fight infections and encourages the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.
- Green cabbage is rich in the amino acid L-glutamine which helps heal a leaky gut. Eat more steamed and raw cabbage and use the liquid from cooking to make gravy.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, whole grains such as lentils, brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa high in fibre, aids constipation thereby removing toxins from the bowel.
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, high in fibre, enzymes and nutrients.
- Eat good sources of protein every day (preferably organic) such as chicken, oily fish, tofu, nuts and seeds.
In addition to proper diet and exercise, many suffers of leaky gut have found relief in taking natural, organic supplements. Probiotic supplements, colostrum, glutamine, anti-oxidants and digestive enzymes have all been found to be effective in the treatment of leaky gut syndrome. All of these supplements aid in the balancing of the digestive system, promote healthy flora and immune system support.