Your GI tract is made up of cells that are tightly packed together and are connected by what is called tight junctions. It’s almost like when you pull your shoelaces and the two sides come together and tighten up.
The digestive tract becomes inflamed as a result of poor digestion, high stress, and several other factors. This inflammation results in these tight junctions becoming more open or permeable; allowing things like undigested food particles, toxins, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This is what is known as “leaky gut.” Once these undigested food particles are ingested, the immune system reacts and starts to attack them since they are viewed as foreign, and therefore, a threat. This creates a thick cycle of more inflammation, which then increases more leaking. It is common for this to take years to develop.
As the GI tract gets damaged, the cells become unable to correctly digest food because they don’t produce the enzymes to do so as well.
This can lead to:
Leaky gut is called a “syndrome” because the large protein molecules that get into the system activate a certain part of your gut called your gut-associated lymphatic tissue or GALT.
Once begun, your immune system releases little molecules called inflammatory cytokines. That is just basically a fancy way of saying that your immune system kills things with fire. Once these cytokines get into your blood circulation, they have been shown to cause inflammation in the brain, joints, heart, skin, and other tissues all over the body!
What can cause leaky gut?
There are several things that contribute to a leaky gut. A diet high in sugars, processed foods, fast food, casein (dairy), gluten (wheat, barley, rye), and alcohol. Certain medications like corticosteroids, antibiotics, and antacids can contribute as well.
Dysbiosis or an overgrowth of bad bacteria, parasites, yeast, or a virus can also contribute to a leaky gut. A high-stress life or hormone deficiencies such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, or thyroid may promote inflammation and cause a more permeable gut lining. In diabetics, glycosylated end products (hemoglobin A1C measures this indirectly) from high blood sugar and insulin resistance destroy the proteins needed to hold together the junctions in your gut and can cause it to become leaky. Lastly, autoimmune patients release more of those inflammatory cytokines (think fire) which tell a certain chemical called inducible nitric oxide synthase, or iNOS, to destroy cells lining the GI tract.
What do you do for a leaky gut?
Well, that depends on what is contributing to your specific case but these are some of the common ways to treat leaky gut.
In our office, we use products that have been shown to nutritionally support the healing of the GI tract, as well as check for food intolerances so that you can eliminate those foods from your diet. We also encourage good stress management techniques and eating under calm conditions.