Your gut is the epicentre of your health. It all begins and ends there. It is where you breakdown your food, absorb your nutrients and eliminate your wastes. Your digestive environment governs the health of all other systems and if these simple functions and microbiome balance are compromised, signs and symptoms of health challenges will begin to appear.
When you focus in on the absorption of your nutrients, the health of your small intestinal is critical. Issues with your gut wall can lead to a condition know as intestinal permeability, or better known as leaky gut. It’s been a bit of a buzz word of late and in fact a whole online summit is focused on reversing the digestive health condition. So lets take a dive into leaky gut a little further…
What is Leaky Gut?
To understand the term leaky gut, I should first address what a well-functioning small intestinal wall should look like.
Picture a fly screen, with tiny little holes to allow the breeze to flow through, but to filter out the bugs, flys, spiders and other creepy crawly’s. Now think of your small intestinal wall like this fly screen. It should be tight enough to filter out the undigested food, toxins and pathogens from entering the blood stream, but with small enough holes to allow broken-down food and therefore nutrients, through.
In a condition of leaky gut, holes exist within the small intestinal wall and these disruptive substances reach the bloodstream and cause unwanted digestive, respiratory, hormonal and neurological signs and symptoms. This process is technically referred to as intestinal permeability.
Signs, symptoms & conditions caused by Leaky Gut
- Heartburn and reflux
- Belching and flatulence (you’d recognise these ones as burping and farting 😉 )
- Constipation and/ or diarrhoea
- Abdominal pain
- Nutrient deficiency signs and symptoms (due to problems absorbing the nutrients).
- Trouble with memory, concentration, brain fog, behavioural issues, moods swings (a leaky gut causes a leaky brain).
- Fluid retention and weight gain (due to inflammation).
- High LDL Cholesterol. This can happen when the leaky gut is due to imbalanced bacteria levels and in Small Instestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (see explanation below). The leaky gut causes the liver to produce these LDL particles due to their antimicrobial action. If these LDL cholesterol particles become oxidised, this will contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Inflammation. Having a leaky gut contributes to a steady leakage of bacteria, toxins and undigested foods into your bloodstream. This leakiness contributes to antibody production, infections and low grade chronic inflammation. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, conditions of varying degrees and locations in your body can develop. (1)
Common causes of Leaky Gut
When your body is in fight or flight, it can not concentrate much needed energy on digesting your food, but will instead focus energy on the stress at hand. This can cause issues with stomach acid and digestive enzyme production, as well as beneficial bacterial levels and the resulting undigested foods can aggravate the gut lining. By de-stressing, eating in a relaxed environment, chewing your food properly and slowly, you are assisting in the proper break down of your foods. When the fully digested foods reach the Small Intestine, there is less irritating on the gut wall and you have a greater chance of absorbing the vital nutrients.
Low stomach acid and enzyme production
After chewing your food, the stomach acid is the next step towards adequate digestion. If you have low levels of stomach acid, your food, particularly proteins will be poorly broken down. When this happens, they hit your small intestines only partially digested.
Common causes of low stomach acid include eating in a stressed environment, eating on the run, inadequate chewing of your food, as well as the bacterial infection, Helicobacter Pylori (H.Pylori). This bacteria has the ability to damage the gut lining, including the parietal cells of the stomach, which are responsible for producing your stomach acid. Without strong stomach acid, food, especially protein, will not be broken down properly and important nutrients, such as minerals, amino acids and B12 are not completely absorbed.
On top of this, if your pancreas is overloaded (perhaps tied up with balancing your blood sugar levels), your digestive enzyme production may also be low and the rest of the digestion and absorption of your foods fail. When poorly digested food (due to low stomach acid) is passed from the stomach and onto the small intestines, the digestive enzymes struggle to break the food down small enough to be absorbed properly, (as nutrients), through the small intestinal wall.
Undigested food can be caused from and worsen an existing leaky gut. The large food particles push through and can damage the gut lining, and when a leaky gut already exists, the undigested food easily slips through the holes, causing inflammation and exacerbating any leakiness in the gut wall. This increases the prevalence of food intolerance reactions and leads to deficiencies of important nutrients.
In a state of leaky gut, undigested foods are absorbed into the blood stream and the body can start to attack these (via the production of antibodies). This process creates more inflammation, which further aggravates the condition of a leaky gut. When the leaky gut is in full swing, even healthy foods, can become intolerance’s (among the usual culprits such as grains, pasteurised dairy and industrial seed oils).
Among H.Pylori, other infections, such as parasites, Candida Albicans and imbalanced good: bad bacteria ratios, all contribute to the leakiness of the small intestinal wall. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, also known as SIBO, where bacteria from the colon migrate upwards into the Small Intestines is another common culprit for worsening the digestive upsets that occur with leaky gut.
As the leaky small intestinal wall is allowing more waste products across into the blood stream, there is more for the liver to process and filter toxins from the blood. Research has found that patients with an advanced form of fatty liver are more likely to have increased bacterial overgrowth and therefore leakiness in their small intestine. The severity of these intestinal conditions correlates with the severity of fatty liver. (2,3)
To summarise, the condition of SIBO damages the brush border of the small intestine and therefore the important absorptive pathways. This contributes to the intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and allows endotoxins into your bloodstream. More toxins, creates an increased work load for the liver to filter and overtime, leads to the condition of fatty liver.
The usual culprits that must be eliminated from your diet to prevent and treat a leaky gut, include soy, trans-fats (from heated seed and vegetable oils), sugar, gluten (particularly wheat). This also includes any foods you are personally intolerant towards, which in many cases of a leaky gut, can include healthy foods.
New research (4) presented in 2016 has linked inflammation in and beyond the gut to a different family of proteins in wheat, known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATI’s). ATI’s are naturally present in cereals to help protect the plant against pests and parasites. As higher yielding, pest resistant cereal crops are developed, the ATI content of wheat and other grains has also increased.
When ATI’s are consumed, they fuel the production of inflammatory cytokines and can cause implications for both celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease patients. Among this intestinal inflammation, ATI’s can contribute to inflammation in your lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain, worsening the symptoms in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (5,6)
Another consideration is to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. Imbalanced blood sugar levels and the condition which follows, insulin resistance are a cause of inflammation.
Toxins, such as those from conventionally farmed produce, those in cosmetics, pollution we breathe can contribute to and worsen a Leaky Gut. This highlights the importance to be continually supporting your detox organs– the gut being one of these.
You all know the importance of good bacteria in supporting a healthy gut. Antibiotics and the Oral Contraceptive Pill directly upset the balance of good and bad bacteria, therefore contributing to yeast over growth, like Candida Albicans. This detrimental yeast will further worsen a leaky gut. It is also important to be aware that taking the oral contraceptive pill affects 3 generations of gut bacteria and therefore digestive health.
Anti-inflammatory drugs are another culript for the development of leaky gut, through disrupting the lining of the stomach.
Although it can be clear enough to realise your gut lining is compromised just by tuning into your symptoms, there are some testing options that you may provide you with further personalised information.
- Food Intolerance Testing from IgG and IgA antibody, to detect any foods that you are personally reacting to and could be causing or contributing to a condition of Leaky Gut and any digestive issues you are experiencing (US Biotek and Imupro)
- Stool Analysis (Drs Data or Bio Screen) for parasitology, yeasts, bacterial balance, inflammation levels, Secretory IgA immunity defence levels plus more. If your budget allows, add on a test for the bacterial infection, Helicobacter Pyrloi
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) breath test, for Methane and Hydrogen. You can have this tested through your Naturopath
- If these are all clear, but symptoms persist, you should seek further testing for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. There are certain auto-antibodies GP’s can test for (such as Anti-Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, p-ANCA)
Healing Your Leaky Gut
Whether tests have confirmed, or your digestive discomfort is indicating the condition of a leaky gut, diet therapy, nutritional and herbal medicine can all play a role in helping to heal the condition of your small intestinal gut lining.
View and pick up a copy of the Gut Healing Summit to gain detailed information on how you can heal your leaky gut and experience the benefits of healthy digestion and balanced hormones. The Gut Healing Summitt includes in depth interviews to support your journey of gut healing. Guest speakers include Dr David Perlmutter, Cyndi O’Meare, Dr Nat Kringoudis, Helen Padarin, Lea Holmes, Jo Whitton, Dr Damian Kristof, Kirsty Wirth and myself. You can go here to take advantage of the special Gut Healing Summit early-bird price.
Have you watched the Gut Healing Summit? What did you learn?
Love, health & happiness,
(2) Wang L, Llorente C, Hartmann P, Yang AM, Chen P, Schnabl B. Methods to determine intestinal permeability and bacterial translocation during liver disease. J Immunol Methods. 2015 Jan 13. pii: S0022-1759(15)00005-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2014.12.015
(3) Scarpellini E, Lupo M, Iegri C, Gasbarrini A, De Santis A, Tack J. Intestinal Permeability In Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: The Gut-Liver Axis. Rev Recent Clin Trials. 2014 Dec 15
(4) Junker Y, Zeissig S, Kim S-J et al. Wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors drive intestinal inflammation via activation of toll-like receptor 4. J Exp Med 2012;209(13):2395-408
(5) Zevallos V, Weinmann-Menke J, Meineck M et al. Alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) accelerate murine systemic lupus erythematosus. Poster presentation at the 16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium, 21-24 June 2015, Prague, Czech Republic. Poster P168.
(6) Zevallos V, Yogev N, Nikolaev A et al. Consumption of wheat alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) enhances experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in mice. Oral presentation at the 16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium, 21-24 June 2015, Prague, Czech Republic