During digestion, our intestines are designed to allow certain nutrients to pass into the bloodstream, and send the rest downstream. When the intestinal lining becomes damaged or disrupted, it can allow unwanted elements to get through and block absorption of nutrients… this is known as Leaky Gut (increased intestinal permeability).
Leaky Gut is an extremely important issue for all of us due to the sum of the following reasons…
The gut is the gatekeeper of nutrients, toxins, chemicals, viruses, bacteria, fungus, and whatever else we ingest.
Our immune system is dependent on the health of our gut.
Leaky Gut can cause a large number of symptoms that seem unrelated.
It’s hard to pinpoint that Leaky Gut is making a pre-existing condition worse, like arthritis.
It can be caused by a number of factors or a combination of many.
There is no test to specifically say that you have Leaky Gut.
Our actions have a LOT to do with our chances of having Leaky Gut, making it better, or making it worse.
There is a lot of debate in the medical community over Leaky Gut… whether it’s actually a condition, and whether those unwanted elements actually harm a person. Don’t get me wrong, everyone agrees that a person can have increased intestinal permeability, but they seem to be hung-up on when to actually call it a condition. The gut is designed to keep certain things out, and I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t need to wait for mainstream medicine to tell me that it’s not good for me.
It’s probably fair to say that all of us have Leaky Gut to some degree, since it’s doubtful that any of our intestines are in 100% perfect condition, so let’s talk about some of the things that can cause it, what can happen, and what we can do about it.
What can contribute to Leaky Gut?
One of the main culprits is gluten (specifically gliadin), a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten and it’s estimated that about 1% of the US population has celiac disease, yet the majority go undiagnosed. Research has shown that even people without celiac disease can increase their intestinal permeability by eating gluten (not good). For most of us, eating gluten is a good, better, best thing… where it’s probably best if we didn’t eat any at all, and it might be ok if we eat some, but none of us should have gluten be a staple of our diet.
Sugar is a fine meal for yeast, and too much of it can result in an intestinal damaging overgrowth. Chronic stress can make it easy for viruses and bad bacteria to thrive in the gut by lowering our immune system. Antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria without discrimination, which can easily throw gut flora and yeast out of balance. Food additives, preservatives, alcohol, certain medications, chemicals, parasites, chemo, radiation, and over the counter NSAIDs can all damage the gut lining.
What can happen?
Once these unwanted elements hit the bloodstream, they have to be dealt with. Often times our immune system will see these elements as foreign and react accordingly. Chronic activation of the immune system equals inflammation that can show-up almost anywhere… in the way of fatigue, headaches, or rashes to name just a few. This inflammation could easily exacerbate a pre-existing condition like eczema. Leaky Gut can also result in new food sensitivities that will trigger the immune system each time that food is eaten, equalling even more inflammation.
What can you do?
The first thing is to review the list of what can cause Leaky Gut and just do less of that! No seriously, take care of your gut and it will take care of you. Fiber is critical to gut health by helping remove the unwanted material, feeding the good bacteria, and keeping everything moving. Taking probiotics can help keep the flora and yeast in balance.
While there isn’t a specific test to pinpoint Leaky Gut, your doctor can run an Intestinal Permeability Test. Basically, you drink a concoction containing 2 non-metabolized sugars. One is large and shouldn’t get through, the other is smaller and should get absorbed more easily. The urine is analyzed and your doctor can learn something from the amounts of each and the ratio between the two. Food sensitivity tests, like the Alcat, are very useful. It will show you what foods you are currently sensitive to, including gluten (but remember you don’t have to sensitive for it to affect your gut lining), sensitivities to a large number of foods can be an indication of Leaky Gut.
Back to gluten… this is a protein that people simply do not digest well and overtime it has the potential to cause anyone a problem. At the very least, be conscious of the risks and limit the amount of gluten products you eat.
I said it above and I’ll say it again… take care of your gut and it will take care of you.
muffin photo by Kevin Lallier (flickr creative commons)