Leaky Gut Part 1- What is it? Signs, Symptoms and Common Causes
Leaky gut sounds laughable doesn’t it! How on earth can a gut be leaky? What signs should you look out for? What causes it? I’ll explain this below as Part 1 on this Topic. In part 2 next week I’ll provide nutritional and lifestyle support so that you don’t have to be a sufferer.
What is Leaky Gut?
Its true name is Intestinal Permeability. But “leaky gut” is so much easier to say and remember!
The gastro-intestinal tract is extremely long- 4000 square feet of surface area!
The gut intestinal wall is an important barrier protecting the body from harmful pathogens, toxins, partially broken down food, allergens and gut waste.
The wall of the gut is made of epithelial cells with an important mucosal lining. It’s a hugely important site that should create a favourable environment for the beneficial bacteria- the microbiome – to thrive and grow. It is also home to the production of antibodies that kill off invading pathogens that pass through the gut attached to food (an immune response).
Yes we swallow pathogens all the time and a healthy gut is responsible for 70% of our immune system.
A healthy gut epithelial lining is essential for the transport of nutrients from food across into the bloodstream. Therefore a poor gut lining can hinder nutrient transport and nutritional deficiency could result.
The epithelial cells of the gut lining should be linked together by tight junction protein. The tight junctions are clever enough to allow vital nutrients to pass into the bloodstream. But when these tight junctions become damaged then the gut is said to be leaky. It allows larger gaps between the cells that enable toxins, viruses and other pathogens to cross into the bloodstream. Partially broken down food can pass through triggering an immune response.
Signs and Symptoms
There are some chronic gut conditions that are thought to have a link to leaky gut: coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Less serious but equally distressing to an individual are disturbed digestive symptoms: Diarrhoea and/or constipation can be linked to leaky gut due to the disorder of the gut lining. IBS symptoms like bloating, wind and abdominal pain may also be connected.
Beyond the gastro-intestinal tract
Atopic conditions and allergies may be linked to leaky gut since allergens and pathogens and partially digested food can pass through into the bloodstream setting off an inflammatory or immune reaction. Food sensitivities and allergies are believed to be common leaky gut symptoms.
There is an increasing range of research to suggest that other health conditions may be associated with leaky gut such as autism, depression, dermatitis, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome; and chronic inflammatory conditions and auto-immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
What can cause leaky gut to occur?
There is so much research that shows how our modern lifestyles negatively contribute to damaging the gut and the digestive system. We know that modern diet and lifestyle factors can increase inflammation in the gut. This inflammation can damage the tight junctions.
A diet of sugars, refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils, processed foods can all contribute to leaky gut as they have an inflammatory action in the body. Gluten can be particularly damaging for those susceptible.
Food additives and chemicals can also be part of the picture. Today we come into contact with far too many chemicals – up to 80,000 chemicals and toxins every year.
Be careful with the overuse of antibiotics and pain relief medications like NSAIDs which can damage the gut lining.
Chronic stress is also part of the picture since stress alters the balance of gut bacteria which I explain below.
Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut bacteria with an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and yeasts together with a lack of commensal beneficial bacteria. Pathogenic bacteria produce toxins and gas which damage the gut lining. The damaged lining prevents the efficient growth of beneficial bacteria and this becomes a vicious cycle!
As you should expect from my information, it doesn’t have to be all bad news. This is the first part of my talk on this topic. Next week I shall provide my recommendations for nutritional and lifestyle approaches to keep your gut barrier healthy and steps you can take if you suspect it may require some support.
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