Is there really such a thing as Leaky Gut?
Posted on 7th February 2024 at 08:40
To those with a more natural approach to health, it’s obvious how important both the diet and Digestive System are to good health. While what we eat usually gets most of our attention, what then happens to it is equally important.
And, as a quick aside, by “eat” we mean everything that enters our Mouths and then ends up in our Stomachs, not just food or drinks. For some reason, people tend to forget all the other things that pass their lips every day. Sweets and chewing gum. Any medications or supplements taken. Traces of toothpaste or mouth wash. Nicotine from cigarettes or e cigs, absorbed into saliva and then swallowed. While they may all be in relatively small amounts, so far as our Digestive System is concerned, they all count and can have an impact, particularly over the longer term…
Once swallowed, it’s over to the Digestive System to break down and process into a form that can be absorbed and finally used by the body. Traditionally, this was thought of as a mechanical process, using enzymes and other substances produced by the body. However, this understanding has changed radically in recent years as the importance of so called “digestive flora and fauna” – that description always makes us smile (!) – has become more obvious and widely accepted.
At the same time, it’s become clear that the Digestive System does much more than simply digest food. For example, it’s an important first line of defence for the Immune System, as well as playing an important part in the production of Serotonin – which itself goes far beyond helping balance our mood and emotions.
With all of these different functions going on, it’s not surprising that the Digestive System can start to feel the strain. Even more so when you realise its lining is very thin, as little as one cell thick in places.
And, if you’re wondering why this, the answer is very simple. To selectively – and that’s the important word, selectively – allow nutrients released by the digestive process to easily pass into the blood stream and then around the body. Everything else remains in the Digestive System, either to be absorbed later on or, as they say, come out the other end (!).
Problems begin when the lining starts to lose its integrity and become more permeable. This means that particles which should remain in the Digestive System “escape”, passing through the lining into the blood stream. Hence it being known as “Leaky Gut” or “Increased Intestinal Permeability.”
However, it isn’t simply a case of particles being in the “wrong” place, which can be easily dealt with. Instead, it triggers an Immune System response against a substance the body doesn’t expect to find in the blood. It doesn’t matter that they’re only particles, it’s just they shouldn’t be there.
And, if you think of the body as an old fashioned castle with many lines of defence – moat, drawbridge, high walls, as well as many different sections within the castle itself – it’s as though invaders have been parachuted straight into the inner castle. Cue a very robust immune response which, if this is an ongoing issue, can have body wide effects. Inflammation and auto immune issues, allergies and sensitivities. To keep this post to a manageable length, we’re not going to talk about the various lines of immune response – and the medieval castle is a very good analogy for it – but if you’d like to find out more click here. Similarly, to find out more about a crucial part of the immune response, inflammation, click here.
You may then be wondering why there isn’t a much greater awareness of Leaky Gut, with its potential to affect not only the Digestive System, but the body as a whole. Well, this comes down to two simple reasons. Its slow onset and general symptoms, as well as there being a multitude of different possible causes.
Leaky Gut builds up slowly over a period of time, as the lining gradually becomes more permeable and lets more particles through. So, while the Immune System is triggered, it’s the repeated triggering – and to a greater degree as more particles pass through the lining – that really kickstarts the process.
At the same time, as it impacts on the digestive process, it also takes time for the effect on nutrients available from the food eaten to start to be felt across the body. This is exacerbated by the extra demands placed on the Immune System, which then needs more resources itself. Finally, an over active Immune System leads to other functions across the body being scaled back to meet this demand.
The end result is many different – and general – symptoms, which can make pinpointing what’s going on far from straightforward. They include:
• Generally feeling unwell
• Low energy levels / fatigue
• Feeling “toxic” and headachy
• Poor concentration and memory
• Bloating, Diarrhoea / Constipation
• Skin issues such as Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis
• Joint pain and inflammation
• Hormonal issues
• Longer term, nutritional deficiencies, particularly in the B Vitamins
Which then leads us on to there being many different possible causes such as:
• Long term stress
• Poor diet, not only one high in processed foods with also in vegetable oils, wheat, dairy or sugar
• Overuse of antibiotics, as well as certain medications
• Imbalance of “bad” bacteria or Candida in the Digestive System
• Toxin overload, such as Glyphosate and other chemical pesticides
• And many more besides
With all the possible permutations, it’s easy to see why Leaky Gut is so easily overlooked. However, it’s often much easier than you’d expect to identify when a Client’s health started to change and the likely trigger that initiated the process. Time and again, it started with a trauma, illness or stress of some sort and, from there, things started to slip downhill. This means that both the initial trigger AND the ongoing drivers need to be addressed but, the good news, is there are many simple things that can be done at home to help.
Diet is obviously a key part of this process, both in terms of removing any foods that may be exacerbating matters on an ongoing basis, as well as helping the Digestive System to heal. The link between wheat, dairy and sugar and digestive issues is well known but, often, a simple Sensitivity Test can help to identify other potential problem foods such as eggs or soya as well as caffeine or alcohol. Often it flags up foods that Clients hadn’t considered before but, with hindsight, can easily see as making their symptoms worse. This can be done with a piece of hair as part of the process, to find out more just drop us an e mail.
Alongside this, supporting the “good” bacteria is key. Not only with proiotics and prebiotics but, diet wise, in giving them the foods they need to function well. So, plenty of fibre and fermented foods, which also help to soothe the whole system itself.
Other off the shelf supports include Slippery Elm and Aloe Vera juice, both of which are both very soothing to the Digestive System.
Where environmental toxins may be playing a part, again, there are many simple things you can do at home. Use glass – and reusable (!) – bottles rather than plastic ones. At the same time, look at all the plastic products you’re using and stop / replace them with a more sustainable option. And, if you use a microwave, just stop and think what happens to plastic packaging as you heat your food… Similarly, an air filter or humidifier can help reduce air pollution.
If you’re on medication, talk to your GP about whether this may be playing a part.
So, is there such a thing as Leaky Gut?
In our experience, yes, although it often takes a little detective work to uncover. Then it’s simply a case of addressing the initial trigger(s) and ongoing drivers, taking it slowly over a period of time to allow the body to gently heal.
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown author
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