In this five-part series, we’ll be talking about all things digestion. In Part 3 we learned about how stress negatively affects your digestion and gut health. In this chapter we’ll be discussing Leaky Gut: what it is, what it’s caused by and what it looks like!
Hippocrates, said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Unhealthy gut = unhealthy body. But what causes the gut to become unhealthy? And what does an unhealthy gut look like?
Leaky Gut, or intestinal permeability is a condition in which the lining of the small intestines becomes damaged and causes undigested food, toxic waste and bacteria to ‘leak’ through the intestines.
The intestines are protected by a single layer of specialised cells that are linked together by tight junction (or TJ) proteins. These tight junctions work like floodgates, controlling what gets passed into the bloodstream from your digestive system.
When you have Leaky Gut, certain particles that should never be able to enter your bloodstream start to get in. Your immune system – 80% of which resides in your gut – targets these ‘foreign invaders’ as harmful pathogens and mounts an attack on them.
With greater intestinal permeability, more and more particles are able to enter your bloodstream and your immune system reacts by sending out continuous waves of inflammation to attack. This state of high alert overburdens your immune system to become overstressed and starts to just open fire – leading your own tissues to get caught in the crosshairs. When this happens then your body is essentially attacking itself, which then results in autoimmune disorders.
Some of the main culprits of leaky gut are foods, infections, toxins, and stress. Inflammatory foods (such as gluten and dairy) or toxic foods (such as sugar and excessive alcohol) are especially harmful. The most common infections you could get are candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Toxins come in the form of medications (NSAIDS, steroids, antibiotics, and antacids), as well as environmental toxins including pesticides, heavy metals, and BPA from plastics.
Stress, as we discussed in the previous chapter, can also contribute to a Leaky Gut by increasing overall inflammation in the body and impeding the breakdown of food in the stomach, allowing large undigested particles of food to enter the system.
Some common symptoms of leaky gut include:
- Food intolerances/allergies
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
- Poor immune system and autoimmune diseases
- Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
- Mood disorders and depression
Here’s an IMPORTANT NOTE: You don’t have to have gut symptoms to have a leaky gut.
Leaky gut can manifest as skin problems like eczema or psoriasis, heart failure, autoimmune conditions affecting the thyroid (Hashimoto’s) or joints (rheumatoid arthritis), mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, depression and more.
Due to our modern lifestyle full of processed foods and high stress levels, Leaky Gut and bad gut flora have become commonplace. These two things walk hand-in-hand: if you have a leaky gut, you probably have bad gut flora, and vice versa.
When your gut is impaired, inflammation is almost inescapable and chronic inflammation is a huge cause of disease. Therefore, it is important to take care of your gut so you can not only digest your food properly and absorb all the important nutrients, but also to ensure that your immune system is functioning the best it can and protect you from infections and illnesses.
In the final segment of the Gut Feelings series, we will go over some simple steps you can take to start healing your gut from the inside out.