Have you ever had a leaky pipe in your house? It started off as a slow drip that got a few things wet. Eventually, as the drip progressed, it eroded the pipe and anything in its path. The same thing can happen in our plumbing. Leaky gut syndrome is a term used to describe a general condition where small holes morph into big holes in our intestines allowing food particles, fecal matter, germs, etc. to escape into the blood stream. Once these particle are loose in the system they trigger an immune response because the body perceives them as threats. The immune response then triggers inflammation. Over time acute inflammation becomes chronic and can lead to various autoimmune and other chronic diseases. Modern medicine treats diseases on their own rather than has a result of the body’s system going haywire. However, that is changing as more research into leaky gut begins to confirm some suspicions that many autoimmune and chronic diseases have their start in the gut. By the way, this isn’t a new concept. Ancient Egyptians referred to the intestinal system as the river of life. They would first treat illness by treating the bowels.
Leaky Gut Is Just That, A Leaky Gut
We are conditioned to believe that if a disease doesn’t have a fancy name that it isn’t real. But when you really think about it many of those fancy names are really the names of the people who discovered them. Or we’ve heard of them for so long and our awareness of them is high that we don’t realize the name is rather simplistic. Leaky gut, then, probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves because of this or perhaps because the explanation is just too simple. Billions of dollars is spent on research into autoimmune disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. It would be a big blow to the industry if it turns out many of these diseases could be prevented or alleviated by improving gut health.
Some symptoms of leaky gut are bloating, cramping, fatigue, food sensitivities, achy joints, headaches, rashes, flush and/or sweating. Some will experience all or some of these symptoms. The reason leaky gut is often missed is because these symptoms are usually treated separately. The symptoms are also general and could be caused by any number of things.
Leaky gut, technically called intestinal permeability, is when the tightly connected cells of the bowels separate forming large holes. Through the holes food particles, fecal matter, bacteria, etc are allowed to escape into the blood stream. So literally material is leaking from the gut. This wreaks havoc on the system. The immune system begins to create antibodies to the foreign substances that in turn can lead to food allergies or skin conditions such as eczema. But when it occurs over years and years the body becomes less and less able to bare the load and begins to break down.
The Primary Cause of Leaky Gut is Gluten
I know, no one wants to hear about gluten anymore. The war is raging – is it good, is it bad? The answer is yes. If you have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten it’s bad. Let’s first understand exactly what gluten is doing. Sure, it’s fashionable right now to be gluten-free but there may be a reason for that. The intestine breaks gluten down into more digestible proteins. For people who are sensitive to gluten the cells release a substance called zonulin. This protein regulates how tightly the cells are held together. An increase in zonulin can cause the tight junctions between cells to separate and form a hole. There are small structures along the intestinal wall called villi that are responsible for nutrient absorption. Damage to the villi can prevent the body from pulling out key nutrients. Gluten can contribute to this damage.
There is a test to determine if one has leaky gut syndrome. Primary care physicians are unlikely to think of it let alone offer it. The best course of action is to find a physician who believes in a holistic approach to preventative care and healing. You’ll know this person because he or she doesn’t reach for their prescription pad on impulse. What you want is a partner in your care because a leaky gut can be prevented and reversed.
The Dangers of Leaky Gut Are Often not Associated With It
Leaky gut has been associated with conditions such as arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, psoriasis, eczema, and other autoimmune diseases. However doctors by and large treat these conditions separately. Unless someone is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of Celiac disease a physician won’t recommend exploring their intestinal health, let alone prescribe removing gluten from their diet. The theory is that these conditions are the symptoms themselves not diseases or conditions. Further, these are all symptoms of one thing – leaky gut. You fix that, you fix them all.
Dr. Shahram Lavasani, is noted as saying that scientists and medical professionals are reluctant to believe there is a connection between intestinal permeability and extraintestinal autoimmune disease.
The way leaky gut manifests, then, is based on our unique genetic makeup. I read somewhere, and unfortunately I can’t remember where, that every person has a genetic predisposition or weakness. That weakness can become a reality based on how we treat our bodies. Meaning that we already have MS, arthritis, eczema, etc. but the body is able to keep it in check until the equilibrium is disrupted. If someone is predisposed to lupus suffering from a leaky gut over years may be enough to throw the body off triggering lupus to manifest. It’s an interesting theory and one that has merit.
A study published in PLOS ONE conducted by researchers at Lund University in Sweden have shown a connection between leaky gut and multiple sclerosis, MS. It too theorizes that leaky gut, in addition to genetic susceptibility, causes an abnormal reaction resulting in “self antigens” (immunity against one’s own body). Therefore if doctors are treating the symptoms of a leaky gut rather than the condition itself the resulting disease will continue to worsen. One of the study authors, Dr. Shahram Lavasani, is noted as saying that scientists and medical professionals are reluctant to believe there is a connection between intestinal permeability and extraintestinal autoimmune disease. Why is that? Is it lack of understanding or proof? Or is it that the cure for these devastating diseases are so simple and would impact a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry?
While leaky gut may not be the only cause of these conditions, there is evidence to suggest the medical community should consider it a strong possibility in the treatment of patients. Why? Because there was once a time in medical practice where they thought sterility practices were silly. How many people and newborns died before those practices were taken seriously and adopted?
Close The Holes
Clearly the best way to prevent leaky gut is to avoid large amounts of gluten, if you are sensitive to it. There are myriad leaky gut diets out there. The idea behind the diet is simply to eliminate the offending substance. It may be gluten, it could be something else. Check with your doctor. Let’s assume it’s gluten. After eliminating gluten for a while see how you feel. If symptoms start to subside chances are good you’ve found the culprit. The body has a natural healing process. Once the damage-maker is gone the body can heal the damage without interruption. The cells in the intestinal wall regenerate every 24-48 hours.
The next step is to help the body heal the damage. Though the body’s natural process is constantly on-going depending on how much damage was done it can use some help from us. The best way to do this is by changing the foods we put down there. Bone broth has become very popular lately for its health benefits, one of which being closing the holes of a leaky gut. Again, this is pretty self explanatory. Bone broth is created by cooking bones (e.g. beef, chicken, turkey) in water, herbs and spices for at least 24 hours. This allows the bone marrow to release the desired nutrients into the water. This is different from the stock or broth you see on the shelves. Most people make their own bone broth at home but it can be ordered online and some stores, such as Whole Foods, sells it prepackaged. It’s cheaper to make it at home. I do. The primary substances you are after are glycin and gelatin.
While you can take a glycine supplement, it’s best to get it directly from food. Glycine supports the detoxification process and is also used by the body to make hemoglobin (blood), bile, and supports digestion. The gelatin is good for digestive health. This may be why chicken soup is good for a cold. Chicken broth inhibits neutrophil (type of white blood cell) migration which is a side effect of cold, flu and other respiratory infections. It’s also thought that collagen in bone broth has a beauty bonus. Collagen is what gives skin its radiant glow. The lack of collagen is what causes wrinkles. Other claimed benefits include improved joint function, helping wounds heal faster and regulating the immune system.
Glutamine is also thought to help with improving intestinal health by repairing enterocytes, which are cells in the small intestine. These cells are important to absorbing nutrients from the food we eat and glutamine is the preferred source to produce the mass amounts of energy they need for food absorption. Enterocytes can become damaged through stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet.
Of course scientists poo-poo the potential benefits of bone broth due to lack of scientific evidence. However, there is no scientific evidence to the contrary either. It’s harmless enough and you can try it for yourself. I have adopted ingesting bone broth and feel I have benefited from it. Before I started drinking bone broth I couldn’t eat bananas. I hadn’t been able to eat bananas since high school when they suddenly began causing excruciating stomach pain. I also add in herbs for other benefits – parsley for its antibacterial properties and cilantro for pulling out heavy metals. I would also include onions but I also give the bone broth to my dog and dogs can’t have onions.
You can find glycine, glutamine, collagen/gelatin and other food sources besides bone broth. For example, the Paleo Diet is hailed as being a great leaky gut healing diet. If you decide to cut out gluten beware of gluten free foods and marketing. Many companies use the term gluten free as a marketing ploy. They will put it on foods that wouldn’t contain gluten anyway. Foods that substitute wheat with something else to make it gluten free can often have as much if not more sugar and sodium than the wheat-containing version. Also, avoid processed sugar as much as possible. It can contribute to the ill effects of leaky gut by encouraging the overgrowth of yeast in the gut. The yeast will release even more toxins into your body. And include probiotics to increase the good bacteria in your gut.
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