So you may have heard a new term floating around the internet and in health circles that has you a little confused and, even somewhat grossed out. The name is Leaky Gut, and the game is inflammation, but first, is Leaky Gut exactly what it sounds like? Well, yes and no. In scientific circles, the condition is technically called Intestinal Permeability and refers to micro-holes in the intestinal lining that lead to reactivity of the immune system. In other words, when the integrity of the gut lining is compromised, your body begins to attack itself which leads to all sorts of chronic illnesses and health complaints.
Now, you may be wondering what sorts of things actually cause these "mini-holes" and what you can do about it? There are lots of different variables that contribute to a leaky gut, but the main players are:
Use of steroids, NSAIDS or prescription drugs
Environmental Toxin Exposure
Ingesting pesticides, herbicides, synthetic hormones
Conventional meats, eggs and dairy
Overconsumption of sugar and processed foods
So how exactly do these contribute to a leaky gut? Well, they are all a bit unique, but most of them either directly wear down the lining (think nsaids and chemotherapy) or they amp up general inflammation in the body that leads to a wearing down of the lining over time (think sugar consumption and food intolerances). Either way, the end result is much like rubbing sandpaper over the same spot for hours and hours (in this case, sometimes months or even years) until eventually you break through creating a hole. Once this hole has been made, it becomes easy for food particles, proteins and waste to "leak" into places they shouldn't be – i.e. Your bloodstream.
In a healthy gut, your cells are packed closely together, in formations called Tight Junctions, that allow for very little permeability. This is what keeps nutrients in your gut and waste out of your body. Unfortunately, while your body is pretty smart, it can't quite keep up with the cognitive abilities of your brain. When partially digested protein molecules enter your bloodstream from your gut (in the case of leaky gut), they may be similar, or even identical, in makeup to protein strands of specific organs in your body. Proteins, after all, are just proteins whether they are eaten dietarily or found native in the body. When these proteins cross the 'Do Not Enter' barrier in your gut, your body sends out soldiers to attack them since they don't have the clearance to be in that restricted area. Immune responses like this are important when pathogens like bacteria and viruses are present, such as when you contract the flu, but not so helpful when we begin to attack our own cells. Unfortunately, in all its wisdom, your body can't tell the difference between the piece of toast you just ate and your thyroid. We call this Molecular Mimicry, which eventually leads to autoimmunity - or any conditions where your body attacks its own cells. So, any and all proteins that match the amino acid strand of gluten in your toast will be treated as foreigners and attacked. Assuming the protein makeup of your thyroid matches your invader toast from that morning, you're in trouble. Obviously, the process is bit more complex than this, but this gives you a general grasp.
When your gut is leaking out proteins from every meal you ingest, your body is then in a constant state of immune arousal and this leads to even more inflammation that you don't want. Strangely, more and more scientific literature is pointing to the fact that a Leaky Gut doesn't just affect, well, the gut. No, as a matter of fact, a leaky gut can go on to affect literally thousands of different process in your body from your eyes down to your toes. Not good news. Thankfully, a Leaky Gut can be repaired and even strengthened to become better than before. We won't be getting into that in this post, but the 3 best things you can do to begin the process are:
1. Remove foods that you are intolerant to sensitive to: the biggest culprits are usually grains, dairy, soy, sugar, alcohol, chocolate, eggs, nuts. Try doing an elimination diet and then adding each on back in slowly to check for reactions.
2. Reduce or manage your chronic stress. Learn to meditate, try yoga or take some relaxing walks. Even 10 minutes in nature has been shown to reduce stress levels significantly.
3. Include gut healing foods in your diet such as bone broth, collagen protein, l-glutamine, vitamin C, plenty of fresh, organic vegetables and probiotic/fermented foods such as kruat, kimchi, kefir, kombucha and cultured dairy/veggies.
If you can begin to make these small changes, overtime your gut, and body, will definitely thank you. Until next time!