You may have heard the term “leaky gut” floating around your local health community over the past few years. Leaky gut is a condition of the digestive system in which unwanted particles leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, potentially leading to all sorts of issues, from brain fog to autoimmune conditions.
It is important to note Leaky Gut may not be recognized by your mainstream medical professional, though many studies link “increased intestinal permeability” - another name for Leaky Gut, to various health conditions.
Leaky gut refers to enhanced permeability in the mucosa lining of the gastro-intestinal tract. In a healthy human intestine, the intestinal lining forms a tight barrier that allows small particles to pass through, controlling what can get into the bloodstream.
A leaky gut is less selective and lets through more unwanted particles, called antigens. These antigens penetrate the mucosa to an increased extent, inducing an immune response in the body. Normally, small amounts of endotoxin (lipopolysaccharides) travel in the blood stream from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver where phagocytes eliminate them, a type of white blood cell that engulfs bacteria, foreign particles, and dying cells to protect the body.
With leaky gut, however, the body experiences increased exposure to these inflammatory fragments, exceeding the toxic load the liver is normally able to manage. Now, these antigens remain in the body and create a state of
Leaky gut appears to occur when the gut microbiome is negatively altered, promoting the growth of unhealthy types of bacteria and increasing inflammation. Diet is a significant contributor to this. Diets high in sugar, alcohol, gluten, dairy, and processed foods (including trans fats and poor quality oils) may have the most negative effect on our intestinal and overall health.
Another known cause of increased gut permeability and small intestine inflammation are Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), including Aspirin. NSAIDs disrupt the homeostasis of the microflora of the gut and irritate digestive tract lining, leading to inflammation and breakdown of the mucosa. Other potential factors leading to leaky gut may be infection, stress, and diabetes.
One may assume the most obvious symptoms of leaky gut would be digestive, and this can be true. Symptoms include chronic bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and nutritional deficiencies. However, the case of leaky gut is not that simple.
Those sneaky antigens, entering the bloodstream at higher amounts than what the body can properly detoxify, can end up all over the place.
The symptoms are often harder to connect, insofar as they affect mental function. Yes, leaky gut can cause “leaky brain”, with symptoms including forgetfulness, confusion, brain fog, trouble concentrating, fatigue, headaches, and even anxiety and depression.
Endometriosis has been studied concerning increased intestinal permeability. We may also observe skin issues, like eczema, acne, or rashes. The particles that have entered our blood stream uninvited can cause widespread inflammation, causing many secondary concerns. While the immune system is triggered and dis-regulated, it is linked to auto-immune conditions. Notable examples include Crohn’s disease, Ankylosing spondylitis, and Hashimoto’s.
As most of us know, a healthy diet and healthy digestive system have a major impact on our health. Lucky for us, we have the ability to significantly shift our microbiome in just a few days with healing food and herbs. Doing so can reduce the likelihood that toxins will further leak into our bloodstream.
Later in the month we will discuss the ways herbal medicine may support your body to do exactly this.
Lauren Truscott Waddell, RHT, CHHC