LEAKY GUT PART 1 // DEFINITION, SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES

INTESTINAL HYPERPERMEABILITY: THE MISSING LINK

 

Leaky Gut. Maybe you’ve heard of it, or possibly this is the first time you’re getting word about it. Either way, I wish it had a more glamorous name- sure, it also goes by “Intestinal Permeability” but neither terms are exactly a sexy conversation starter. 

    Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is a major gastrointestinal disorder that occurs when openings develop in the intestinal (gut) wall. As a result, unwanted particles and harmful organisms are able to pass through the digestive lining and enter the bloodstream. This can create major problems in the body and leads to many systemic inflammatory and immune-related symptoms such as food allergies and food sensitivities, eczema, hives, asthma, fibromyalgia and even autoimmune conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (and many others!)

    I’ve had my own long and twisted relationship with this condition, and it’s my hope that what I have learned can help others dealing with a confirmed or suspected case of LGS. It’s far more common than you think- so many seemingly normal, modern afflictions like psoriasis, eczema, acne and many other problems have their roots in intestinal permeability. Sadly our modern lifestyles and environments are vectors for poor gut health. So many of us who are dealing with dis-ease of any kind- whether that be anxiety, acne or a full blown autoimmune disease- are in actuality dealing with leaky gut as the root cause, and healing it is often a huge puzzle piece on the way to restored health.

    Out of all the aspects of therapeutic nutrition practices, I am the most passionate about gut health and it’s powerful effects on our mental and physical wellbeing. The implications of having a healthy digestive system and microbiome are huge. A few numbers to consider: we are far more bacteria than we are human. Each one of us possesses over 100 trillion microorganisms in our bodies, who do everything from helping digest our foods to generating our immune cells and neurotransmitters. 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, and majority of your serotonin (the neurotransmitter necessary for good mood) is generated by the digestive system. Mood disorders, compromised immune systems, skin issues, food allergies, and a plethora of other conditions can all be reduced or alleviated by restoring a healthy gut. 

    I speak from personal experience; I used to be extremely sick. My whole life I had been a healthy, robust girl prone to spontaneous adventures- but several run-ins with parasites in third world countries, innumerable doses of strong antibiotics, a high stress job in New York City fashion and an undiagnosed case of chronic lyme disease had completely deteriorated my health and my happiness. I saw dozens of western doctors who told me I was fine and that everything was in my head- and prescribed me everything from steroid creams and Accutane to antidepressants. Even after looking at my decorated health history, not one of them even considered that my digestive system was suffering or causing any of my seemingly unrelated symptoms such as anxiety, food reactions, hair loss, acne, constant illnesses, and poor immune function. After nearly giving up, I saw a naturopath who ran a host of tests and was finally able to diagnose the root of my problems- I had developed over thirty food allergies (mostly things I was eating every day), had collected a number of untreated parasites and lyme disease, and my gut was in shambles. I began a rigorous healing protocol, and in only a year and a half have experienced healing and progress that, at the depths of my challenges, felt impossible. In the next couple of posts, I am hoping to share some of that healing with you.

CAUSES OF LEAKY GUT //

- Toxin exposure from pesticides and chemicals from food, water, and the environment
- GI Infections from parasites, food poisoning, and dysbiosis, (resulting in an overgrowth of Candida yeast)
- Mold, heavy metals, or other environmental toxins
- Excess sugar intake 
- Antibiotics, medications, and NSAID’s (aspirin, midol, ibuprofil, advil, etc.)
- Excess amounts of phytates and lectins from improperly prepared grains, beans, nuts and seeds
- Gluten (triggers the release of Zonulin, a hormone that tells the tight cells of your intestinal lining to open up and let large particles through into the bloodstream)
- Chronic and acute stress
- Birth control pills
- Chemotherapy and radiation
- Overconsumption of refined carbohydrates- basically, the Standard American Diet!
- Consumption of allergenic foods
- Excess or overly strenuous exercise

SYMPTOMS //

- Food allergies
- Weakened immune system, getting sick often and for prolonged periods of time
- Lowered thyroid function from chronic immune suppression
- Chronic inflammation
- Neurological issues and impairment
- Chronic abdominal pain, bloating, gas
- Skin issues, including acne, rashes, itchiness, eczema, dermatitis, hives
- Frequent yeast infections or Candida overgrowth, itching, UTI’S
- Fatigue, exhaustion, and excessive tiredness
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Impaired digestion of foods 
- Irritability, moodiness, depression, anxiety, insomnia and mood disorders
- Difficulty concentrating, “brain fog”, headaches
- Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
- Presentation of autoimmune diseases, including: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Ulcerative Colitis, Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis, and many others

 

COMPLICATIONS //


    The short and long-term complications of leaky gut are numerous and can be serious, ultimately leading to more severe issues. Most obnoxiously, untreated intestinal impermeability results in the formation of more and more food allergies, and often the very things we consume the most we become allergic to. This happens because these foods pass partially undigested through the damaged cell walls of the small intestine, and directly into the bloodstream. There, the immune system marks the food as a “foreign invader” (as foods are supposed to be completely broken down into their individual nutrients and not intact), and the body launches an immune response against them every time you consume it. Allergies and sensitivities from leaky gut are often IgG mediated and can change often, with new ones forming regularly. This leads the body to move into a constant state of defense mode, which chronically weakens the immune system, resulting in frequent sickness and increased dysbiosis. Dysbiosis occurs when the natural balance of microflora is disrupted, allowing more pathogenic species like Candida Albicans yeast to overgrow and cause systemic infection. Leaky gut can even lead to the development of autoimmune disease due to the immune system becoming constantly overactive from the  onslaught of undigested particles entering the bloodstream. Some researchers believe that leaky gut is an absolute essential predisposing factor to the development of any disease, including autoimmune and even cancer. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19538307). Healing the gut and restoring the integrity of the intestinal lining is an absolutely crucial component to healing.

 

Check back soon, because in the next post we will discuss exactly how to go about that!