|There are a variety of health issues that may be stemming from a common problem – a leaky gut. If you have any of the problems listed here, read on to learn more about how a leaky gut may be the cause, and how you can correct it naturally.
Understanding leaky gut
Leaky gut syndrome is just as it sounds. It’s formally called “Intestinal Permeability”, which means that the small intestine, where the majority of our nutrient absorption occurs, has an unstable lining that allows harmful substances to pass into the bloodstream.
Your small intestine is a long winding tube with a complex lining. The lining is made up of a mucosal barrier comprised of fingerlike “villi”. When the lining is healthy and working efficiently, it allows for the efficient absorption of nutrients into the body, and guards against unwanted material making its way into the blood. But when the lining becomes irritated or inflamed, the barrier loses its effectiveness, and the villi become diseased and deteriorated.
For starters, a malfunctioning small intestine lining means that healthy nutrients are no longer being absorbed into the body. All the nutritional value from that organic vegetable salad you ate for lunch would be wasted! You see, normally, the villi sit close together and have tight junctures between them. But when they become irritated, the junctures between them widen and food and liquid particles that would normally be filtered for nutrients actually enter directly into the bloodstream, creating a dramatic immune response to these “invaders.” A constant immune response leads to systemic inflammation throughout the body, which causes a plethora of health problems like the ones listed above. Our body relies on our gut to do the lion’s share of immune protection. When it isn’t operating effectively, whole-body health is in jeopardy.
For a peek into the lining of the small intestine, click here.
So what causes leaky gut syndrome?
Studies are still being conducted on what causes leaky gut syndrome, but certain culprits are emerging as causes. Because of the common nature of the following causes, incidence of leaky gut syndrome is unfortunately commonplace and growing.
Poor Diet. Inflammatory foods such as grains, dairy (for some), sugar, refined vegetable or seed oils, soy, and improperly prepared legumes cause irritation in the mucosal lining. Even if you don’t have Celiac’s Disease (an autoimmune allergic response to gluten), gluten in particular causes the release of the protein zonulin. When zonulin is released, it widens the junctures between villi. Again, this widening allows unwanted particles to pass through the intestinal wall, creating a strong immune response that leads to chronic inflammation throughout the body. Instead of making gluten-based foods a staple in your diet, consume them sparingly or as a treat, like the occasional slice of birthday cake.
Antibiotics. The small intestine houses hundreds of kinds of beneficial bacteria which are responsible for breaking down every kind of toxin, from chemical waste to excess hormones. 80% of our immune system lies in our gut and is reliant on this healthy balance of gut flora. Antibiotics can kill off or cause an imbalance among this good bacteria, creating an unstable environment in the small intestine. Antibiotics also promote the growth of Candida yeast, which has an effect of shrinking the cells of the small intestine’s lining, creating permeability. The toxins which would have been eliminated by healthy bacteria are instead able to thrive and are then free to pass into the bloodstream.
NSAIDs and prescription medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are common painkillers, like ibuprofen. These drugs and other prescription medications wear down the small intestines’ mucosa lining, adding to the permeability of the intestinal wall. With this reduction in the natural barrier, toxins move easily from the small intestines into the bloodstream.
Food allergies and sensitivities. When the intestinal lining is already compromised, ingesting foods that cause an irritation or allergic response will exacerbate leaky gut syndrome via inflammation of the epithelial lining. These foods will actually perpetuate leaky gut, even after other disruptions such as Candida yeast have left the system.
Other causes. Additional causes of leaky gut syndrome include stress (which causes inflammation), birth control pills, exposure to environmental toxins, and parasitic infections.
Eastern Medicine and Leaky Gut Syndrome
From an Eastern Medicine perspective, the approach to helping a patient recover includes healing the damage to the small intestines’ mucosal lining and villi, and reducing systemic inflammation and stress. Treating the condition can take several months to over a year and requires discipline on the part of the patient as well as a multi-faceted approach from the practitioner.
Like with other digestive conditions, reestablishing harmony in the liver, stomach and spleen is essential. For example, by using acupuncture to improve the flow of oxygen and blood to the liver, it will be able to better process the influx of toxins. Simultaneously, it’s urgent to curb that toxic influx in a few ways. Creating a purposeful nutritional plan for the patient will eliminate irritating and allergy-inducing food. The patient will also have to be more thoughtful before consuming NSAIDs and antibiotics. I recommend a series of herbal and whole food supplements that help to restore helpful bacteria, reduce inflammation in the intestinal wall, and repair the mucosal lining of the gut. In order to address the condition from a natural standpoint, functional lab testing may be done to get a closer look at the health of the gut mucosa and bacterial balance. Together, these treatments will help the body to recover and heal from the toxicity of leaky gut syndrome.