Figure 1 (taken from Microbiomelabs)
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome? I felt it was really important to explain what Leaky Gut Syndrome is since it’s something that is so common and, if left unchecked, can lead to many health issues.
In my experience, personally and professionally, working as a Health and Lifestyle Coach in Sevenoaks, most diseases and health issues begin in the gut.
Symptoms such as skin problems (psoriasis, fungal infections, eczema), bloating, water retention, autoimmune disease, brain fog, IBS, diarrhoea, liver and adrenal fatigue, weight gain and many more can be traced back to gut health.
Far too often people will opt for over the counter creams and pills to masquerade the symptoms on the outside of the body but fail to see that the answer is to be found with healing from the inside.
What is the gut?
Simply put, the word ‘gut’ is synonymous with our digestive tract, which is a long tube that runs from our mouth to the anus. Food should take around 24 hours to pass from top to bottom; along the way, the body breaks down food, absorbs the nutrients and then discards the rest. The microbiome in the gut plays an important role in protecting the body from harmful substances, such as yeast, pathogens and bacteria – it turns out that our microbiome also orchestrates our immune system. The walls of the intestines act as gatekeepers, controlling what enters the bloodstream. The gut also communicates directly with your brain; in fact quite a number of our neurotransmitters are made in the gut.
Before we talk about ‘leaky gut’ it might be useful to understand how digestion works.
Digestion actually starts before food even enters the mouth, this phase of our digestion is called the ‘Cephalic Phase’ which is triggered from the sight, smell, thought, or taste of food. Once we start chewing food it mixes with saliva which starts breaking down sugars. If we’re not rushing around multitasking food travels into the stomach – ‘The Gastric Phase’ – where Hydrochloric acid (HCL) and enzymes from the pancreas and liver get to work breaking the food down, particularly protein.
Once the food enters the small intestines or ‘Intestinal Phase’, more enzymes get released along with bile from the gallbladder, and finally travel to the large intestines where digested food is absorbed into the bloodstream across an important semi-permeable barrier.
There are small gaps in the gut wall called ‘tight junctions’ (Figure 1) which, along with our microbiome, importantly dictate which foods pass through to the bloodstream whilst also preventing harmful substances from getting through.
Leaky Gut – the cause of inflammation and disease
When these tight junctions become loose they become more permeable or ‘leaky’ allowing larger, undigested food and harmful substances into the blood stream (figure 1). This then triggers a cascade of reactions (as you can see in the diagram), namely the production of Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) which leads to systemic inflammation, toxicity and an over active immune system. Food intolerances are a classic symptom of a ‘leaky gut’, it’s quite common for people to become intolerant to the foods we eat everyday, this then overloads the liver and stresses the body out.
What are the common factors that cause Leaky Gut Syndrome
Without going too deep into the science, there are a number of diet and lifestyle factors that damage the gut lining which lead to excess permeability:
- Over the counter and prescribed medication such antibiotics and pain killers
- Alcohol; especially if consumed on an empty stomach
- Refined and processed foods
- Additives and preservatives
- Bad fats – vegetable oils, hydrogenated fats, trans fats
- Processed table salt
- Gluten (found in most grains)
- Nightshades (e.g. tomatoes, onions, peppers)
- Stress (mental, emotional, physical) – which inhibits the autonomic nervous system and digestive juices
- Not eating in a relaxed environment and not chewing food thoroughly
Not only have I coached many clients to heal their guts, I’ve had first hand experience myself. In my earlier years, at university, I certainly didn’t eat as healthily as I do now, that, and drinking too much alcohol, led me to several symptoms of a ‘leaky’ gut. Certain foods would irritate my digestion, I would develop asthma in the summer months and suffer from quite severe hay fever. After cleaning up my diet and reducing alcohol intake, my gut health improved massively and I haven’t had hayfever or asthma for 10 years.
Join me in my next blog where I will share with you some key tips on how to heal from a ‘leaky gut’.