What is a Leaky Gut?
As an increasing number of people turn to gluten-free diets to soothe gastrointestinal problems, it’s worth considering that the cause of some of this distress could be “leaky gut.” The term refers to the increased permeability of the gap junctions between the intestinal cells, which allows food particles to pass from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.
This is a problem because food particles should always remain in the intestines to be broken down so nutrients can be absorbed. Food particles are actually foreign to the rest of the body. When food particles enter the bloodstream, they are attacked by the immune system, causing symptoms ranging from seasonal allergies to mood swings.
While it may be hard to imagine that all these unrelated symptoms can start in your gut, the fact is the gut is where 80% of your immune system lives and where up to 95% of your serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for your mood) is produced. If your gut is healthy, chances are you are in good health and spirits.
Thanks to our environment, leaky gut is far more common than many people realize. In fact, millions of people struggle with leaky gut without even knowing it.
The immune system’s response to a leaky gut can produce a number of symptoms, including:
Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Food allergies or food intolerances
Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, ADD, or ADHD
Mood imbalances such as depression and anxiety
Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
Seasonal allergies or asthma
Hormonal imbalances such as irregular periods, PMS, or PCOS
Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease
Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
What Causes Leaky Gut?
The main culprits are foods, infections, toxins, and stress. Gluten is the number one cause of leaky gut. Gluten causes gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal lining. Other inflammatory foods (such as dairy) or toxic foods (such as sugar and alcohol) are suspect as well. The most common infectious causes are candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Toxins come in the form of medications, including NSAIDS (Motrin and Advil), steroids, antibiotics, and acid-reducing drugs, as well as environmental toxins, including mercury, pesticides, and BPA from plastics. Stress can also contribute to a leaky gut.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Conditions
When your gut is leaky and more particles are able to escape into your bloodstream, your immune system reacts by sending out cells that cause inflammation to attack the foreign invaders. This state of high alert causes your immune system to become overstressed and less accurate, sometimes leading it to attack your own tissues. Eventually, this can develop into full-blown autoimmunity if your gut is not repaired.
Your immune system then goes one step further and makes antibodies to defend against the substances that have escaped into your bloodstream. Many of these foreign invaders (especially gluten and dairy) look similar to your own body’s cells, causing your immune system to get confused and attack your tissues. This process is called molecular mimicry. It’s another way that leaky gut can trigger an autoimmune disease.
How to Repair Leaky Gut
There are four important steps to reconcile damage from leaky gut:
Remove all inflammatory foods that can damage your gut, such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs, as well as toxic foods, including sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. You’ll also want to eradicate any gut infections you have, whether caused by candida overgrowth, SIBO, or parasites.
Replace the bad with the good. Taking digestive enzymes with all of your meals will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses.
Reinoculate by restoring the beneficial bacteria in your gut with high-quality, high-potency probiotics to reestablish a healthy microbiome. Start by taking 100 billion CFUs (colony forming units) while dealing with a leaky gut and 30 billion CFUs as a maintenance dose.
Repair by providing your gut with the essential nutrients it needs to restore itself. Collagen is a beneficial protein to eat or take as a supplement. It’s rich in amino acids that seal the leaks in your gut by repairing damaged cells and building new tissue.
Repairing your gut is the first step in restoring your health. By overcoming leaky gut, you can reverse your symptoms, reduce your risk for a number of chronic illnesses, and start living your best life.
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