I Have a Leaky What? Leaky Gut Explained
Think, for a moment, of the intestinal lining in your digestive tract as a tile floor. For a tile floor to not leak, we put grout between the tiles. When the grout is damaged, the floor leaks.
The same goes for your intestinal lining. The space between the cells (called Tight Junctions) is like grout, ensuring that undigested food does not make it into your body.
Food must be digested all the way down to the most simple substances (glucose, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, phospholipids) in order to be transported across the cell wall, through the cell, back out the other side, then through the space between the intestinal lining and the blood vessels, and finally into the blood stream.
When the “grout” in the intestinal lining is damaged (due to stress, antibiotics, yeast or candida, gluten, to name a few causes), then partially digested food can get between the cells into the area where your immune system is “on guard” waiting to attack “foreign substances.” Stress reduces our ability to digest food as digestion is a parasympathetic nervous system function.
This is where IgG food intolerances develop. This is how we develop an IgG food intolerances. You have five immunoglobulins (Ig) at your defence: IgG, IgA, IgM, IgE, IgD. For example, an IgE immune reaction is when you have an anaphylactic or life threatening allergic response (ie eat a peanut and you feel your throat closing). With food intolerances, IgG is mounted. In an IgG reaction, the IgG antibodies attach themselves to the food antigen and create an antibody-antigen complex1. These complexes are normally removed by special immune cells called macrophages. However, if they are present in large numbers and the reactive food is still being consumed, the macrophages can’t keep up. The food antigen-antibody complexes accumulate and are deposited in body tissues. Once in the tissue and the immune system is activated, it sends inflammatory signals throughout the body which play a role in numerous diseases and conditions. This is why symptoms of food intolerances and leaky gut can appear anywhere, not just in the digestive tract
Just as a drop of ink discolors an entire gallon of water, one exposure to an intolerant food can cause severe symptoms (usually within 1-4 days) after consumption. But not only that – the exposure becomes an additional stress on the body which perpetuates the susceptibility to illness. It makes sense that the immune system reacts to the foods that are coming through – which is often the foods that you regularly eat. In treatment, the priority is to heal the leaky gut, not just to avoid the foods that are triggering the reaction.
How do you know if you have leaky gut?
There are tests available that specifically measure whether substances that don’t usually traverse the intestinal lining, are getting through. The most common way to identify this is by doing an IgG food intolerance panel. Based on the number and severity of IgG reactions, as well as the types of foods that show as reactive (wheat, for example), we can determine that leaky gut exists.
How to heal leaky gut?
The treatment we suggest at our clinic is a five step process called “The 5 R’s” – 1. Remove the offending foods 2. Repair the GI tract 3. Reinoculate the digestive tract with good bacteria 4. Reintroduce the foods you initially reacted to. 5. Treat the Liver. Avoiding the foods that the immune system is attacking is the first step to healing leaky gut because it helps to reduce inflammation and to prevent the perpetuation of leaky gut.
The single best thing you could do to address the underlying cause is to avoid gluten because it directly causes leaky gut by disrupting the “grout” (by stimulating a substance called zonulin). Taking digestive enzymes and probiotics (and hydrochloric acid when needed) helps to ensure that all food is fully digested by the time it gets to the intestines.
It is also important to address intestinal yeast or candida overgrowth, heavy metal toxicity, and infection anywhere in the body (Lyme, Mono, tooth infection, etc) when it is present.
The second step in addressing leaky gut is to take nutrients and herbs that have been shown to heal it. These include, but are not limited to, L-glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine, zinc, berberine, herbal licorice (Glycyrrhiza), quercetin and aloe vera leaf extract.
What is the impact of leaky gut?
While leaky gut (also known as Intestinal Permeability) is established in the medical community, and significant research on the subject is coming out every year, it is not often addressed in conventional medical care. Meanwhile, it is a major underlying cause of illnesses of all sorts, in every system of the body. From chronic fatigue, sinusitis, and interstitial cystitis, to anxiety, depression, hypothyroidism, autoimmunity (of all types) and cancer, leaky gut is both an originator of illness and a result of illness.
Stress and the adrenal response (cortisol and adrenaline) are both a result of leaky gut and a cause of leaky gut, due to suppression of digestion, immunity and hormone function. Supporting and rebalancing adrenal function is an important part of healing leaky gut.
How long does it take to heal?
Putting a stop to this snowball effect and vicious cycle associated with leaky gut is not done overnight. It requires diligence, consistency and changes both in diet and lifestyle over months to years.
The good news is that it is possible to heal. I’ve seen it in practice. Patients report a gradual decrease in symptoms over 1 to 12 months.
Overall, healing leaky gut is a TOP priority for achieving optimal health, which I am here to help you accomplish!