Ever get bloated after certain foods, need to pass wind in the most embarrassing public places, or have bowel movements that raise eyebrows (your own, that is!) Or do you suffer from eczema, aching joints, allergies, headaches, have anxiety…
Have you ever thought that you may have a leaky gut?
Yes, while it may sound a little strange, a ‘Leaky Gut’ is totally a thing! Technically speaking, it’s a hyperpermeable intestinal membrane often coupled with dysbiosis, but Leaky Gut really just rolls off the tongue better, don’t you think?
In fact, a Leaky Gut may well be the underlying cause of many illnesses including IBS, eczema, hayfever, sinusitis, anxiety and even rheumatoid arthritis. And it certainly contributes to a whole range of symptoms, not all of them necessarily in your digestive tract.
So what is ‘Leaky Gut’?
When we talk about ‘leaky gut’, we are referring mostly to your small intestine. Your small intestine is a very long ‘tube-shaped’ organ that has the important job of absorbing nutrients from your food into your bloodstream.
Think of your intestinal wall as being like a flyscreen, where tiny nutrients can pass through the holes, but larger, undigested food, bacteria and toxins cannot. This is one way that our ‘gut’ acts as part of our immune system – the intestinal flyscreen prevents unwanted substances from entering the body.
In a nutshell, Leaky Gut is when your flyscreen is damaged and has big holes in it. This means that all these unwanted substances can now pass through into your bloodstream.
This is bad news.
These large molecules of undigested food, toxins and bacteria enter the blood and trigger a big immune response and inflammation. This then causes a range of symptoms to develop including bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea, food intolerances, eczema, psoriasis, anxiety, fatigue…. the list goes on. Gut permeability has even been found in more serious conditions like inflammatory joint disease and most autoimmune disorders.
You probably find that you develop intolerances to foods you’ve previously enjoyed – all because your immune system now considers these large particles of food that got through the flyscreen as allergens. These foods will probably come up on a food intolerance test, when really what we should be thinking about testing is the health of you ‘gut flyscreen’.
This is a really big point I’d like to emphasise – the problem is often not the food – you are merely reacting to it because you have Leaky Gut.
As well as the flyscreen damage, a leaky gut is also to do with an imbalance of gut flora.
Our digestive tract is home to billions and billions of mostly happy little bacteria that live in balance with us every day. In fact, these little critters live on our skin, in our nose, ears, mouths and other (ahem!) orifices. These tiny guys outnumber our own human cells ten to one (yes, you may have already heard that we are actually more bacteria than human!)
Before you run off for the antibacterial spray, just wait up! When we have healthy gut flora (or ‘microbiome’ as is the new buzz word) it’s actually a good thing. Because they help us in so many ways!
Allow me to list a few:
- They help us digest our food and remove wastes
- They form part of our immune system
- They make vitamins for us including Vitamin K and some B vitamins
- They keep pathogenic organisms (bad guys) at bay by not giving them any room to live
- They help repair the lining of our gut wall (you know, that flyscreen)
How does the gut become ‘leaky’?
Many medications including ibuprofen, paracetemol and the Oral Contraceptive Pill can damage the lining of your digestive tract.
Antibiotics can destroy some of your beneficial gut bacteria (who help keep your flyscreen healthy), while excess alcohol and processed foods all contribute to an imbalance in your gut flora. Eating too much gluten can be a cause for many people.
Infections can imbalance the flora in your gut and when the balance is tipped in favour of the bad guys, the flyscreen suffers.
Stress, too little sleep, eating too quickly, eating gluten, too much caffeine, lots of alcohol (sorry!), ingesting chemicals like pesticides… there are many factors that may lead to a leaky gut.
How do you fix a Leaky Gut?
The good news is that given the right attention your gut has an amazing ability to heal. The cells that line our intestines are similar to our skin cells, in that they shed regularly and are replaced with new healthy cells. So avoiding any triggers and causative factors (the list of things that I outlined above) is vital when you are healing your Leaky Gut.
There are also lots of wonderful plant extracts, foods and supplements that can help speed things up and also manage some of your symptoms.
Fixing a leaky gut does take time, generally around 3-12 months, but the results are well worth it.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post: ‘How to heal your Leaky Gut.’ Let me know in the comments below if you think you may have a Leaky Gut – and anyone who has successfully fixed their flyscreen, please share your wisdom below, you may help someone!