Leaky Gut - How to Know If You Have It and What You Can Do About It
What is Leaky Gut or Intestinal Permeability?
These terms just mean that there is inflammation in the digestive system and it's allowing proteins and other particles to get into the body and systemic circulation. It was a controversial theory in the past, but has gained acceptance and even has an official term of "intestinal permeability." The way that the gut becomes leaky is through chronic inflammation caused by such things as repeated antibiotic use, an unhealthy diet high in sugar, food sensitivities or allergies, chronic NSAIDs use (ie. ibuprofen), excessive alcohol intake, nutrient deficiencies (ie. A, D, zinc), poor gut health, yeast, and stress. Usually the intestinal lining is very picky about what is allowed through to the bloodstream. There are many immune cells that routinely sample what's going on and decide what to let through. It has to be this way because there could be any number of harmful pathogens traveling through our digestive system. The intestinal cells are held together by what are called tight junctions. They are just what they sound like, a very close, tight connection between the cells to prevent anything large from getting through. When the gut becomes permeable these junctions become looser and larger particles like proteins can get through. The immune system sees them as foreign and attacks them, as it should, but this can cause chronic, body-wide inflammation and for the immune system to "get out of control" and start attacking our own tissues. This is how autoimmune diseases can begin and why gut health is so important when addressing them.
Testing for Leaky Gut
When you have leaky gut you may experience a variety of symptoms including fatigue, headaches, skin issues, bloating, and digestive issues.
There's a protein called zonulin that's involved in leaky gut and can be tested for in a stool test. This protein helps in the regulation of intestinal permeability at the tight junctions and can become increased in tests when there is leaky gut present.
What You Can Do About Leaky Gut
There are many things that you can do about intestinal permeability and to heal the gut. Limit sugar intake - Sugar can feed harmful bacteria and yeast, cause general body-wide inflammation and reduce immune system activity. Eating a healthy diet and limiting sugar and alcohol can go a long way to good gut health.
Limit antibiotics and NSAIDs if you can - These can alter the protective, beneficial bacteria in the gut so use them only when needed.
Probiotics - These beneficial bacteria help to crowd out harmful bacteria and yeast, produce vital nutrients for us and our intestinal cells, regulate bowel elimination, and aid immunity. Get them from fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha or in supplement form.
Fiber - Your beneficial bacteria depend on this for energy, it helps with bowel movements, helps to get rid of waste and excess hormones. Get it from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans or supplements.
Avoid food allergies or sensitivities - It's important to identify and avoid foods that cause inflammation so as not to cause more. Doing an elimination diet or food panel can help to do this. When the gut is leaky, particles from these foods can cross the gut barrier and cause more immune activity and inflammation.
Gut healing nutrients - Using nutrients, herbs, and foods like glutamine, bone broth, aloe, marshmallow root, licorice root, zinc, turmeric, collagen, and slippery elm can help soothe and heal the digestive lining. These, along with removing food sensitivities, can go a long way to healing intestinal permeability.
In the case of intestinal permeability or leaky gut, the digestive lining becomes permeable and our protective tight junctions become looser, allowing large particles like proteins to get through. The immune system sees them as foreign and attacks them, and this starts a body-wide inflammation reaction. The way that the gut becomes leaky is through chronic inflammation caused by an unhealthy diet, antibiotic use, nutrient deficiency, stress and yeast. Symptoms include fatigue, headaches, skin issues, bloating, and digestive issues. Testing involves looking for a protein called zonulin. Healing the intestinal lining can include limiting sugar, avoiding antibiotics and NSAIDs, usin probiotics, fiber, avoiding food sensitivities and allergies, and using gut healing nutrients.
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