Without a healthy gut, nothing will function properly
Change is inevitable, we all go through it sometimes on a larger scale sometimes on a smaller scale. Most changes are good, some are not. We have gone from living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, to agrarian, and eventually for too many of us have become a city dweller society, and with these changes we have undergone changes within our bodies that have had an adverse effect on our health in general. Considering that our GI system has a huge impact in all areas of our health, having a healthy GI tract is very necessary. The GI tract is the keystone for the health of the rest of the body. Without a healthy gut, no other system in our bodies can be expected to function normally. So you can see how very very important it is to keep the gut functioning the way it should, and if you are trying to improve your health your GI tract cannot be discounted.
The Standard American Diet
To really understand how the evolution of human foods have affected our gut, all we have to do is look at our diets. The negative affects of the Standard American Diet (or SAD diet) creates problems and dysfunction for every aspect of our health. For most people this is the very reason that causes the GI tract health to be so unhealthy and damaged. The SAD contains foods that are the very cause of the sluggish bowel movements, and all the refined meats, the sugars, bad fats, snacks and any refined foods really, with minimal fiber, causes the bowels to become acidic. When this happens the lining of your bowels become damaged and this is where the entire function of your gut is, in the mucus lining. When your lining is damaged, your colon cannot do their job. This includes acting as a primary barrier against microorganisms and undigested foods, absorption of vitamins, minerals and proteins and supporting the health of the immune system.
What is Leaky Gut?
Once the bowels begin to move less than 2-3 times each day, putrification of proteins begins to occur resulting in the production of acids. The resulting environment is one that is inhospitable to the resident beneficial bacteria known commonly as probiotics. It is these bacteria that act as part of the immune system and maintain the balance of “good” vs. “bad” microorganisms in the GI tract. With declining numbers of probiotics, the growth of harmful microorganisms increases, resulting in a greater production of acid. Additional acid further compromises the GI lining, compounding the situation and making the integrity of the lining worse. As a consequence, leaky gut develops.
Leaky Gut is more appropriately termed hyperpermeable gut, meaning that things are allowed to pass through more easily than they should. A primary characteristic of the GI tract is a process known as selective permeability. This means that various substances have to carried across the GI lining rather than just being able to filter directly across. Simply, they have to ask for permission. If the substance checks out okay, it is given permission to cross. If it does not check out okay because it is too large or looks foreign, it is denied. Hence, the GI lining is selecting what it wants to grant access. These are the events that take place under ideal circumstances.
It’s like pouring water through a pipe that has slits in it. It leaks.
Yet, we know that most individual’s GI tracts are not healthy because of things such as diet, antibiotics, high stress, and poor brain signaling, to name just a few. When this is the presentation, selective permeability is lost and for this reason we then label the GI tract as hyperpermeable. In this state, the cells of the cells that make up the GI lining are not longer touching each other and have gaps between them, whereas they should all be touching tightly. You can akin this to pouring water through a pipe that has several slits in it. Everywhere a slit is present, water will leak out and there is no way to stop it. This is the case in a leaky gut presentation. Foods, microorganisms, and anything else in the GI tract are leaking past a barrier that they should not.
Without a healthy gut, your immune system weakens.
While a leaky gut has many consequences, the most significant is the loss of regulation of the immune system and the resultant inflammation. From this, a very dire situation can result since on average 60-70% of the immune system is found in and around the GI tract. When the immune system becomes overactive, inflammation is the consequence. It is this scenario that is part of the cause, and at other times the sole cause, in many chronic disease states.
Leaky gut is just the beginning of your worries..
Many diseases states have been shown to be linked to GI dysfunction. The common thread is the inflammatory cascade that is secondary to the dysfunction. It would be easy to see a link in leaky gut and GI disorders such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. However, the state of health does not have to be this grim to have an active leaky gut. More common day to day presentations would include skin disorders ranging from acne to psoriasis, a weakened immune system, brain fog and sinus congestion or infections. However, leaky gut has also been linked to conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. In fact, we now know that the cholesterol and blood fat model of cholesterol has become secondary to the inflammatory model with the GI tract being a likely source of the inflammation. Ironically, detoxification programs incorporating proper bowel function often show dramatic reductions in elevated cholesterol levels. The most complex category of conditions associated with leaky gut is autoimmunity. Loss of regulation of the immune system causes it to turn on itself leading to damage of the body’s own tissues by a system designed to protect it.
You can only heal your gut with the right nutrients
Identification of a hyperpermeable GI state is best done through specific testing. Ideal methods include stool and monitoring of antibodies to foods and human tissues. These antibodies should only be produced against what our immune system perceives as harmful, not against food and our own body. Diagnosis and treatment of a hyperpermeable gut often centers around bringing back balance through restoring the GI lining, replacing the necessary missing constituents such as digestive enzymes and acid and probiotics, and eradicating any infections when present. One cannot hope to resolve a chronic disease state and heal a leaky gut by not addressing the necessary components listed above. Often in this state, a reasonable degree of inflammation exists at the GI lining. To allow the cells of the GI tract to move closer together and seal the lining, it becomes necessary to add the nutrients in that this environment is dependent on as well as to soothe any areas of inflammation. Oddly enough, this is something that prescription anti-inflammatories are incapable of as many of them actually breakdown the lining of the GI tract further and have been shown to lead to bleeding in some instances.
But what leads to the leaky gut in the first place?
If this was driven by a poor diet, this must be remedied by dietary modification consisting of consumption of high foods rich in a variety of nutrients, high in fiber, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats. When infections are identified, these must be eliminated. Such infections may include bacterial, fungal, or parasitic. These can be elusive at times, but persistent treatment pays off and eventually results in their elimination. Common to find along with an infection is a decrease of the probiotics. Probiotics being bacteria are susceptible to the effects of antibiotics and sometimes other antimicrobial treatments, yet they can also proliferate themselves once enough of them are in the GI tract. Building up these colonies adds stability to the body by strengthening the immune system, producing nutrients such as vitamins, and inhibiting the growth of foreign microorganisms. One of the factors that can lead to the presence of an infection is lower levels of acid production. Acid has been made to be the villain in our society, yet it acts as our first line of immune defense in the GI tract and initiates the protein breakdown process. When combined with the enzymes produced in the mouth and pancreas, the digestive juices breakdown foods into their smallest possible components causing them to be non-reactive to the immune system.
Your brain, hormones and gut are all connected
Just as important for a healthy GI Tract is healthy brain and and stress functions. When you are experiencing a lot of stress, you are also weakening your immune system because the lining of your intestines, the protective mucus lining inside your gut, will start thinning which in turn lowers your immune cell count gradually. When that mucus lining is damaged, it also makes it difficult for the intestines to repair themselves. All these dysfunctions are connected, and when you are having this much dysfunction in your gut, your brain will be impaired as far as signaling to create the digestive juices needed. When you get to this point you need to look outside of the GI tract to correct the functions.
As you can see based on what I have been discussing here, all of our systems are connected to our GI Tract. The GI system is of utmost importance when it comes to delivering the nutrients each system needs to keep our immune systems functioning correctly. It is a portal that can accept and reject the things we need or don’t need. It is the gateway to our bodies. If you are setting out to address a condition you may be having, the GI tract has to be considered. Through a proper diagnosis, with the right testing to make sure all bodily functions are considered, a precise treatment plan can be created that can specifically start fixing the many aspects of your GI function inside and outside of your GI Tract.