Helen Padarin

Leaky gut

Leaky gut

You may have heard the term leaky gut being used around here, so I thought we better make sure you all understand what it actually is. All sorts of images get conjured up at the thought of leaky gut. No, it’s not a case of your belly button springing a leak, but it does have a major impact on all areas of health and so it’s one reason why addressing and healing leaky gut is something we’re very passionate about at The Paleo Way.

You may have heard the term leaky gut being used around here, so I thought we better make sure you all understand what it actually is. All sorts of images […]

In fact the whole way I came to eating, living and teaching paleo was because of the need to heal guts – my own and my patients. And so I began on the path of fermented veggies and the Body Ecology Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and eventually bone broths and Gut and Psychology Syndrome – also known as the GAPS diet (largely also because of my involvement in helping kids and adults with autism, ASD, ADHD, depression and anxiety). All the diets and ways of eating used for healing the gut and restoring healthy gut flora that I read about had a few things in common – they eliminated grains, sugars, legumes, minimised starches and had at least a period of eliminating dairy, and then only reintroduce fermented dairy if any at all. Just like The Paleo Way.

SO what is leaky gut and why do we need to heal it?

First let’s look at how you breakdown and absorb your food when your digestion and gut lining are in mint condition. Imagine your food is like a string of pearls. As the strong of pearls moves through your digestive tract, thanks to both mechanical (like chewing and the contraction of your stomach) and chemical digestion (your salivary, stomach and pancreatic digestive juices – acids and enzymes), it gets broken down into shorter and shorter strands. Very little gets absorbed in your stomach. Some minerals do, and vitamin B12 does too – but only if you have enough stomach acid.

Once food is in the small intestine, your string of pearls has now been broken down into single or double or triple pearls – no long strands are left. These pearls can then fit through the VERY tightly joined gaps between the cells lining your small intestine (the gaps are so tight they are actually called tight junctions – no awards for creativity there!) or through the cells themselves. On the other side of the small intestinal cells are tiny tiny blood capillaries and lymph vessels (part of your immune and detox systems). The blood capillaries take up the nutrient where it begins it’s journey first to the liver, and then around the rest of the body to where it’s needed.

So that’s a tight gut.

A leaky gut – officially termed intestinal hyper-permeability – occurs when there are leaky tight junctions. The gaps between the cells lining the intestine get ever so slightly wider. This small increase in gap size results in a much broader range of compounds – from partially digested foods (think strands of 5 or 7 or 10 pearls), to microbes, toxins and medications – to pass through when they otherwise would not be able to. This then puts the immune system on red alert as it identifies these larger molecules as being invaders, so an inflammatory immune response results. Inflammation is normally a good thing. We need it to heal our tissues. It’s like fire fighters coming out to put out the fire. It’s a good thing – when it comes and goes. The problem is when we have leaky gut, the fire doesn’t get put out, inflammation becomes chronic and systemic and more tissue damage results. That means that by having leaky gut you can potentially end up with inflammation in any part of your body, depending on your personal and family history, your environment and your genetics. You may get inflammation in your big toe in the way of gout, it could be in your fingers as arthritis, it could be in your brain as depression or dementia or it could be the trigger for an autoimmune cascade resulting in conditions like hashimoto’s thyroiditis (under active thyroid), multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and more. Seasonal allergies like hayfever and migraines are other common signs of leaky gut, and syndromes like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are believed to be at least partially due to or involve leak gut.

So how does a gut get leaky?

A number of things cause increase permeability of the gut wall. Stress, lack of sleep, some medications, toxins and some health conditions (such giardia infections, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases) also can.

 

The most common cause is likely to be diet though – foods that are particularly high in starches, especially processed ones, and sugars disrupt our gut bugs. Our gut bugs play a fundamental role in protecting our gut lining and assisting both our digestion and absorption. When our gut flora gets out of balance, our digestion doesn’t work so well and the protective barrier they normally provide for your gut wall gets breached.

Gluten actually causes the cells lining the gut wall to release an enzyme called zonulin, which breaks apart tight junctions, making a gut leaky. As a result of this understanding, gluten is now considered a gateway allergen, as it opens up the immune system to over activity from foreign particles entering the blood stream. The enzyme zonulin also increase blood-brain-barrier permeability, allowing otherwise denied particles to enter into the brains blood supply, which can then affect brain function.

What to do about a leaky gut?

Well first of all you need to remove the offending items – unnecessary toxin exposure (choose organic produce as much as possible, avoid additives, preservatives, flavours, flavour enhancers etc. use non-toxic skin care and household cleaning products), only use necessary medications (we often like to pop painkillers to readily for example, rather than listening to your body trying to tell you something needs attention!), and eat The Paleo Way with a focus on gut healing bone broths (more on this in another article) and fermented foods. Depending on the degree of your leaky gut, you may need some guided practitioner support from a great naturoapth or nutritionist to help clean up the damage and stool testing in the way of a Faecal Microbial Analysis through Bioscreen and or a PCR parasitology through your GP may also be very useful in putting together a plan to restore your gut flora. The best plans in the world though are laid to waste if you are not eating a gut healing diet, and without any doubt in my mind The Paleo Way provides the best foundation for healing your gut and keeping it well.

By Helen Padarin

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