Leaky Gut Syndrome (or increased intestinal permeability) is a condition whereby the specialised channels in the gut allow the passage of substances through the gut wall that, in a healthy gut, wouldn’t normally be able to pass through.
What is the Gut and how does it work?
The Gut is another term for the Gastrointestinal System and is made up of your mouth, oespahagus, stomach, liver, intestines and bowel.
Even though the majority of the gut is situated inside your body, technically it considered to be outside the body. The gut’s main role is to breakdown and digest food. It also keeps unwanted substances from entering the body, hence, a large proportion of your immune system is located directly adjacent to your gut. In the process of digestion, food is broken down into its building blocks and passes through special cells known as enterocytes into the bloodstream where it can be used for energy. A healthy gut allows the passage of nutrients into the blood stream and nothing else.
Inflammatory substances (certain foods, toxins, etc.) can cause microscopic damage to the gut lining, which, over time can allow foreign substances (such as normal gut bacteria) to pass into the bloodstream. This then leads to an unwanted immune response that can potentially lead to lethargy, brain fog, gastro-intestinal systems and in susceptible individuals, long-term serious health conditions including many auto-immune diseases.
There are Bacteria living in my Gut, you say?
Gut Flora (or microbiota) is the name for the bacteria living in the human gut and and it has been widely regarded as one of the most complex and diverse environments know to man. There are over 100 trillion bacteria in your gut. Most of the bacteria are what’s known as mutualistic, which means they are beneficial for both the host (you) and the bacteria themselves. Gut bacteria play an important role in your health for thing such as: helping to digest food, producing nutrients for the body, helping with cellular repair and proper immune system function. Inflammatory substances in the gut can alter the normal population of gut bacteria, leading to overgrowth of non-favorable bacteria that can lead to general fatigue and illness, gastro-intestinal symptoms and even weight gain in some individuals.
Gluten and Leaky Gut
Gluten is a protein found in wheat – it’s what gives wheat its gluey and doughy consistency. Gluten has been implicated in a host of diseases such as dermatitis, thyroid pathologies and diabetes (to name a few) and has also been shown to cause Leaky Gut. When gluten enters the gut, it is broken down in to a smaller protein called Gliadin. Gliadin causes a substance called Zonulin to be released, which, in turn causes the tight junctions between the enterocytes to open. This allows foreign substances to enter the blood stream, thus creating an inflammatory reaction.
Source: The Paleo Approach Pg. 59
Auto-immune Diseases and Leaky Gut Syndrome
Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which your body treats itself like it would a foreign invader, thus causing the immune system to attack its own body. There are literally hundreds of diseases that have an auto-immune basis including Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus to name a few. Recent research by Fassano (2012) has stated that there are three factors necessary for an auto-immune disease to develop:
- Susceptible Genetics
- Triggering non-self Antigen e.g. Virus, Toxin, etc.
- A loss of the protective mucosal barriers that interact with the environment (a leaky gut)
Therefore, based on this research, and much more like it, if susceptible individuals can maintain a healthy gut, it may help in the prevention of various auto-immune diseases.
How can I promote good gut health?
- Avoid Gut Inflammatory Foods: As we talked about before, inflammatory substances in the gut have the capability to increase the space between the enterocytes. Foods that can cause this include; any gluten containing food, seed oils, alcohol, and high amounts of sugar.
- Consume Fermentable Fiber: As fiber from fruit and vegetables passes through the gut, your bacteria can use it for energy. Good sources of this include sweet potato and green leafy vegetables.
- Eat pro-biotic foods: Food such as sauerkraut, Kim chi and kefir all help support and maintain healthy gut bacteria.
- Manage stress and sleep well: High stress levels and lack of sleep significantly affect gut function and need to be well managed to ensure a healthy gut
Although this article has provided only a very brief insight into Leaky Gut Syndrome, the key point to take out of it is this:
The gut is an extremely complex organ that can have many effects on the body.
Good gut health can be achieved by decreasing inflammatory food consumption and by eating gut nourishing foods. A healthy gut is essential for good general health and also has the potential to help in the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal and auto-immune diseases.
If you are interested in finding out more, Melbourne Osteopathy Sports Injury Centre is presenting a free seminar on healthy eating (and specifically the Low Carbohydrate High Fat diet). It will be held on Tuesday 19th of August between 7.15-8.15pm and hosted at our Centre in Collins Street, Melbourne.
The seminar will be presented by Osteopath Dr Nicholas Tripodi, who strongly believes in healthy eating as a cornerstone for good overall health and wellbeing. He is a proponent of the Paleo and Low-Carbohydrate, High Fat Diets and frequently runs seminars on these topics. It will cover four main areas of discussion:
- How diets high in good fats & low in carbohydrates (especially sugar) can improve your health.
- Why we should avoid sugar in our diets.
- Why man-made fats & oils are harmful and how we can avoid them.
- The potentially harmful effects of wheat & gluten (including Leaky Gut Syndrome).
It will also cover some common misconceptions about low carb/high fat diets.
If you haven’t already, please register your interest for this seminar as places are limited. Please notify us by email if you plan on attending:
Further Reading and References
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne
“Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases” Clinical Review of Allergy Immunology 2012, 42, 71-78.
The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes et al.