It’s 2 o’ clock in the afternoon and I feel that familiar brain fog creeping in – I can’t think clearly, feel drained and it’s almost as if I have left my body and am looking at myself from the outside in, instead of the inside out. Was it the eggs I had for lunch today? Maybe it was the almonds I had as a snack at work the other day? I stop myself there. All of this guesswork gets me nowhere and I know full well that reactions to food can happen immediately after consumption or even 2-3 days later. What I am experiencing is the consequences of having a leaky gut.
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut is NOT a disease or illness in itself. It is a symptom of inflammation and imbalance that has many causes. The small intestine has two major functions – to allow properly digested fats, proteins and starches to pass through into the bloodstream AND to keep out bacteria, fungi, toxic molecules, foreign substances and large undigested food molecules. In order to keep these undesirable substances from passing through, the cells of the mucosal layer of the small intestine are held together by tight junctions called desmosomes. In the case of a leaky gut, the tight junctions are not so tight anymore and become permeable or “leaky”.
When our immune system comes into contact with foreign substances (i.e. larger food molecules) in the bloodstream, it goes into high alert mode and stimulates an antibody reaction. What follows is the malabsorption of nutrients and inflammation in the digestive tract and beyond. The liver is also stressed because it is working overtime trying to process inflammatory irritants from incomplete digestion and consequently has less energy to neutralize chemical substances. More toxins are stored in the body leading to further inflammation.
Image taken from http://www.paleomom.com
What causes leaky gut?
- Chronic stress
- Dysbiosis (i.e. yeast overgrowth, parasites and infection)
- Environmental toxins
- Food sensitivities (although they are usually an effect of LGS rather than the cause)
- Low stomach acid
- Processed foods (chemicals, toxins, low fibre, acidic)
- Prolonged use of prescription medications and NSAIDS
Basically anything that causes inflammation in the gut (all of the above) can lead to leaky gut. It’s a vicious cycle – the gut becomes inflamed, leaky gut develops, which leads to further inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body.
How to determine if you have leaky gut?
- Over time you seem to have become more sensitive to a wider variety of foods and environmental contaminants
- Anxiety, mood swings or nervousness
- Bloating and gas
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Brain fog or fuzzy thinking
- Poor immunity
- Chronic muscle and joint pain
Common conditions associated with leaky gut include: asthma, eczema, arthritis, autism, celiac disease, CFS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, IBS, intestinal infections, candida, parasites, multiple sclerosis and multiple chemical sensitivities.
The good news is that leaky gut can be healed. It just takes some detective’s work, dedication and patience. Check out part 2 of this post to find out how you can start repairing those holes in your gut!