As we discussed in Part 1, the stomach and intestinal tract is a vital organ system in promoting health and immunity in the body. It is a carefully balanced system, and if thrown off balance it can cause many issues. A growing concern with the gastrointestinal tract is Intestinal Permeability, which is also known as “leaky gut syndrome.” This syndrome has been found to be associated with Celiac disease, food allergies, Crohn’s disease, alcoholism, atopic eczema, chronic intestinal candidosis, and chronic giardiasis.
So what is leaky gut syndrome? As described in our last post, the gastrointestinal tract transports and breaks down food so the intestinal lining can absorb the nutrients and transfer them into the bloodstream. This lining is also the barrier that prevents undigested proteins, toxins, and bacteria from entering the blood. If this lining becomes too weak, it can begin to “leak” those particles through, causing many potential problems. For example, it can cause certain foods to be perceived as foreign objects, triggering immune system reactions to rid the body of this foreign substance. This can cause an entire cascade of events leading to food sensitivities (like gluten allergies) and triggering various unwanted skin reactions such as eczema, acne, acne rosacea, or seborrhea.
On top of this, the activation of the immune system by “leaking” food particles can cause an inflammatory response which increases inflammation throughout the body. This heightened level of systemic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, bone loss, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, depression, chronic fatigue, inflammatory bowel syndrome, accelerated aging, and many more. In some patients with leaky gut syndrome, the immune system is triggered so severely that it starts to attacks its own tissues. There is also increasing evidence that a leaky gut is often responsible for autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s, Grave’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Chrohn’s disease, Celiac disease, and Psoriasis.
As leaky gut syndrome becomes a growing concern, more studies are being done to fully understand its causes and better ways treat this problem. A research at the University of Maryland found that gluten can be directly related to leaky gut syndrome. Research shows that gluten not only has an impact on the absorption of the intestines, but it can also impact the types of bacteria that are in the intestines. This can damage other organs that aid with the digestive process including the stomach, gall bladder, liver, and pancreas.
It’s not just about gluten, though — any food has the potential of causing harm to the intestinal lining if you have a sensitivity or allergy to it. Certainly the standard American diet, consisting of processed foods, fast foods, and transfats, is damaging over a long period of time. But even foods that are considered “healthy” –- for example, oatmeal or Greek yogurt –- can be triggers. If you’re allergic to gluten (oatmeal) or dairy (yogurt), then these need to be avoided. Food sensitivities are specific to the individual, but the broader food patterns have genetic links within families and can be passed on. Excessive alcohol consumption can also be damaging to the intestinal lining, preventing repair.
Outside of what you eat, other elements in your day-to-day life can lead to intestinal issues. Medications, including antibiotics, xenobiotics, corticosteroids, and antacids, are another cause of a leaky gut. Infections such as H. Pylori, parasites, and bacterial or yeast overgrowth can be contributing factors, too. Chronic high levels of stress can lead to low-level inflammation that weakens the gut lining, and chronic stress can siphon off important blood flow away from the digestive tract to other organs, making it more difficult to heal the intestinal lining.
Issues with other parts of your body can be connected to intestinal issues as well. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can specifically cause leaky gut syndrome. At the intestinal level, TBI induces profound effects, including gastrointestinal mucosa ischemia and motility dysfunction. Hormonal deficiencies in thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can also lead to a leaky gut. The loss of thyroid hormone weakens the protection of the intestinal epithelial lining leading to ulcerations. Estrogen deficiency causes tight junctions or the cell adhesiveness to weaken, thereby increasing intestinal permeability. Progesterone is a hormone that protects the lining of the intestine, while a lack of testosterone delays healing of the lining.
When the digestive system is working correctly, most people don’t pay any attention to it, but when problems arise it can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing. However, there are several steps you can take to help promote not only good digestion, but a healthy immune system as well.
- Avoiding gluten or transitioning to a gluten-free diet can be one way to avoid leaky gut syndrome.
- Check a food diary to see if there are any other foods you may sensitive to. Any symptoms of gas, bloating, heartburn, loose stools, constipation, extreme fatigue, or excessive fullness after meals are possible signs of food sensitivities or other deficiencies that need to be addressed.
- Consuming healthy bacteria via probiotics can promote gut health, and enzymes are also an excellent way of helping break down food so you can absorb all the nutrients possible.
- We know it’s easier said than done, but reduce your stress levels!
- Eat foods that are organic and free from pesticides and herbicides. Eat meat that is grassfed or free range, since there are no hormones or antibiotics given to these animals.
- Add gut vitamins to your list. These vitamins are made specially to feed and revitalize the gut cells so that can do their main jobs of protecting your body from harmful organisms and helping you absorb nutrients.
- Consider getting your hormones checked, and if needed, balance these hormones.
- Lastly, fiber is an important source of regularity, and also cleans out the intestines. Be careful though, because a low-quality fiber supplement can actually cause damage to your digestive system. You want to be sure you are taking a high-quality fiber supplement that contains soluble and insoluble fibers.
Now that you understand the many different problems that can be associated with the stomach and digestive system, there’s no time like the present to do something about them. Here at Rejuvé, we are ready to help. By focusing on the whole body, we offer many products and services to help ensure a happy and healthy lifestyle. All of these are individualized to your particular health needs. Call 408-740-5320 today to set up an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Tang.