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by Doc Mok
You may have heard this term thrown around and intermingled with the microbiome. As a clinician this is a fairly new concept that has come to light in the scientific community. With this in mind the research is evolving, and there are numerous clinical questions that still remain. So, Maximal Beings, we Common Causes and Simple Solutions for Leaky Gut Syndrome
A Gut Barrier Overview
Each an everyday we consume potato chips, sodas, broccoli and carrots. These food stuffs, regardless of their nutritional value have to be broken down into their component parts (macros, SEE here for our article on carbs, fat and protein) and then absorbed into our blood stream to be taken in as fuel for building muscle, cellular action and making fat.
Our gut has a tough job to allow the good stuff through, but not the bad stuff. It does this using a combination of physical, immunologic and functional gateways. Here are the main components of the gut barrier:
- IgA = an immunoglobulin that sorts good and bad
- The brush border = small finger-like projections that absorb and block
- The tight junctions = a mesh of smooth muscle and molecules that regulates
Let’s breakdown these components.
IgA Your Primary Defense Against Leaky Gut Syndrome
IgA or any molecule you see as Ig = immunoglobulin. It is essentially a label that can be placed on incoming stuff (bacteria, toxin, amino acid) to determine is this a bad guy or a good guy. If it is a bad guy, then your body attacks it with white cells, macrophages and other immune cells (SEE this article about the immune system).
IgA is very good with a IN-TACT gut border. Yet when you have and are not sure what is leaky gut syndrome, then IgA cannot get all the foreign baddies and they get through.
Mowing Your Brush Border
The next part is the brush border. This is a network that looks much like a shag carpet. Here the key is surface area. There are bumps called villi to maximize the space that can exposed to your cheeseburger and take in the nutrients. As a further step of genius, these villi also have microvilli or shag carpets on the bristles of the shag carpet to improve the surface area EVEN MORE.
As a physical barrier, limits or damage to the physical space will cause these villi to shrink, therefore lowering your ability to absorb the good nutrients valuable to your body. A prime example of this is with Celiac sprue and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (CLICK HERE to read more on that).
Due to prolonged immune reactions to gluten (a protein in wheat, rye and barley), white cells damage the villi, leading to blunting. It is like mowing the lawn or running a mover over your shag carpet. You are then left with stumpy little villi and cannot absorb nutrients well, leading to anemia, osteoporosis, gum disease, weight loss. Also, non-absorbed compounds remain in the gut and attract water, interact with your gut microbiome, leading to diarrhea, bloating, pain and many GI symptoms.
The Tight Junctions Are Asleep at the Wheel
Finally, another means to understanding what is leaky gut syndrome are the guardians of the gate between your intestinal cells, the tight junctions. The tight junctions involves the zonula occludens (guards at the first gate) a mesh network of first smooth muscle (actin and myosin)(like a net obstacle course), septate junctions (backup guards) and the basal cell matrix (another obstacle course).
Obviously, this is simplified, but you get the point. You have backup systems that can work even if the initial guard let that cheese puff through. Brilliant!
As a result, that candy bar you just ate, sneaks through the border incompletely digested and goes right into your circulatory system. When this occurs, your immune system will catch this foreign invader and you get an immune reaction or inflammation, which can make you feel like garbage. Over time when you have chronic inflammation, this is what predisposes people to autoimmune disease like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
So, what is leaky gut syndrome? It is the breakdown in these physical barriers leading to IgA not being able to keep up.
It is the result of genetic predisposition + environmental triggers, leading to inflammation and changes in our gut microbiome.
You then get intestinal permeability, leakage of molecules (food, toxins, etc), causing an immune response and potentially over time autoimmune disease. Usually, due to years of gut abuse by eating junk, but there are numerous inputs below that contribute to your leaky gut syndrome.
- Food antigens (poor farming, processed foods)
- Medical Diseases (celiac sprue, Inflammatory bowel disease)
- Low intestinal digestive inputs (gastric acid, pancreatic enzymes)
- Toxins (additives, pollution)
- Nutritional deficiencies
Yes, so what is leaky gut syndrome? Multimodal disease inputs that lead to a combination of food antigen uptake, uptake of toxins and maldigestion. Again, this is the precursor for many of the autoimmune diseases that exist.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
For leaky gut syndrome, the symptoms can vary, for some they are more apparent like nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea or constipation. Yet for others this can be
- Depression, anxiety, ADHD
- Brain Fog, memory problems
- Joint Pain
- Nutrition issues or weight loss
- Decreased libido
- Strange cravings, sugar craving
The main reason why leaky gut syndrome has such variable symptoms is because of the mechanism. As we discussed above, the issue is with holes in the barrier protection function, leading to leakage of foreign products into the blood stream and then an immune reaction.
A result of this combination of factor is inflammation, which can deposit throughout the body or even low levels of blood steam infections, termed sepsis. This can alter your brain chemicals and hunger signaling visa via the microbiome (IF you want to learn more about the microbiome, CLICK HERE, or how to remodel your gut microbiome HERE, the brain-gut axis HERE).
How to Diagnose Leaky Gut Syndrome
So, I cannot divulge all of my secrets, but diagnosing leaky gut syndrome can be quite tough. I will tell you that inflammatory markers are relatively non-specific but can allude to leaky gut as an issue. Testing your stool for infectious etiologies and imbalances in your microbiome flora can also be helpful.
There are however tests directly to evaluate the barrier effects of your gut. If you want to partner with a healthcare professional or if your healthcare provider would like some guidance, just reach out and we will assist you.
Approaches to Fix your Leaky Gut Syndrome
Okay now that I have scared you, let’s fix this problem! With most things in the gut the most impactful steps involve cleaning up your kitchen. This involves removing the following from your life:
- Added sugar
- Limiting caffeine (including chocolate)
- Processed foods
- Grain-treated meat
I know this is a big pill to swallow and you may be asking yourself…what CAN I EAT THEN? Well you have lots and lots of vegetables left, fruits, grass fed and game meats, healthy oils, fish, nuts, seeds and dairy alternatives. If you need help, well that is why we offer Gut Health Programming (CLICK HERE).
Reintroducing Restrictions for Leaky Gut Syndrome
After removing this junk from your life for at least 6 weeks, you can slowly reintroduce and test variables, giving them about 3-4 days to look for a response. If you feel okay, then move on to the next, if not, remove that food and try the next variable.
You also will want to ensure enough hydration during this time period and FIBER! By fiber, I mean vegetables. Fiber will turn into butyrate in the colon via your microbiome. Butyrate is the fuel for the colon and will ensure it stays healthy.
Along the same lines, glutamine, a protein is the fuel for the small bowel. You can either supplement this with a non-dairy protein source or you can get it in bone broth, and most protein-rich foods.
Supplements that Help with Leaky Gut Syndrome
Other than glutamine, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is always a great idea. If you want to learn more on that click HERE for our review on omega-3s and HERE on Fats. These fats will reduce the inflammatory reaction and bolster your barrier directly. Turmeric or curcumin have similar properties being anti-inflammatory.
To directly support your gut and aide in healing leaky gut syndrome, vitamins A, C, D and E can support healing. Phosphatidylcholine can directly support the mucous and barrier function. Lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase can support gut immune cells.
You most definitely will want to also remodel your microbiome. As stated in our article HERE, you can get this supplementation naturally or via pill form. Regardless of how you get your biome boosted, you will want to have Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus (bacteria) AND Saccharomyces (yeast).
The Brain-Gut Axis and Leaky Gut
Not only is it important to fix the gut to avoid the neuropsychiatric effects of leaky gut syndrome on the brain and your mental health, but the reverse is also true. Due to pooling of neurohormones like serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline in the gut and the relation between the gut and the brain you really should work on your mental health as well.
The brain and gut share the same signaling, and if you are depressed, anxious, scared, your gut will react (via the enteric nervous system or the gut’s own nervous system) the same way. Practices include seeking a mental health professional, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral thinking. Work on your stress by reading this article (HERE), written by my sister, who is a therapist.
Summary of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome is a real medical condition involving breakdown in the barrier function of your intestine, which induces inflammation. It has a diverse grouping of inputs and multiple resultant consequences. Improving leaky gut syndrome involves removing poor nutritional choices, introducing food foods, probiotics, mental health practices and some potential supplements.