Everything we ingest passes through the digestive system. These substances either provide nourishment or deplete the nutrients stored in the body. It’s the digestive systems job to break food down into basic nutrients that will be absorbed and used as fuel throughout the body. Even with an ideal diet, if the digestive system is not functioning properly, the body will not be able to utilize what nutrients have been consumed.
When depleting substances are ingested, overtime it can lead to various health conditions. Some of these conditions are minor, however, others can lead to chronic disease. Thus, the health of our digestion system is essential for overall health and wellbeing. As well as breaking food into basic nutrients, the digestive system plays an extremely important role in the health of the immune system as the digestive system contains ~70% of our immune system.
What is Leaky Gut?
In a healthy individual, tight junctions make up the intestinal lining and only allow basic nutrients to enter into the bloodstream. The intestinal lining also keeps harmful toxins, microbes and undigested food particles from entering the bloodstream. However, when there is damage or inflammation in the intestinal lining, this semi-permeable membrane becomes “leaky”, and the tight junctions become larger. This allows unwanted toxins, microbes and undigested food particles to pass directly into the bloodstream. As these substances enter the bloodstream, the immune system is alerted and identifies them as foreign. Even if it is a healthy food, the body’s defense system is alerted to attack.
Once the immune system is alerted, antibodies against these foreign substances are produced. Within a short time, food sensitivities or allergies can develop. In some cases, tissues within the body of similar make-up can be mistakenly identified as foreign and are attacked, thus causing inflammation and pain. If left unattended, leaky gut can lead to allergies, asthma, autism, malabsorption, autoimmune disease, eczema or psoriasis, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic inflammatory response syndrome, and other chronic disease.
Symptoms of leaky gut include bloating, food sensitivities, thyroid conditions, fatigue, joint pain, weight gain, digestive problems, skin issues and headaches. Factors contributing to leaky gut include abnormal gut flora, diets high in refined/processes foods and sugar, low stomach acidity, antibiotics, food additives and preservatives, chemicals and pesticides, prescription and over the counter drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Motrin, Advil, Aleve), and chronic stress.
Supporting Digestion & Repairing Leaky Gut
Restoring the gut integrity starts with transitioning to a whole food and nutrient-dense diet, increasing fiber, balancing gut flora with a probiotic supplement and/or fermented foods, and taking an essential fatty acid supplement. Managing stress is strongly encouraged. Supplementing with digestive enzymes and bitters can assist with breaking food down into basic nutrients. Herbs such as slippery elm, goldenseal, fenugreek, peppermint and marshmallow can soothe the intestinal lining. Avoid foods such as refined/processed foods, refined sugar, alcohol, soda and coffee. Following an elimination diet for gluten and dairy is also extremely beneficial.
While a nutrient-dense diet is essential for digestive health, it is extremely important to determine what foods that may be irritating or intolerant specifically to you. A food intolerance panel, such as an IgG food panel can identify these foods.