Leaky Gut, Leaky What?
Leaky Gut Syndrome: What you need to know.
About our Small Intestines
To understand what leaky gut is, you need to understand a little about your small intestine. The small intestine is home to 70-80% of our immune cells. It also houses 100,000 neurons and therefore has a deep connection to your brain. It has an immpresive 4,000 square feet of lining. All of this lining is made up of one single cell. Between these cells you have tight junctions (TJ’s). These TJ’s have a very important job. They keep the bad guys out of our blood stream. TJ’s let the good guys in. These good guys are essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Everything else, is supposed to stay out.
What is Leaky Gut?
When these TJ’s are no longer tight, we have leaky gut. This means that there are small openings between the cells in the small intestine and some of those bad guys are getting through. These bad guys often become antigens. Antigens are what our immune system sees as foreign. Our immune system fights and causes inflammation and can potentially cause autoimmune response as well as other psychiatric disorders like depression and autism. When these bad guys get through and create an immune response, this is known as leaky gut.
Who are the Bad Guys?
The bad guys that sneak through the TJ’s can be many things. Some of these include undigested food, bacteria, yeast, other waste like microbial endotoxins. Our bodies don’t know what to do with these foreign substances getting into our blood stream and so our bodies fight.
What is Zonulin?
Zonulin is the protein that helps to hold the junctions together tightly. You can think of it like a key that opens the door to the junctions. You can test zonulin in the blood stream. When levels are high it can be a sign that leaky gut is present.
How can I prevent Leaky Gut?
Since we are just learning about leaky gut through extensive research, our knowledge in prevention is somewhat limited. However, we do know that diets high in fruits and vegetables can be helpful. Probiotics and prebiotics are also very helpful–as usual it is best to get these with food sources like yogurt, kefir, or other fermented foods. Our most available prebiotic source is fiber, so again eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Also, glutamine, curcumin, and zinc may have potential to help with overall gut health. Limiting high fat and high sugar foods can also help reduce permeability. Lastly, if you have celiac disease the best way to prevent this is to avoid gluten.
An Interesting Theory
Gluten has become quite famous in the last 5 years. There may be a good reason why. Gluten is thought to be a common bad guy that gets through the TJ’s. Gluten is a protein, but when it is not digested fully and breaks through the TJ’s, then it becomes something our immune system wants to fight. The gluten molecule itself chemically looks a lot like our thyroid tissue. When gluten leaks through, our body not only fights the gluten, but also our thyroid. This theory is that autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s are caused by leaky gut.
Is the theory true? Well, we aren’t sure yet. We do know that in many people adjusting the diet helps to significantly heal autoimmune diseases. The most important diet changes you can make involve reducing processed foods and increasing fresh produce. Probiotics are probably a very big help also, and so including fermented foods in your daily diet can decrease your chances of having leaky gut.
If you suspect you have leaky gut, work on making some changes in your diet. Work to increase fruits, vegetables, fiber and probiotics naturally through eating more whole foods and fermented foods. Also, think about how you can decrease saturated fats from fatty meats, sugars, and other processed foods.
When we make small changes in our diet, we can have a huge impact on our health!