By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Your intestines are the gateway to your health. If your gut is healthy, chances are your overall state of health is good. Whereas if your digestive health is poor, you probably experience several varied health problems.
You may have heard of leaky gut syndrome. It is increasingly being recognised as an underlying factor in most inflammatory and immune mediated health problems.
What is a leaky gut?
Your intestine is naturally permeable to very small molecules in order to absorb vital nutrients. At the same time, it is designed in a way to prevent large or harmful molecules from gaining entry to the bloodstream. In some circumstances, the healthy intestinal barrier can become inflamed or irritated, leaving it excessively permeable to harmful substances.
In some people, gluten can cause the gut cells to release zonulin, which is a protein that can break apart tight junctions in the intestinal lining. Dr Alessio Fasano has done a great deal of research on zonulin, leaky gut and the development of autoimmune disease. You can read one of his papers here. Other factors can also break down the gut lining and make it excessively leaky; most commonly gut infections, parasites, alcohol, stress, the oral contraceptive pill, antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
When these tight junctions get broken apart, you have a leaky gut. When your gut is leaky, harmful things like bacteria, toxins, heavy metals and undigested food particles can leak through your intestines into your bloodstream. Once they get into your bloodstream, the first place they head is your liver. This puts a great strain on your liver function and it’s not surprising that most people who have had a leaky gut for some time eventually go on to develop poor liver health. Sometimes they even develop elevated liver enzymes and a fatty liver.
What causes leaky gut?
The number one cause of leaky gut syndrome is gluten. A large percentage of the population just cannot digest gluten properly, and it triggers inflammation in the intestinal lining. You do not need to have coeliac disease in order for gluten to make you very sick. Other common culprit foods are dairy products (casein), sugar and any food you are allergic to (eg. Nuts, eggs, soy, corn). Alcohol promotes increased intestinal permeability.
Gut infections promote a leaky gut. The most common infectious causes are Candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). You can develop these types of infections from consuming too much sugar, insufficient production of digestive juices (stomach acid, bile, digestive enzymes), poor hygiene or food poisoning.
The most common medications to promote leaky gut are antibiotics, particularly if taken long term such as for acne or bladder infections. The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Naprogesic and Nurofen are common culprits. Steroids and stomach acid suppressing drugs also promote leaky gut.