How leaky gut can cause havoc on your health…
Leaky gut is the very unflattering name given to a digestive disorder that can cause a lot of health issues for its sufferers. I prefer to refer to it as ‘digestive hyper-permeability’ and explain that it is an inflammation of the digestive tract. It is a condition I find often in many of my patients, and can lead to many other health issues if left undetected. Most often, by the time a patient makes their way to my office they have a long list of symptoms and complaints that they want help addressing. To most these symptoms can seem unrelated. It’s not until we look deeper at your health and WHY these symptoms have appeared that I can often find a common link- leaky gut. This is because it affects how your whole body is balanced.
So what is leaky gut?
Leaky gut is an inflammation of the digestive tract lining. The lining of our digestive tract, primarily the small and large intestines, become inflamed and damaged. This causes the pores (through which our food and nutrients are absorbed) to become larger, allowing for undigested food molecules, toxins, antigens and other molecules that would not normally be able to be absorbed, to end up circulating in our blood stream. The inflammation and damage in the gut lining means that the bacteria that live in our digestive tract no longer have a suitable place to live and therefore a microbial imbalance can occur. This is known dysbiosis. The lack of beneficial gut flora disrupts our immune balance, as does the ‘leakage’ of other particles as our immune system is left to deal with the copious amounts of waste material that cross into the blood stream. This is a huge problem for our immune system, as 80% of our immune cells actually sit inside our digestive tract and our entire immune regulation is affected by leaky gut. Lastly, our livers become stressed as they need to mop up the mess.
To simplify- think of it as damage to the gut wall, increasing the pore sizes, which allows things that are not normally allowed to enter the bloodstream to cross the barrier and enter our circulation. This increased permeability increases inflammation in various tissues and a huge array of symptoms and health conditions.
Here are some of the most common health concerns and symptoms that can be attributed to leaky gut:
- Tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
- Brain fog, poor memory, poor concentration and an inability to focus
- Allergies, hay fever, asthma, eczema, dermatitis, hives
- Food intolerances
- LOTS of digestive symptoms such as aches, pains, bloating, gas, loose bowel movements, irregular motions or constipation
- Joint pain, arthritis, muscle aches and pains
- Poor mood, depression
- Poor immunity, recurrent infections
- Iron deficiency
- Autoimmune conditions
- Systemic inflammation
- Weight gain
- Sugar cravings
So how do you know if you have a leaky gut?
Chances are that if you regularly experience any of the symptoms or health issues listed above then it is playing a role in your health. However, there are tests available that can measure how ‘leaky’ your gut is. This is done via a simple urine test and gives a detailed explanation on exactly how mild or severe it is for you. If you have 3 or more of the symptoms above, I would suggest leaky gut could be playing a role on your health. If you have digestive symptoms then this is even more likely that you have a leaky gut.
Treating a leaky gut can take some time and most of my patients are put onto a 3-6 month digestive health program. While it can take time to repair the damage and inflammation in the gut, symptoms do resolve quickly and most will feel much better after only a few weeks. A huge part of the healing process is to diagnose and avoid food intolerances. It’s important to start with a ‘clean slate’ and avoiding the foods that are causing an inflammatory response is vital. Once this step is started, we can then introduce various herbal medicines, fibres, probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods which heal the gut wall lining, reduce inflammation, nourish the liver and balance gut flora. A healthy gut really is paramount to our overall health and wellbeing!