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 inflammation of the digestive tract. Having a ‘leaky gut’ occurs when 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 through to become larger in size, therefore undigested food molecules, toxins, antigens and other molecules that would not normally be able to be absorbed 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 system and is further burdened as it has to deal with the copious amounts of toxins, antigens and waste materials 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 causes toxic insult to the liver.
Leaky gut causes disruption to many body systems and a whole host of health problems.
Things to be aware of are:
– Allergies, hay fever, sinus, asthma and eczema will all worsen
– Back pain and spinal dysfunction. Inflammation in the gut lining causes reflex spasm of the muscles in the back leading to problems with stiffness and alignment causing more of the same. The nerves that supply the gut can become further irritated at the level of the spine further aggravating the original problem. Getting your spine checked by a chiropractor whilst addressing the underlying causes can be a vital step in a speedy recovery.
– Food intolerances are a huge part of the condition, and in fact approximately 80% of leaky gut suffers will also have food intolerances. This is a bit of a case of the chicken or the egg- food intolerances worsen leaky gut and a leaky gut will worsen food intolerances.
– Headaches, migraines
– Poor immunity and recurrent infections
– Low energy levels, fatigue, poor sleep, brain fog
– Malnutrition and difficulty absorbing key nutrients, particularly iron and b12
– Joint aches and pains, usually non specific and moving around due to systemic inflammation
– AND of course lots of digestive symptoms- constipation and/or diarrhea, bloating, wind, gas, reflux, pains, nausea, cramping- classic ‘irritable bowel’ type symptoms
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 may be playing a role. 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.
Treating a leaky gut can take some time!
Most of my patients are put onto a 3-6 month digestive health program. While it can take some 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 and probiotics 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 well-being.