Years ago, before I had children, I saw a renowned chiropractor for some on-going neck discomfort and general fatigue. At the end of the session, she told me I had “leaky gut”, sold me some supplements, offered a couple of diet tips (more protein, less carbs) and told me to come back in a week.
Leaky gut? Who me?
I had no idea what it was, but it sounded overwhelmingly unattractive.
I swept the diagnosis under the rug and forged ahead with my pseudo-healthy lifestyle.
I wish I had understood at the time what this mysterious “leaky gut” was all about. I wish I had known that Leaky Gut is a major issue that was not only affecting me, but likely many of my peers! But it took me years to shed the denial and fully wrap my mind around it so that I could finally reclaim my health.
That’s why I’m writing this post today. To hold your hand for a moment and walk you through this whole leaky gut thing in order to empower you to take charge of your own digestive health.
A Simple Explanation of Leaky Gut
After food is broken down in the stomach, it travels down into the intestines. The lining of the intestines is known as the “gut lining”.
A healthy gut lining performs two main functions. One, it effectively assimilates the nutrients in our food. Two, it acts as a protective barrier, keeping toxins from entering the blood stream. A healthy gut lining is like a tightly woven filter that allows only the smallest particles through.
In a leaky gut, the lining is like a damaged mesh filter, frayed and with bigger gaps. Leaky gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability. When the gut lining is more permeable (porous, passable) than it should be, nutrients are not properly absorbed and unwanted substances can enter the bloodstream.
This is why many of us are overfed and undernourished. You are what you absorb, not simply what you eat.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
“The digestive tract is the great console of the body. It can be the creator of harmony or disharmony.” -Dr. Bernard Jensen
Since leaky gut is a root health issue, there are many ways it can manifest itself throughout the body. Some common initial signs that your gut might be leaky include:
- frequent bloating
- mental fogginess
- food sensitivities
- irregular bowels
- constipation and/or diarrhea intermittently
- difficulty losing weight (and in some instances, difficulty gaining)
What causes leaky gut?
At the root of leaky gut is inflammation.
Inflammation is the immune system’s normal and natural response when foreign stimuli enter the body. We need inflammation to effectively fight off toxins and disease. But many of us are in a state of chronic inflammation. We live in an increasingly processed world and as a result our body’s tissues become perpetually inflamed or on fire. For more, read Inflammation 101.
Inflammation in the intestines is caused by a number of things including:
- an unbalanced or highly processed diet (I will expand on this in my next post)
- prolonged drug use (especially codeine and other opioid pain medicines, and opiates such as heroin)
You can see why leaky gut is potentially a widespread problem.
What happens when unwanted large particles enter the bloodstream?
Take for instance, gluten and casein, the proteins in wheat and milk. A leaky gut allows relatively large particles of these proteins to enter the bloodstream.
These proteins, when in the bloodstream, become “heroin-like substances” that can lead to all sorts of mental duress. This is one reason that many people, especially those with conditions such as autism and ADHD, feel so much better on a gluten and casein-free diet. Although, many wouldn’t be quite so affected by gluten and casein if the inflammation in the intestines were subdued and the protective barrier restored.
How do I protect my gut?
Are you inspired to make some lifestyle changes so that you can protect your digestive health? Maybe you suspect you have leaky gut or you are positive that you don’t want it?
Read Part 2 of the Leaky Gut Series: 8 Ways To Remedy and Prevent It.
Feature photo credit: Dylan Luder
Also Posted at The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter.