"All disease begins in the gut"
Hippocrates had said more than 2000 years ago and it is being proved by science to be true today.
You may have heard the term "leaky gut" since it increasingly in the news lately. The "gut" part that we are referring to in "leaky gut" is a specific part which is our "intestines". Any damage to the internal lining can lead to a cascade of health issues. The cells that line the gut wall keep bacteria, undigested or partially digested food and toxins from entering our blood stream. The gut lining is in fact selectively permeable and only allows digested food particles to enter the body under normal circumstances. Also, it is our body's first line of defense against foreign particles entering into our body and about 70% of the immune system resides in our "gut". But, if for some reason, this one cell thick gut lining becomes damaged and starts allowing large protein molecules and other foreign bodies to go through, our body naturally mounts an immune response and attacks them.
Our gut is also home to trillions of microbes and our body actually has about 10 times more bacterial than human cells!
Our gut flora is responsible many important functions like manufacturing and absorbing key vitamins; maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, promoting normal digestive function, providing protection from infection and regulating our metabolism. If there is any imbalance in our gut flora, the above mentioned functions can get disrupted leading to weight loss resistance, metabolic disorders, allergies and many other common modern diseases.
The triggers for this gut health imbalance can be
- medications and other medications like antacids and NSAID (Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs)
- chronic stress
- chronic infections
- poor diet which comprises refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
- low fibre diet
- high toxin exposure from household products and environment
An unhealthy gut can eventually lead to leaky gut due to a reduction in biodiversity leading to a preponderance of pathogenic bacteria over healthy ones. These pathogenic bacteria produce endotoxins (toxins generated inside the body) like LPS or lipopolysaccharide which can be harmful to our health. Our body does not like LPS and the immune system attacks it with full force thus beginning an inflammatory process. This inflammatory response is helpful initially but if it goes on long enough, then what should have been a temporary attack leads to chronic inflammation. This chronic intestinal inflammation can lead to breaches at critical junctions in the gut lining leading to what I have mentioned earlier in this post as "intestinal permeability" or "leaky gut".
One thing that is important to note at this point is: you do not have to necessarily suffer from digestive symptoms to have a leaky gut.
It can manifest as other conditions like
- skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis
- food sensitivities
- autoimmune conditions
- thyroid issues
- weight loss resistance
- type 1 and type 2 diabetes and many more
Healing the gut
The gut starts healing the when the damage stops and the nutrients for healing are readily available. Starting with food, we can make several changes to our diet which can help restore our gut flora. I will be covering the 5R gut healing protocol that we use in Functional Medicine in another post in details.
Some basic steps that you can take to heal your gut are
- eat whole, unprocessed foods with plenty of fibre, focusing more on plant foods
- if you think you have food sensitivities, try an Elimination Diet (I will be covering this in another article)
- add plenty of healthy fats like omega 3
- have foods rich in gut healing nutrients like zinc and glutamine
- add more fermented foods like yogurt/dahi, kefir and sauerkrat