What is Leaky Gut?

Lydia from Divine Health From the Inside Out, A fellow blogger whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know recently, has put together an amazing and comprehensive course on digestive health and gut healing. I have seen a little preview of what she has put together and it looks extremely evidenced based and educational. I highly recommend checking it out and registering. In honor of the wonderful work she’s doing and to encourage you all to check it out. I am going to do a three part preview series this week on leaky gut. What it is, Its causes and effects, and how its healed. I will give you a brief preview of this one element of gut health, but I highly recommend that you check out Lydia’s course here to learn a ton more and get on your way to healing and better health!

What Is Leaky Gut? 
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The more scientific term for this occurrence is called increased intestinal permeability, and while the term “leaky gut” has gained a lot of popularity in recent years it is sometimes still not seen as a “real” ailment by much of the general public. However, scientific data surrounding increased intestinal permeability and its relationship to a growing number of ailments is mounting.

To understand what leaky gut is we must first think about the role of our digestive system and its connection to our immune system and our body at large. While explaining this concept I am going to rely heavily on the research of Sarah Ballantyne, outlined in her book “The Paleo Approach”. In her explanation of leaky gut she starts off by saying, “ An enormous portion of the body’s immune system lies within the tissues surrounding the gut. This is because the gut is an essential barrier between the outside world and the inside.” (53) The designed purpose of our gut is to keep some things out and other things in.

How does this work, you may ask… Ballantyne explains, “Amazingly, a single layer of highly specialized cells – known as enterocytes- is all that separates the inside of the body from the outside. These cells have two very specific jobs:

1. To transport the digested nutrients from the “inside the gut” side of the cell to the “outside the gut” side of the cell.

2. To keep everything else inside the gut (that is, not let it enter the body).” (54)

This is all well and good, it sounds ideal right? The important things, like broken down nutrients, get transported outside of our gut and taken to where they need to go and the toxins and waste stay inside our gut to be excreted. No problem at all. What is the big deal? Well, hang on for just one second. What if I were to tell you that your gut may not always work like that and maybe some of your bad stuff is leaking out where it doesn’t belong? That is where leaky gut comes in.

“ A leaky gut occurs when either individual or groups of enterocytes are damaged or the proteins that form the tight bonds between the cells and hold them together as a solid layer are damaged. When this happens, microscopic holes are formed through which some of the contents of the gut can leak out into the bloodstream or lymphatic system… what leaks out isn’t big hunks of food, but a combination of pathogens: incompletely digested proteins, bacteria or bacterial fragments from those friendly bacteria that are supposed to stay in your gut; infectious organisms if they are present in the gut; or a variety of toxic substances or waste products that would normally be excreted.” (56)
Ok so now I may have your attention because a collection of pathogens floating around in your blood stream doesn’t sound too good… well its not. What does our body do to pathogens floating around in our blood stream? It attacks them. “When large quantities of pathogens escape, other parts of the body, especially the liver, also contribute to the response – revving up body wide inflammation and sending the immune system into overdrive.” (56) It is in this inflammation that we can start to see the role leaky gut plays in the development of many of today’s common diseases and ailments. Many autoimmune diseases, like mine, result in the presence of inflammation in a certain area of the body. For me, it’s the colon. For others, it may be the joints, the pancreas, the heart, the thyroid, or even the brain. Even common ailments like allergies or asthma are the result of inflammation and an exaggerated immune result, likely related to leaky gut.

As I said in the beginning, this is simply a brief, brief overview of the topic of leaky gut. Later this week, I will touch on the causes and effects of leaky gut and how it can be helped, but for more in depth research, suggestions and help I suggest you read Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach and register for Lydia’s course on gut health and healing!

For more information on healing through diet, leaky gut, and autoimmune diseases check out Sara Ballantyne’s book The Paleo ApproachIt is packed with solid science and practical tips that have changed my health dramatically.