Leaky Gut

Definition

Leaky Gut is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine has broken down. In this state, it becomes permeable to foods which should only be able to get into the bloodstream when they are more or less completely broken down (digested). With leaky gut, these food elements flood into the bloodstream as more or less complete compounds. Normal digestionThese substances are capable of stimulating allergies and creating many problems which are widespread in the body.

The illustration to the right is of the normal small intestine. In it the pink area represents the wall of the small intestine. The yellow lines are the lymph channels which transport absorbed fats to the liver. The finger-like projections are hair thin villi, the absorptive organ by which our nutrients are brought into the body.

The villi are defended by a substantial layer of mucus (turquoise). Secreted into the mucus layer, immunoglobulins containing antibodies are produced by islands of immune cells (purple). A major contribution to our defense is played by the friendly bacteria which live on the surface of the mucus which in the small intestine are predominantly acidophilus (green).

The healthy small intestine has a number of tools for self defense. These include:

Mucus, provides a physical barrier which washes away potential pathogens. The immune globulins, IgA secreted by specialized cells in the lining of the intestine stay in the mucus layer and stand ready to bind to, and inactivate viruses, unfriendly bacteria and yeasts. It also supports a community of beneficial bacteria numbering in the trillions in a healthy intestine and from over 250 different types. These friendly bacteria are referred to as a group as probiotics.

Probiotics: these bacteria perform many critically important functions which include producing chemicals which kill yeasts like Candida. Acidophilus, a probiotic which lives mainly in the small intestine also helps to create a micro-acidic environment to assist with the absorption of minerals like iron.

Many people who are anemic, have, in my opinion, malabsorbtion of iron because of damage to the small intestine and a deficiency of Acidophilus. Probiotics also create some B vitamins.

Secretory Immune Globulin "A" (IgA): Islands of specialized lymph tissue in the intestinal lining create enormous numbers of antibodies (protein created in a special shape fitted to trap viruses and bacteria). Several mechanisms converge to produce a breakdown in the integrity of the intestinal barrier. The breakdown may come suddenly with an infection like Salmonella or gastroenteritis or food poisoning.

Symptoms of Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is an advanced condition which is usually preceded by irritable bowel syndrome. With it, the bloating, flatulence and cramps of IBS are intensified. There may be a low grade fever accompanied by a rise in the white blood count. Almost certainly, there will be fatigue after eating. Usually there is a craving for carbohydrates especially sweets, which, if they are not eaten frequently (not a safe approach), will cause symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

How does Leaky Gut Develop?

The progress to leaky gut follows a fairly predictable course. It starts with early changes to the lining of the small intestine often produced by an infection. This may be a viral infection (like gastroenteritis), food poisoning, or a bacterial infection like Salmonella.

More often however, it begins as an infection which is self medicated with acetaminophen, aspirin or another 'cold or fever' medicine. The fever medicine (an ANSAID) thins the mucus layer - the turquoise layer is much thinner.

If the illness persists, then a physician may prescribe an antibiotic.

The antibiotic kills most of the beneficial bacteria which, in health (please see Healthy Small Intestine for more on this), line the intestine, protecting us from unfriendly organisms, often a yeast like Candida.

The illustration on the right shows the effect antibiotics have had on the protective layer of the intestine, depleting the probiotic layer, and leaving the tips of the villi exposed.

The illustration above shows the intestine which left unprotected, as the yeasts proliferate, have holes punched in them- thus creating a leaky gut. Below is the outcome - inflammatory bowel disease.

In the illustration above, undigested protein molecules are able to move freely into the bloodstream. When whole protein molecules can get into the bloodstream, they cause the start of enormous problems; allergic reactions, and, I believe they are the start to many autoimmune illnesses.

Why is it Important to Recognize this condition?

Leaky gut is the beginning of very serious heath problems. If not corrected, it is usually the beginning of problems which become most difficult to reverse.

This condition is difficult to heal. It takes a very determined effort which includes drastic diet change and the conscientious addition of high quality food supplements.

How Can Leaky Gut be Reversed?

Treatment for leaky gut is essentially the same as for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Please see the suggestions on that page.

 

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