A healthy body has a powerful immune army that defends against invading toxins such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. But if you have issues with your gut health, your body may not be absorbing the vital nutrients it needs to function optimally and your immune “army” may not be functioning properly.
Signs You Might Have a Leaky Gut
1. Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
2. Seasonal allergies or asthma.
3. Hormonal imbalances such as PMS or PCOS.
4. Autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, celiac disease, chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.
5. Depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD.
6 Skin problems such as acne, rosacea, or eczema.
7 Candida overgrowth.
8. Food allergies or food intolerances.
You can prevent and reverse leaky gut problems and autoimmunity by identifying food and lifestyle triggers and swapping nutrient-dense, healthy healing foods for toxic foods and lifestyle.
Unfortunately, when gut issues are treated in Western medicine it is usually means that only “gas” or “acid reflux” are addressed and usually with drugs (OTC or prescription) that cause terrible side effects or more serious diseases.
Gut issues can lead to much bigger problems than simply gas or reflux. The immune system’s main weapon is to make antibodies against toxins but unfortunately, this army can sometimes mistakenly identify your own cells as foreign.
This is called autoimmunity, in which the immune system fails to recognize its own cells and produces antibodies against its own tissues, also known as auto-antibodies. Your body effectively goes to war against itself, with your immune system on one side, and your healthy cells on the other side. Autoimmunity leads to chronic inflammation and tissue destruction, pain, and loss of function.
Are holes in your gut causing chronic inflammation?
The number of people with autoimmune disease has risen dramatically in the past decade, and the number of individual autoimmune diseases has risen to more than 100. Conservatively, autoimmune disease affects more than 5 percent of the population in Western countries and women are disproportionately affected more than men.
While researchers are unclear on the exact reason why women are more vulnerable to autoimmune disorders, the leading hypotheses suspect a complicated interplay of genetic, hormonal, nutritional, stress, and other lifestyle factors. Regardless of the particular disease, the underlying cause is an overactive immune system, which explains why autoimmune disorders are commonly treated with steroids and other immune-suppressing medications.
Leaky Gut as the Basis for Autoimmune Disease
The gut wall (that is, the lining of the intestines) is made up of a single layer of tiny cells which allow nutrients and water in while keeping bacteria, large proteins, and other toxins out. The gut wall is the gatekeeper of the body, giving access only to that which is worthy of entry while keeping the toxins and “bad guys” away.
We ingest toxins on a daily basis and a healthy gut wall is crucial to our immune function and overall good health. This is why the vast majority (about 70%) of our immune system is found in the gut wall.
In general, the toxins that fail to be addressed in the intestines “leak” into the body, triggering inflammation in the tissue surrounding the gut wall. Our immune system is designed to handle this, but if there are a lot of breaches in the immune system, the body becomes overwhelmed and toxins enter the bloodstream where they can travel to virtually any part of the body and cause an inflammatory immune response.
Many things can cause leaky gut such as medications (i.e., NSAIDS like ibuprofen or steroids), chronic stress, alcohol, and certain foods. However, two main triggers have been identified to produce zonulin and are thought to contribute to increases in intestinal hyperpermeability in everyone who has a gut wall, not just people with autoimmune disease.
The two main triggers for leaky gut are:
- Gluten and other anti-nutrients from foods
- Dysbiosis – an imbalance in the body’s natural microflora (i.e. too much “bad” bacteria in the gut).
Most of the population of Western countries struggles with the low-grade inflammation that leads to problems like autoimmune disease, obesity, diabetes, and other major health problems that conventional medicine addresses by masking symptoms, rather than finding the true cause.
There are many ways to prevent and reverse leaky gut, dysbiosis, and autoimmunity. In functional medicine, that means identifying the root cause, particularly the food and lifestyle triggers. Then you swap nutrient-dense and healing foods for the toxic foods, and do the same with lifestyle redesign.