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"Leaky gut" - Increased intestinal permeability

“Leaky gut” is a term that is often looked upon with derision in the medical community but there is a growing body of evidence that connects numerous diseases with the integrity of our gut lining. Increase intestinal permeability (as it is called in the medical world) has been linked to a whole host of conditions includinginflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and food allergies among other things. While it is not always clear whether having a “leaky gut” contributes to the development of such conditions or whether getting a leaky gut is as a result of these conditions it is apparent that a compromised gut lining is detrimental to the body.

The gut lining is part of our innate immune system (along with the skin, stomach acid, mucus and a few other bits) and should form a barrier that keeps out pathogens and harmful substances whilst allowing digested foodstuffs through into our bloodstream to be whisked around the body to where needed. This innate system is our first line of defence and so if compromised other parts of our immune system have to deal with toxins and pathogens that should not be entering the system in such quantities in the first place. This elevated immune response leads to an increase in inflammation within the body as this is one way that the immune system reacts to help deal with the situation. It becomes problematic when this inflammatory response becomes chronic, as it typically does in these cases unless gut lining integrity is restored. What is important to remember here is that inflammation is a response by the body to a particular state that it is in, inflammation itself is not the enemy.

When a baby is born their gut lining needs to be sealed and the colostrum in the mothers breast milk is one of the primary things that helps with this. Colostrum is nutrient dense and contains immunoglobulins and passive antibodies that help build the infants immune system and establish beneficial bacteria in their digestive tract. This is why breast feeding is far more beneficial than bottle feeding for the infants health. We know that if a child has a course of antibiotics during infancy then they are more likely to develop allergies and antibiotics are known to damage gut bacteria. It therefore follows and there is evidence to suggest that if a child has not established a strong immune system and diverse gut bacteria through breast feeding, been exposed to antibiotics, or be born by C-section, this may disadvantage them in terms of immune system development.

Chronic stress is also known to damage gut bacteria and this is why highly stressed individuals when they burn out will be more susceptible to illness as their system is just exhausted and unable to cope. It is clear that different interventions are needed for people at different stages of leaky gut. With people who have developed such conditions as celiac, Chrohn’s, or IBD then damage may be irreversible but this does not mean that improvements can’t be made to either slow down the degradation or reduce the inflammation associated with the condition. There is a correlation between severity of IBD, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s and how permeable the gut lining is – that is the more permeable the lining the worse the symptoms of the disease the person exhibits.

When working with anyone there are a number of foundational things that you need to put in place in order to maximise the chance of getting a good result, even more so if that individual has an advanced gut or autoimmune condition. Without repairing the gut lining and restoring the integrity of someone’s innate immune system then you are not going to get good results as that person is going to continue to have an elevated immune response. There are a number of ways that you can help the gut lining including:

  • incorporating resistant starches in your diet

  • supplement collagen / glutamine / colostrum

  • consume foods high in Omega 3’s & 6’s

  • certain probiotics

  • prebiotics (these feed your gut bacteria)

Small incremental improvements and habitual changes are what’s needed, sometimes over a long period of time, to heal the gut lining. Without doing this then you cannot expect to do anything more than treat symptoms when someone has an autoimmune condition, an inflammatory condition, delayed onset food sensitivities etc. Restoring this part of the innate immune system is of paramount importance, the good news is that it is possible.

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