Allergy, Digestion | September 14, 2016 | Author: Naturopath
You’ve probably heard some buzz about “leaky gut syndrome”. Sometimes it seems like every clickbait article is about it, and every health guru has a cure. It’s the kind of condition that allegedly causes a lot of other conditions, so its symptoms sound almost too vague, and like they could apply to everyone – fatigue, irritability, headache…
If you’re skeptical about leaky gut, you’re not alone.
But here’s the kick…
It is a real condition, and it has real impact on health. It even has a real name:
The large intestine has a tight membrane that is “permeable” – it allows nutrients and liquid to flow into and out of the blood, while preventing waste and large molecules back in. It’s a site of regulation for minerals and hydration. There are spaces between the cells of the membranous barrier which open and close, depending on what needs to get in or out.
The colon also hosts microbiota – “gut bugs” – which ferment digested food. In that process, they create nutrients (like vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids) that feed the cells of the colon, and keep the barrier tight. Good bacteria also produce mucous to stop harmful substances or pathogens attacking the colon cells and causing the spaces in the tight barrier from opening too much.
Leaky gut occurs when the spaces between cells open wider than normal, or stay open for too long – i.e. the colonic membrane becomes “hyperpermeable”. Molecules that are usually too big to fit through the gaps suddenly have direct access into the blood.
This causes “auto pollution”, where unwanted waste that was on its way out of the body via the colon is now back in. It travels through the blood, making its way to the liver, and results in symptoms of fatigue, irritability, moodiness, and poor concentration.
Along with auto-pollutants, large molecules such as peptides and proteins make their way into the blood. These aren’t “pollutants” but they are much larger and more complex than the single amino acids or mineral ions that would normally be moving from the gut into the blood. Immune cells in the blood misinterpret these larger molecules as pathogens (e.g. unwanted bacteria) and mount an immune response against them. This process is believed to contribute to many autoimmune diseases, and symptoms including joint and muscle pain.
Alcohol, coffee and stress are the most common causes of leaky gut. They directly damage the protective lining of the colon, and indirectly by disrupting the balance of bacteria in the gut.
Anything that disrupts the microbiotia of the colon will contribute to leaky gut. This includes alcohol, coffee and stress, but also antibiotics, NSAIDs, low fibre diets, high sugar intake, and meat that isn’t completely digested.
In fact, any food that hasn’t been properly digested due to decreased digestive secretions will also throw out the bacterial balance and cause leaky gut.
Seeking professional advice is key to effective treatment of leaky gut. Confirmation of intestinal hyper-permeability can be made via pathology tests, and a nutritionist or naturopath can help to identify any food intolerances or allergies that may be damaging your gut.
Treatment usually involves a three-pronged approach: soothe the digestive tract, promote healing and tightening of the colon wall, and then reinoculate with healthy bacteria to maintain a strong barrier. Diet and lifestyle changes should be made to support healing and prevent any further damage.
Licorice is a strong anti-inflammatory herb, particularly targeting the gastrointestinal tract. It also has an adaptogenic effect on the nervous system, helping the body to cope with stress. It can soothe the gut, and reduce the impact of stress on leaky gut. A study showed that licorice worked with slippery elm to improve symptoms in constipation-dominant IBS, improving stool consistency and frequency, suggesting that combining the two herbs may have great benefit in treating leaky gut.
Chamomile may help to stimulate digestive secretions which will break down food, support bacteria in the colon, and prevent leaky gut. It also has a soothing action on the nervous system, helping to reduce stress that contributes to IHP, and it reduces cramping and bloating by calming the nerves of the gastrointestinal tract.
Slippery elm creates a protective barrier of mucous around damaged areas of the colon to soothe the gut and begin to repair the damage caused by leaky gut. It also contains antioxidants which promote healing.
Probiotics will be one of the first lines of action to heal leaky gut. More good bacteria means a tighter mucosal barrier, right? Maybe. Many practitioners believe it is important to tighten the barrier before adding more bacteria to the gut. Certain strains have been shown to be most beneficial in recovering from leaky gut, including L. rhamnosus GG and L. acidophilus.
Glutamine is the main fuel source of intestinal cells, and supplementation has been shown to tighten the gaps between cells in the colon. It is also involved in secretions that protect the cells and prevent further damage.
Food sources include meat, eggs, dairy, cabbage, beets, beans, spinach and parsley.
Fresh cabbage juice is alarmingly awful tasting, but very effective traditional remedy for gut repair due to its high glutamine content.
Zinc is essential for growth and repair of cells, particularly in the intestinal barrier. It’s also key in regulating the immune system and can help to prevent a false immune reaction to molecules entering the blood through a leaky gut.
Vindigni, S. M., et al. (2016) The intestinal microbiome, barrier function, and immune system in inflammatory bowel disease: a tripartite pathophysiological circuit with implications for new therapeutic directions. Therap Adv Gastroenterol., 9:4, 606 – 625. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27366227
Madisch, A., et al. (2004) Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a herbal preparation. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Digestion, 45 – 52.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14755152
Langmead, L., et al. (2002) Antioxidant effects of herbal therapies used by patients with inflammatory bowel disease: an in vitro study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther., 16:2, 197 – 205.http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2036.2002.01157.x/abstract;jsessionid=6BF9558ED32B8478DEDCD2EEF7343871.f01t04
Hawrelak, J. A. & Myers, S. P. (2010) Effects of two natural medicine formulations on irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med., 16:10.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20954962
Barbara, G., et al. (2012) Mucosal permeability and immune activation as potential therapeutic targets of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome. J Clin Gastroenterol. 46:2-5,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22955358
Hubert-Buron, A., Leblond, J., Jacquot, A., Ducrotte, P., De ́chelotte, P. Coe ̈ffier, M. (2006) Glutamine Pretreatment Reduces IL-8 Production in Human Intestinal Epithelial Cells by Limiting IkBa Ubiquitination. The Journal of Nutrition, 136, 1461 – 1465. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-014-1670-x
El-Tawii, A. M. (2012) Zinc supplementation tightens leaky gut in Chron’s disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis., 18:2, E399. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21994075