What Do We Know About Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Whereas there is some controversy and varying opinions and theories about what causes leaky gut syndrome, we're not totally in the dark about it. Here are some things that are generally accepted about it:
- the intestinal lining which normally acts as a filter, only allowing very small particles through to the bloodstream, becomes more porous
- larger molecules of undigested food, toxins, yeast and other waste are not being filtered properly by the intestinal wall and get into the bloodstream
- the immune system identifies these extra particles as foreign bodies and reacts to them as such
- the immune system cannot keep up with the extra stress put on it trying to fight off all these extra foreign bodies and they are able to pass into various body organs resulting in inflammations
- the immune system becomes weakened and less able to fight off other types of bacteria, viruses and germs that cause sickness
- symptoms include chronic diarrhea, constipation, skin rashes, headaches, brain fog, poor memory, food intolerances and fatigue and can lead to conditions like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Celiac Disease, MS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, and Fibromyalgia
Immune System and the Gut
You may be asking yourself at this point what your gut has to do with your immune system. The intestinal system is actually the largest immune system organ. Dr. Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, sums it all when he says:
"A well functioning gut with healthy gut flora holds the roots of our health. And, just as a tree with sick roots is not going to thrive, the rest of the body cannot thrive without a well-functioning digestive system."The lining of the intestines with its millions of cells plays a huge role in immune system defense. Simply put, ideally as food is digested and nutrients extracted, the intestinal system exercises a screening process. Those particles that are ready to be passed along through the bloodstream to feed parts of the body are allowed through the tight junctions of cells making up the intestinal wall. These same tight junctions hold back particles that should not move on into the bloodstream or that are not yet ready to pass along. Micronutrients, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and macronutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats, need to be broken down in order to be absorbed and used by the body. Proteins break down into amino acids, carbohydrates break down into sugars like glucose, sucrose and fructose and fats break down into fatty acids and glycerol. Until they are broken down into these small molecules that the body can use, they should not be allowed to pass through the intestinal wall.
In leaky gut syndrome, this process does not work ideally and toxins, undigested food molecules, yeast and other pathogens that should not be getting into the bloodstream are. Once these particles enter the bloodstream the liver jumps into action and attempts to filter out what the intestinal lining failed to. As the liver becomes overwhelmed fighting off all this extra overflow, other parts of the immune system jump in to help fight them off. At this point most of the immune system resources are being used to fight off these invaders and there are not as many immune resources left to attend to "normal" business. There are also so many of these invaders floating down the bloodstream to various body organs that the immune system cannot usually fight them all off. It releases white blood cells to help in fighting them. These white blood cells release chemicals that induce swelling and inflammation. As the invaders are absorbed into body tissues, the immune system's attempts to destroy them results in inflammations in whatever tissues and organs they have entered. The immune system in turn becomes overworked and stressed which can lead to a variety of autoimmune conditions.
You can see now why there are so many ways that leaky gut syndrome can manifest in such a variety of conditions and symptoms and where the controversy comes in for the medical communities. It is a problem for sure, but since there is still a lot of information lacking as to why this all happens and there are so many different locations in the body that can be affected and so many different results or reactions a body can demonstrate, it is often hard to pin down a diagnosis and treatment.
Leaky Gut Syndrome and Healthy Living
Now that you understand a bit about the problems leaky gut syndrome can cause and how it comes about, you might think you are doomed to living with it. Not true. And if you are living with leaky gut syndrome, you are probably a lot less interested in the causes and conditions than you are in getting relief from your symptoms. Having a basic understanding of how it all works though will give you insight into how these natural solutions can help.
Enzymes to Break Down Foods
Some sources we consulted indicate that if you show sensitivity to more than a dozen foods you can assume you have leaky gut syndrome. Undigested foods getting through into the bloodstream are seen as foreign invaders causing the immune system to put up defenses against them. Once the immune system recognizes these as "unfriendly" it will continue to do so anytime these same foods are introduced into the system. Increasing your intake of digestive enzymes can help break foods down into nutrients that will be used by the body. In other words, the problem isn't necessarily the foods you are eating, it is that they are being allowed into the bloodstream before they have been properly digested. It is also cited that those with leaky gut syndrome have low stomach acid. Since digestion begins in the stomach with hydrochloric acid breaking down foods, this can get the digestive process off to a bad start. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement can help facilitate the digestive process. Enzymes help in breaking down food into smaller particles, but they also go through the intestinal system removing toxins, bacteria and damaged cells. Bromelain and papain enzymes are also useful in reducing inflammation in the intestinal lining as well as other body tissues. Using enzymes to help fight off inflammation can give some relief to the overworked immune system.
Because many of the foods we eat lack the enzymes necessary for digestion, we have to take extra enzymes to help digest our foods. While raw organic foods usually have enough enzymes to digest themselves, so our bodies don't have to provide extra enzymes, most of the foods we eat are cooked, packaged, or otherwise enzyme-light. Taking enzymes with each meal helps ensure that your food is properly digested in the stomach before it goes into your intestines. Taking enzymes between meals also helps with digestion, since these enzymes roam the body and "digest" toxins, extra fecal matter, and even proteins that have slipped into the bloodstream through the stomach wall.
When dealing with leaky gut syndrome, it is helpful to be aware of the types of foods you are eating. The less ammunition, the shorter the battle. If you eat a lot of processed foods, foods high in refined sugar and preservatives, for example, you are adding fuel to the fire. These types of foods bring chemicals into the body that are identified as toxins. Sugar also feeds yeast and can lead to an overgrowth of them getting into the bloodstream and adding damage to the intestinal wall. In a system that is already overwhelmed with toxins and fighting them off, it can be helpful to eat foods that don't introduce more. To help the gut heal, eat food without any sugar, avoid foods with gluten, processed foods, dairy foods, alcohol, caffeine and simple carbs that break down into sugars. Instead eat whole foods that are high in fiber, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, and are nutrient rich.
Stress is another factor that can lead to a weakened immune system. Finding a way to cope with stress can take another burden off the immune system that is already overworked. Exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, massage, sports or hobbies can all be stress relieving tools. Making sure you get enough good quality sleep can also help with stress. Various herbal teas and Rescue Remedy can be helpful in relieving anxiety associated with stress. Try a variety of different things to see what works for you to reduce stress.
Zinc is a vital mineral for strengthening the intestinal lining. It can also help strengthen a weak immune system and helps in the building of 100 different enzymes. Calf liver, crimini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach are all foods high in zinc. Other foods that are good sources of zinc include shellfish such as crab, lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters and mussels, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, wheat germ, and yogurt.
Clean Your Digestive Tract
There are many ways to cleanse your body, but the simplest one I know of is to do a castor oil pack on your abdomen once a week for 4 weeks. Castor oil packs are an old Edgar Cayce remedy and they work really well to help your body get rid of any kind of waste. They work equally well on anything from clogged up intestines to unwanted bone spurs. Castor oil literally dissolves any kind of unnatural material in the body.
You can buy full castor oil packs (which include a wool flannel cloth, castor oil, and a heating pad) at most health food stores. You can also order these supplies online at the Heritage Store. You will also need to have some baking soda on hand for cleaning up after you have done the pack.
A short version of how to do the castor oil pack are as follows:
- Soak the wool flannel with castor oil, and place the flannel in an ovenproof dish.
- Warm the wool flannel in the oven, until warm to the touch. Meanwhile, plug in the heating pad and warm it. Also, mix the baking soda with water so it forms a paste.
- Once the wool flannel is warmed, place it directly on your abdomen, and then place the heating pad on top. Leave the "pack" in place for 1 1/2 hours.
- Once you are done with the pack, wipe your entire abdomen with the baking soda paste. This converts the toxins released by the pack into harmless salts that can be washed out of your body through the lymphatic system. This step is very important so don't skip it. If you do, your body will not be able to excrete the toxins released by the pack.
Probiotics are the "friendly bacteria" in your intestines that are necessary in the digestive process after food has passed out of the stomach and to fight off the bad bacteria and yeast. The probiotics acidophilus and bifidus are especially important. They can help in the healing process of the intestinal lining, help in the absorption of nutrients, and the normal movement of food through the intestines. Eating yogurt "beefed up" with probiotics can help, but to fully replenish your supply of healthy intestinal bacteria, oral supplements are your best bet. Yogurt tends to not have enough density of probiotics to truly replenish.
Hopefully you have some ideas now that will lead you to seek help with your symptoms of leaky gut syndrome. If you need more help, seek out a doctor or nutritionist that will be willing to help you work through the process. Including some or all these healthy living tips into your lifestyle are definitely a good place to start whatever other routes you take. Eating right, reducing stress, and supporting a healthy immune system will never lead you in the wrong direction on the path to healthy living.
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