Leaky Gut Explained

Unexplained food intolerances, allergies, constipation, wind and bloating could end up being one’s constant companion if proactive steps aren’t sought to find out what’s going on? If these are common… “Leaky Gut Syndrome” is its more familiar name.

The digestive tract is an elaborate system that involves organs from the mouth to the anus. One of the system’s components, the small intestine, performs an essential barrier function in keeping the body free from allergy.

The intestine’s membrane acts as a wall separating undigested food and the bloodstream; this function allows the digestive tract organs to properly break down food into smaller, usable molecules, which then are sent through the bloodstream to nourish the body’s tissues.

Some amount of wall permeability is common. In people with a normal, intact gut, up to 20 per cent of undigested protein can pass through the mucous membranes.

Gut Inflammation

But when there is an inflammation in the gastro- intestinal mucosa, the intestinal wall becomes excessively permeable -a condition called leaky gut syndrome. If bits of food have not been properly broken down due to imbalances in the digestive tract, food molecules (macro-molecules), which are usually too large to pass through the intestinal barrier, slip through the gaps in the gut wall and enter the bloodstream.

When this happens, the immune system treats these foreign substances as antigens, setting off an allergic response in which antibodies are secreted in the bloodstream to couple with and immobilise the macromolecules.

  1. INTESTINAL DYSBIOSIS – intestinal strength and integrity depend on proper colonisation of microflora, or bacteria. There are more than 400 species of bacteria living in the human body and the majority of these bacteria reside in the gastrointestinal tract. Under conditions of intestinal health, ‘friendly’ bacteria pre- dominate and contribute to digestion and the overall health of the body. But, increasingly, the shift observed today is towards a predominance of pathogenic bacteria, a condition called intestinal dysbiosis. Of particular concern in the development of allergy sensitivity is the overgrowth of Candida albicans, which is called candidiasis. Candida and other unfriendly or pathogenic bacteria that dominate the intestines impair digestion, the absorption of nutrients, and the normal elimination cycle. They also contribute to the erosion of the intestinal membrane and the infiltration of inappropriate substances into the bloodstream.
  2. CANDIDA OVERGROWTH as mentioned can also trigger allergic reactions on its own by stimulating a non-cellular part of the immune system known as the complement pathway. This is a technical term referring to a series of 28 proteins that are activated in a chain reaction when the immune system senses that an antigen is present. The complement system’s legitimate job is to amplify inflammation, because the body’s goal is to clean itself, to flush out of the tissues the circulating immune complexes. The complement system summons additional white blood cells to the contaminated tissues to start cleansing them of the inappropriately deposited Candida antigens. When the inflammatory response gets out of control, however, then the disease process shifts and localised healthy tissues get damaged by the excessive white blood cell activity. White blood cells release powerful peroxides (such as hydrogen peroxide) that oxidise invaders as well as healthy tissues. When this continues long enough, delayed hypersensitivity reactions, such as reactive airway disease and arthritis are initiated.
  3. THE LIVER is also involved in this short-lived, natural inflammatory response. Under normal conditions the liver traps about 99 per cent of the bacteria that has escaped from the intestines. Candida overgrowth and other pathogenic bacteria activate the Kupffer cells, immune cells residing in the liver which cause a release of interleukin .Interleukin 2 is a lymphokine, a chemical that calls in other white blood cells to the area to clean up the ‘gut garbage’, a process that increases inflammation. If the liver is overburdened or compromised by poor diet, excessive toxins or other factors, it becomes less efficient at processing circulating immune complexes.
  4. MEDICATIONS Certain drugs, such as antacids, anti-ulcer and steroid medications, and oral contraceptives, are alkalising. When they enter the stomach, they can impair hydrochloric acid’s ability to break down food molecules, enabling macromolecules to escape through the leaky gut (which these drugs also indirectly cause by stimulating Candida overgrowth).
  5. ALCOHOL The health risks of excessive consumption of alcohol are well-known, but even moderate alcohol consumption can increase your chances of developing allergies. According to Dr James Braly, medical director of Immuno Laboratories, alcohol reduces the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. When the digestive tract is rendered more alkaline due to alcohol consumption, not only will enzymes not be activated and food not properly digested, but unfriendly intestinal flora such as Candida will flourish. Alcohol also inhibits the efficiency of an enzyme called delta-G-desaturase, which is necessary in the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like fats that can cause or block inflammation), protection against autoimmune disease, inhibition of inflammation in the intestinal wall, and maintenance of skin barrier function.
  6. PARASITES Parasites are often overlooked contributors to a leaky gut. Parasites tend to reside in the intestines where they can cause extensive damage. Rarely, they also migrate to the blood, lymph, heart, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, eyes and even the brain. When in place, they can produce numerous symptoms in addition to allergies: constipation, diarrhoea, wind, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, joint and muscle aches, anaemia, skin problems, sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue and gradual immune dysfunction. Parasites release toxins that damage tissues resulting in pain and inflammation, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract and over time, they can depress and eventually exhaust the immune system. Leaky Gut is a phenomena that is important to understand, to find out what can be done to help normalise gut health and to seek help naturally.