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Gut Health & The Link To Disease

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Gut health is central to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It is connected to everything that happens in our body and therefore also directly linked to the formation of disease.

Intestinal health or gut health could be defined as the optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of food. Sounds simple right? However, the optimal functioning of our gastrointestinal system depends on many other factors. For example, the bacteria in your gut are an ecosystem as complex as any rainforest. These bacteria must be in balance for you to be healthy.

So, how does the gut function optimally?

Our gut has what we would call a barrier – it’s job in the intestine is to let important nutrients inside whilst keeping everything else out. This makes our gut a highly selective and controlling barrier – like a security checkpoint. This highly selective barrier is a single layer of specialized cells called enterocytes. These enterocytes have a cell membrane shaped into fingerlike projections called villi with hair like cell membrane extensions called microvilli. This increases the number of enterocytes to line the gut – ultimately increases the surface for absorption of nutrients.
And just past that security checkpoint, is an enormous portion of the body’s immune system – imagine a small army – our immune cells are ready to fight any invaders that try to cross the enterocytes highly secure barrier.

In today’s article we are going to discuss increased intestinal permeability or more commonly known as leaky gut. Increased intestinal permeability means that particles and invaders we want to keep out can easily move past our security checkpoint and enter the system. This happens when either the enterocytes are damaged or the complex structures that hold together these cells – tight junctions have been damaged.

What leaks into the body isn’t big pieces of food, but a diverse range of small substances such as incompletely digested proteins, bacteria, infectious organisms, and waste products. All of these substances activate our immune system on the other side – marking them as foreign invaders, recruiting more immune cells and mounting an attack. When continuous substances leak through the gut barrier our body increases in systemic inflammation and sends the immune system into overdrive. Some substances cause generalized inflammation throughout the body and some stimulate targeted attacks – such as the development of food intolerances. Leaky gut causes the intestinal lining to become inflamed and the microvilli to become damaged or altered. The damaged microvilli then cannot produce the necessary enzymes and secretions that are essential for a healthy digestion and the absorption of nutrients.

Damage to the gut lining followed by the invasion of harmful substances leads to systemic inflammation and acts as a trigger for the development of intestinal and systemic diseases. 

10 Causes of Intestinal Permeability  

 

1. Candidiasis

Candida overgrowth may be a result of a high-sugar diet, imbalanced immune system, stress, or even oral contraceptive use. Candida overgrowth can cause inflammation in the gut wall, leading to leaky gut. Good bacteria found in fermented vegetables and probiotic supplementation can help repair damaged tissue in the digestive tract.

2. Dysbiosis

It is important to rebalance an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut known as dysbiosis with good bacteria. This is vital in re-establishing the intestinal barrier and repair of the mucosal lining. Good bacteria and microbes in your gut can help to promote resistance to the colonization of harmful or pathogenic species. Taking a quality probiotic supplement and/or adding fermented foods into the diet is beneficial.

3. Alcohol

Long-term alcohol consumption can result in intestinal mucosal damage, inflammation, dysbiosis and exacerbate leaky gut. During alcohol metabolism a byproduct is produced which increases the formation of harmful pro-inflammatory metabolites which impact tight junction integrity. Limiting or avoiding alcohol is advised. 

4. Stress

The gut brain axis is a two directional relationship that allows the brain to communicate with our gastrointestinal system – coordinating our mental and physical wellbeing. It has been well researched that both physical and emotional stress (increased cortisol levels) can induce intestinal permeability. Furthermore, traumatic incidences have been proven to instantly alter the gut microbiota. Regulating our stress response is important in gut health management and repair!

5. Food allergies and food sensitivities

With intestinal permeability there is an influx of foreign particles into the bloodstream which throws the immune system into overdrive. Resulting in the production of various antibodies, which make the body more susceptible to antigens in certain foods – in particular gluten and dairy. It is important to avoid all foods that cause a reaction within the system to reduce inflammation, degradation of the gastrointestinal membrane lining and subsequent intestinal permeability.

6. Poor diet

Avoid refined carbohydrates, margarine and trans fats, cakes, sweets, pre-packaged, prepared and processed food. Avoiding processed meats such as salami, hot dogs, packaged sauces and artificial sweeteners.
Try to include foods high in B-vitamins and minerals such as almonds, beans, whole grains (if no allergy), dark leafy greens (spinach and kale), and sea vegetables.
Eat antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits (blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes) and vegetables (squash and bell peppers).
Consume fresh garlic and turmeric in the diet as they are both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory.
Eat more lean meats, cold-water fish, fermented tofu (soy, if no allergy), or beans for protein.
Use healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Healthy fats from avocado, omega 3 fatty acids from fish such as salmon.
Bone broth is very healing for the gut as it contains collagen and amino acids to help repair damaged cells.

7. Celiac disease

Gluten directly impacts the intestinal integrity through the release of zonulin – a protein that contributes to intestinal permeability. Additionally, gluten contributes to the formation of antibodies – which can cause the secretion of inflammatory mediators which result in tissue damage. 

8. Parasites

When parasites are present within the gastrointestinal system, there is a large competition for nutrients and therefore often a nutritional deficiency. Parasitic infections degrade the protective lining of the gut and contribute to the development of GIT disorders and inflammation.

9. Pharmaceutical drugs

Many pharmaceutical drugs impact our gut health (including the birth control pill), however for example; antibiotics result in an impairment of the gut microbiome as well as cause harmful effects on the intestinal epithelial cells and increase risk of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.

10. Toxins

Our environment is full of toxins – from our air, food and the daily products we use. All of these toxins need to be removed from our system via Phase 1 and 2 detox pathways. If our detoxification pathways are not functioning optimally the build-up of waste causes inflammation and oxidative stress within the body. Further impacting our gastrointestinal system and progression of intestinal permeability.

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  • 2 Responses

    1. Hello Deborah Freudenmann,
      Thank you for such a great video. Very informative. I never had such a clear and synthetized information about leaky gut, autoimune deseases, etc. I´m trying to understand the link between your video and Healing at Home channel. Will we have later a solution to recover the enterocytes from Healing at Home?

      1. Hello Joao, thank you for the comment! It is wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the video and found it informative. With this video there is no specific connection between the Healing at Home channel. However, in terms of recovering the enterocytes yourself this is indeed possible! The buildup of the video was to showcase that leaky gut or intestinal permeability has many causes. Yes, we can supplement with glutamine and N-acetyl glucosamine which improve and repair our intestinal mucosal barrier and tight junction integrity, probiotics to re-establish the micro-biome, curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation…just as an example of the most standard approach. However, without establishing and removing the causes for leaky gut – the supplements may help but the issue will continue to progress. I might make another video in future with some more tips on repairing and recovering the enterocytes so stay tuned. Otherwise we offer online consultations and education through our functional medicine health coaching course.

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