Many health problems begin, or are worsened by what’s going on in the gut. Leaky gut and dysbiosis are two of the different malfunctions that can occur. They are separate conditions that can frequently happen together.
Leaky gut refers to a gut lining that is too permeable; like a tea bag that has small tears in it. To get nutrients from our food our microvilli (tiny finger-like projections in the gut lining), filter and absorb broken down food. Nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream through the gut mucosa (the first layer of cells in the digestive tract). Sometimes the villi are damaged, or the gut lining is compromised for a number of reasons including stress, medications (oral, topical or injected), alcohol, and inflammation. Then, the tight junctions which are like gate keepers in the gut lining keeping the cells tightly packed together, can fail and allow particles direct access into our blood stream. These particles bypass the filtering process, like leaves floating in our tea.
Our liver and immune system don’t like things going into our bloodstream unfiltered, especially improperly digested compounds or microbial pathogens, like bacteria and viruses. Inflammation inevitably occurs as a result of leaky gut. The intruder itself, and/or the body’s reaction can be the problem. Compromised absorption in a damaged gut will result in reduced nutrition which will also contribute to malaise. It’s a vicious cycle as lack of certain nutrients can also cause tight junction failure. A whole range of health issues including schizophrenia, Coeliac’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, diabetes, skin problems and allergic responses are linked to leaky gut.
Dysbiosis happens when the balance of microorganisms (particularly bacteria but also fungi, yeasts and viruses) in our gut becomes skewed towards the ‘unfriendly’ side. We all house billions of microorganisms, both inside and on our bodies. When the different types are in balance they protect us against disease, aid digestion and do other useful things. However, in a state of dysbiosis, this microcosm balance becomes distorted and problems can ensue. Some of these problems, such as candida and clostridium difficile infections can contribute to the development, or worsening of leaky gut. Other symptoms of dysbiosis (poor digestion, bloating and allergies) are common to both of these health problems.
How can I look after my gut?
Dietary and lifestyle factors and infection are all implicated in the development of leaky gut and dysbiosis. Physical, mental and emotional stress can increase the production of stress hormones which disrupt digestion (adrenaline and cortisol). This can lead to a compromised gut lining and poor digestive health. So, too, can medications and vaccinations. Food intolerances can worsen leaky gut.
Look after your gut by limiting caffeine and alcohol and stopping smoking. Practise relaxation, eating in a calm environment and including fermented foods such as sauerkraut. Add Omega 3 (e.g. oily fish and walnuts) for tissue repair and to reduce inflammation. Aim for seasonal, local wholefoods; avoid processed low fibre, calorie-rich but nutrient-poor foods.
Reduce wheat and pasteurised dairy consumption and increase lots of leafy green veg. Drinking raw cabbage juice is very gut healing. Reducing toxic irritants can help protect the gut, so aim for organic produce.
Next time you put your shopping list together, remember to think about keeping your gut happy. Getting support from a naturopathic practitioner who can help identify triggers, and who will be able to suggest appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes may be something to add to your list.