Digestive issues affect many of us. Whether it’s plain old indigestion, gas and bloating, reflux, constipation or diarrhea, these things surely can cramp our style. Ultimately, we want these to go away. So why are so many of us still suffering gastrointestinal symptoms after popping various prescription or over-the-counter medications? While we might find temporary relief with these, we aren’t really fixing the cause of the problem.
Studies have discovered a strong connection between inflammation and the permeability of our GI tract and many health conditions including autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety, autism, ADD and ADHD, skin disorders and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Leaky gut syndrome has become a topic of much interest in some recent research. Let’s start at the top…
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is when stomach acid and/or undigested food or beverage travels upward and passes through the cardiac sphincter muscle into the esophagus. People tend to take antacids to put out the flames of indigestion however research has shown that 90% of those suffering with GERD actually have low stomach acid.
As we age, our levels of HCL, or hydrochloric acid, actually decline along with our natural digestive enzymes. When food is not broken down properly in the stomach, it is more likely to come up. In addition, particles of undigested food travel further down into the small intestines, where these larger particles can cause inflammation.
Inflammation contributes to increased intestinal permeability. Let’s think of our small intestines as a soft wall with doors. These doors, known as tight junctions, are selectively permeable, meaning they only are supposed to let certain particles through and into the bloodstream. When particles are either not broken down properly due to lack of sufficient HCL in the stomach, or lack of its associated enzyme, it can trigger our immune system to treat them as if they were invaders. This also will happen when we consume foods we may be sensitive to, such as gluten or dairy products. Inflammation of the small intestine epithelium (the wall) and the tight junctions (the doors) increases once the immune system sends its white blood cells over to ‘attack’ by releasing their pro-inflammatory cytokines. Once the tight junctions are inflamed, they are more likely to get stuck open. This will increase the permeability of the small intestine, thus leaking foreign particles, proteins and bacteria into the bloodstream. This sets the stage for leaky gut where multiple organ systems are vulnerable to inflammation and autoimmune issues.
Small and Large Intestines
Okay, we’re almost down to the bottom. Our bodies are home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms, many of which aid in digestion, manufacture some of our vitamins and keep the ‘bad guys’ such as candida albicans (yeast infections) under control. Processed foods, dietary toxins, antibiotics and chronic stress are some of the factors that can harm the balance of our healthy flora. When we have healthy flora, or bacteria balance in our systems, it also is less likely the harmful bacteria can slip into the bloodstream and cause problems elsewhere in our systems.
The Guts of the Story…
Eczema, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimotos and lupus are just a few autoimmune disorders which can improve significantly upon healing the gut. Other conditions such as migraines, IBS, allergies, asthma, depression and type I diabetes also have been reported to improve drastically with improvement of gut health and proper digestion.
The first place to start is the diet. Inflammatory foods to avoid may include gluten, dairy, conventional salt (stick to Himalayan or sea salt), sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed grains. For the heartburn sufferer, it is best to slowly decrease the antacids while supporting the stomach’s acidity with a betaine hydrochloride supplement available at health food stores and good quality digestive enzymes.
To help heal the gut and decrease permeability, optimize your vitamin D levels. Ask your doctor to check your levels to see where you’re at, but 1,000 iu of vitamin D3 per day is a good place to start, especially if you aren’t exposed to much sunlight. Omega 3 fatty acids, high quality aloe juice and a probiotic supplement are great additions to a healthy gut regimen. L-Glutamine powder in water a couple of times a day also will help the healing and sealing of leaky gut. Vitamin B complex also is necessary for our body to make its own enzymes to help break down our nutrients into useable particles.
Once we make the decision to change our dietary habits and provide our bodies with the right tools, its healing and rebuilding ability can be life-changing.
Lisa Y. Mitchell is a certified gluten practitioner and the owner of Down 2 Earth, a 100% dedicated gluten-free health food store located at 1 Meadow Rd. in Florida. She can be reached at 508-6755 or Down2EarthMarket.com.