The gastrointestinal or GI tract is designed to break down and absorb huge amounts of nutrients in a short period of time. In order to do this, the GI tract has a lot of folds creating a surface area about the size of a tennis court, however it is only one cell-layer thin. This barrier works with the immune system to protect us from attacks in our environment. Depending on where you read, it has been reported that 70-80% of our immune system lives in our GI tract. It stands to reason that the first step to immune support is the ability to maintain this barrier function.
Breaches in this barrier is called intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. This is basically allowing unprocessed antigens (toxins, bacteria or foreign substances) to pass the barrier triggering immune responses. Because more and more studies now show that many who suffer with chronic illness have some degree of GI system dysfunction, it is a standard in Functional Medicine to “Heal the gut first”. There have been so many times I’ve found seemingly unrelated chronic conditions improve because the GI system was addressed.
Leaky gut can possibly cause or contribute to the following health challenges:
- chronic diarrhea, constipation, or bloating
- nutritional deficiencies
- food sensitivities
- environmental allergies
- hormonal imbalances
- insulin resistance
- difficulty concentrating
- skin problems, such as acne, rashes, or eczema
- joint pain
- widespread inflammation
- depression/ anxiety
What causes Leaky Gut?
There is emerging evidence that the standard American diet, which is low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fats, may initiate this process. Heavy alcohol use and stress may also contribute to intestinal permeability.
How to help repair Leaky Gut?
Healing the gut is a 5 step process which is a mantra to Functional Medicine Practitioners.
- Remove. Remove as much known toxins, organisms, allergens and harmful substances as possible. Sometimes it is hard to know what is needed to be removed so specialized testing may need to be performed such as food sensitivity testing, stool testing for pathogens, and environmental and heavy metal toxin testing. During this step an elimination diet, detox protocol, etc. may be put into place.
- Replace. During this step, the goal is to help replace those factors which may be necessary to help with digestion and absorption of nutrients. An example would be betaine hcl, digestive enzymes, bile, nutrition, etc.
- Re-Inoculate. This step is a means to populate the gut with “gut friendly” commensal organisms. This can be done with probiotics, prebiotics, fermented foods and beverages.
- Repair. This step refers to providing the necessary nutrients or therapies as building blocks for mucosal tissue repair. Examples of this would be anti-inflammatory nutrients such as turmeric, GI supporting and immune modulating peptides, gut repairing nutrients such as L-glutamine, along with immune and liver supporting nutrients.
- Rebalance. In this step support is provided to improve the gut/brain function. Most of these therapies are meant to help reduce stress and improve sleep. Examples of this would be prayer, deep breathing techniques, meditation, forgiveness, gratefulness, support groups, and counselling. Bioidentical hormone therapy, nutrition and herbal supplements such as melatonin, 5-HTP, and ashwagandha may also be used to help in some cases.
The GI tract is tasked with the responsibilities of extracting nutrients we need to survive, maintaining a balance of good and bad microbes, acting as a conduit for waste removal, and preventing the entrance of harmful substances into the body. It is no wonder when this delicate balance is disturbed, symptoms, disorders and syndromes may occur causing us to seek medical care. That is why I recommend healing the gut first.
If you notice symptoms that interfere with your daily life, CLICK HERE to schedule an appointment or call Tracey Mixon at 512-643-3631 to arrange to have your hormones and nutrition evaluated.