It's become increasingly clear over the last few decades that the gut plays a central role in most of our bodily systems. From immunity to hormone regulation, weight management and more, the gut and its accompanying microbiota are crucial to our wellbeing.
So when something is even ever-so-slightly off, we tend to feel it quite intensely!
A Gut Feeling: Immunity
Medical understanding of exactly how everything is linked to your gut is still quite superficial. However, it's clear that probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that make your gut their home, play a vital part. When it comes to immunity, one of their many functions is to form a lining for your intestinal walls, thus strengthening the physical barrier that prevents pathogens, toxins and partially digested food from entering the bloodstream. They're also active in the production and secretion of immune-related cells and generally maintain the optimal health for your gut environment.
When Things Go Wrong: Leaky Gut Syndrome
If the physical barrier formed by your intestines and their probiotics is damaged, it becomes more permeable, allowing all sorts of undesirables into the bloodstream. This can trigger intense immune reactions which leave you feeling absolutely wretched.
Although it's not yet fully recognised by the medical community, increased intestinal permeability, or Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS), could be affecting the health of many people.
What is LGS?
An unhealthy gut lining allows pathogens, toxins and food to leak through the intestinal tissues and into the bloodstream. The body interprets this as an attack and triggers a slew of inflammatory and allergic reactions such as migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and more. The leakage can also lead to changes in the gut flora, with far-reaching consequences.
Furthermore, the damaged cells in your intestines no longer produce enzymes necessary for proper digestion. Your body is therefore no longer able to absorb essential nutrients, leading to hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system.
All in all, not ideal. LGS could also be responsible for chronic and auto-immune conditions such as IBS, Crohn's and celiac disease, liver disease, diabetes, and food sensitivities. There's little research into LGS, so it's unclear whether increased intestinal permeability is a cause or a consequence of these conditions.
What Causes LGS?
There's not enough research yet to clearly identify what causes LGS, but it's clear that nutrition and lifestyle play a key role. Diets high in sugar, saturated fats and alcohol could lead to a damaged intestinal lining, while stress impacts hormone balances and gut health.
As well as this, eating inflammatory foods can trigger your body's immune response, leading to diarrhoea, headaches, fatigue and joint pain.
Certain drugs and medications such as antibiotics, steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers (like aspirin and acetaminophen) also irritate the intestinal lining, which can lead to increased permeability.
What Are Some Symptoms of LGS?
The following symptoms might be signs of leaky gut:
- Chronic diarrhoea, constipation, gas or bloating
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Weakened immune system
- Headaches, confusion, memory troubles
- Excessive fatigue
- Skin problems like acne, eczema, rashes or rosacea
- Cravings for sugar or carbs
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
- Auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn's
How to Treat LGS
If it's about the gut, it's usually also about the diet. Making sure you're eating your fair share of fibres, healthy fats and probiotics can go a long way towards re-balancing your gut health. The key also lies in staying away from alcohol, processed foods and inflammatory foods that your body treats as toxic.
Lifestyle plays a vital role in our physical health. Getting enough exercise while reducing stress levels is the best way to boost your immune system and keep things running smoothly down there.