Overall health is largely controlled by the trillions of bacteria and other microbes in our intestines, collectively known as the microbiome. These organisms help us absorb food; maintain healthy bowel movements; regulate the immune system; and produce essential vitamins such as biotin, folate, and vitamin K. There are a number of factors that can compromise digestive health and our microbiome, including antibiotics, NSAIDs, birth control pills, chronic stress, and poor diet. These create inflammation in the gut and disrupt the delicate balance of microbes. This imbalance is also known as dysbiosis.
As inflammation and dysbiosis worsen, the protective barrier lining your small intestine begins to breakdown. This condition, known as increased intestinal permeability (or “leaky gut”), allows undigested proteins, bacteria, and other particles to “leak” into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. The immune system does not recognize these particles and flags them as invaders, launching an attack. This can cause food allergies and sensitivities because the immune system is only designed to deal with fully digested food particles. When large, undigested proteins leak into the blood stream, the immune system flags them as harmful. The next time you eat that food (provided your gut is still “leaky”) your immune system recognizes it and you experience a negative reaction.
Not only does a leaky gut increase your sensitivities to foods, it also poses a risk to body tissues. When the immune system becomes overactive, it starts to attack proteins that look alike, a process called molecular mimicry. Certain proteins found in food, for example gluten or dairy, look similar to proteins found in your body tissues. Once you develop a sensitivity to a food, your immune system may also go after the look-alike proteins in your own body. This is one of the reasons why people with autoimmune conditions, a class of disorders where the immune system starts attacking bodily tissues, have a lot of food sensitivities. We’re not sure which one came first (the food sensitivities or the autoimmunity), but we do know they tend to co-occur. Improving gut health can help reduce food sensitivities and is a key step in managing autoimmune conditions.
Signs of a Leaky Gut:
- Digestive discomfort, including nausea, stomach pain/cramping, gas, bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Weight gain
- Joint pain
- Skin breakouts or rashes
- Nasal congestion/runny nose
- Recurrent sinus and/or ear infections
- Frequent colds or flus
- Bad breath
- Body odor
- Dark under eye circles
If you are struggling with multiple symptoms from this list, you may have leaky gut! Check out our services page to learn more about how to get permanent relief from symptoms.