On today’s episode, Dr. Agolli & Dr. Burdette discuss treatment strategies for leaky gut syndrome. What is leaky gut syndrome?
The cells in our intestinal wall form a tight junction that extracts nutrients, keeps our food moving, and forms a barrier. One of the things that gut inflammation does over the long term is to loosen those cell junctions. This is the “leaky gut” syndrome you may have heard about. Leaky gut impacts our ability to absorb nutrients, causes pain and cramping in the gut, and perpetuates inflammation throughout the body. Leaky gut also elevates levels of Zonulin in the body, which drives the spiral of inflammation higher and higher, making the inflammation chronic and the gut harder to heal. In fact, high Zonulin levels are suspected to be a major cause of autoimmune diseases, and not just those that are known to start in the gut like Crohn’s Disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and Celiac Disease, but also other autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and others.
Another major interplay with gut inflammation is your microbiome. A compromised microbiome with too many harmful bugs present will also weaken tight junctions, compromise absorption of nutrients, and cause inflammation because of the immune response to harmful bacteria in the gut. As inflammation continues, the gut can suffer further types of damage. Those who develop leaky gut can end up with their immune system attacking even their good gut bacteria (one of the root causes of IBD along with persistent gut permeability), or even the tissue itself (Crohn’s Disease). If you get all the way to an autoimmune condition like these, it can be a long road back if it’s reversible at all. Even if you don’t progress all the way to an autoimmune condition, chronic inflammation in the gut will affect your entire body.
Your gut controls or influences virtually every system in your body. It’s estimated that 85% of our immune system may originate in our gut. Many neurotransmitters may originate in the gut. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be perfectly healthy if you have a healthy gut, but it’s almost certain that if you have a chronically unhealthy gut you’ll be chronically unhealthy in a number of other different ways- and feel it. Inflammation in the gut risks transporting pro-inflammatory substances (like T cells) from the gut to other organs. In fact, The better the barrier effect of the mucosa in the gut, the smaller the risk of translocation of whatever is causing the inflammation. So the more your gut lining is worn away, the more inflammation in the gut. The more
inflammation in the gut, the more inflammation in other organs. Likewise, the more dysbiotic flora in your microbiome, the more inflammation in your gut, and the more inflammation in other organs. Remember, as well, that these two effects reinforce one another- the more bad flora, the more that your gut lining is damaged, or conversely, the more your gut lining is eroded, the more bad flora. It’s a nasty downward spiral.
Long-term inflammation in the gut increases the risk for heart and cardiovascular diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cancer and dementia. The gut-brain connection is well documented, and even if you don’t fall prey to full blown dementia, gut issues can cause memory loss, brain fog, interfere with critical thinking and concentration. They can also sap your energy, making you feel unmotivated or tired all of the time. This is also a downward spiral, since your gut dysbiosis makes it more difficult to exercise or prepare healthy meals for yourself, meaning weight gain, poorer nutrition, and further gut breakdown, and so on. As your gut lining becomes leakier or more worn away, you also may lose much of the absorptive qualities of the gut lining. You may not get as many nutrients as you need, decreasing energy. Some nutrients like essential minerals and vitamins may be harder to uptake and cause a deficiency. Vitamin D and K, for instance, have been found to be deficient in many people with serious gut issues. These vitamins are vital for brain health, preventing brittle bones and teeth, and for the immune system to function well. Blood sugar regulation starts in the gut. Dysbiotic flora and leaky gut can both contribute to developing diabetes, and of course, if you gain weight, that can also contribute to diabetes. Diabetes itself is implicated with inflammation as well, so it might cause more inflammation or be partially caused by inflammation.