This is part two of a three part series. Be sure to read part one if you haven’t already.
In my last blog, “An Introduction to Gut Health”, I shared the frustration I feel when the patients or foodies in my “Food for Fuel” food program follow instructions to a “tee” and still can’t lose weight or improve their health condition. As discussed, this has led me to discover the importance of their gut health when it comes to their overall physical health. As promised, in this follow-up blog, I am going to share the basics on your gut, the ever-popular microbiome and leaky gut.
What is the gut?
Your gut, more formally known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is massive. It starts where food goes in, at your mouth, moves to your stomach and small and large intestines and ends where waste comes out, at your rear end. It’s amazing to think that your GI tract takes food and transforms it into stool, drawing from it all the important nutrients that your body needs! As food is digested, it is broken down into smaller molecules that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. These molecules are absorbed across a thin layer of cells in the GI tract. From there they circulate through your body to help it do all its amazing jobs!
Gut: The gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It starts where food goes in, at your mouth, moves to your stomach and small and large intestines and ends where waste comes out, at your rear end.
What is gut permeability? How does it affect me?
The amount and type of molecules that are absorbed through your GI tract is called permeability. We need a certain amount of permeability to absorb the nutrients we need from our food. However, we’re discovering permeability can vary. We know certain diseases such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease can increase permeability.
Evidence is growing that additional factors, including diet, stress and environmental toxins, can lead to increased permeability. While we don’t have robust clinical studies to prove these theories yet, it appears permeability may be associated with autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, obesity and even mental illness.
From now on, I’ll refer to this increased intestinal permeability as leaky gut.
Leaky gut: Increased intestinal permeability.
In a body that functions normally, the GI tract is bullet-proof. That thin layer of cells does a fantastic job of keeping the things you don’t want inside your body inside your GI tract and flushes them out. When the gut becomes unhealthy, that layer of cells can leak, allowing things that aren’t supposed to enter the body to cross over. We increasingly are discovering what this means for our health. As bacteria, partially digested food and more enter the bloodstream, the immune system and inflammation are triggered, leading to disease.
Gut permeability: The amount, size and types of material that seeps from the intestines into the body.
How does a gut become too leaky?
In the medical world, we are in the early stages of identifying what is happening in the gut. From birth, we have a diverse microbiome in our intestines. It’s made up of the bacteria, fungi and viruses that thrive there. This microbiome digests and absorbs food, produces vitamins and more.
Having a balanced microbiome is crucial for optimum health.
The trouble begins when the balanced microbiome is altered. This can start as early as infancy, in children that are bottle fed instead of breast fed or delivered by cesarean section instead of vaginal delivery. Other triggers can include extended use of antibiotics, a poor diet and intense or chronic stress. This change is more formally known as dysbiosis, which is defined as microbial imbalances inside the body.
Microbiome: The bacteria, fungi and viruses that thrive in our intestines.
Dysbiosis: Microbial imbalances inside the body.
How do I know whether I have a leaky gut or dysbiosis?
This takes an evaluation by a medical provider. Symptoms can include any of the following, especially if they occur regularly:
- Diarrhea, constipation or irregular bowel patterns
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain
Problems that start in the gut can cause conditions that include resistant obesity, chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome or an autoimmune condition.
Is this sounding familiar to you? This realm of medicine has me completely engaged as I navigate the world of leaky gut and dysbiosis with my patients. In the third part of this series, I will wrap up this discussion with the best news. YOU CAN HEAL YOUR GUT!
Want a jumpstart? Click the image below to get access to my free resource library. You’ll find a free mini recipe book containing clean, simple recipes to help your gut feel great.