By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
In naturopathic and also in functional medicine, we have a saying “when in doubt, start with the gut.” The reason is that gut health has a profound effect on the rest of your body, by impacting your absorption of nutrients and initiating inflammation. This inflammation may be an autoimmune process like Hashimoto’s or Lupus, endometriosis, joint pains with arthritis, migraines, fibromyalgia, fatigue, skin issues like eczema, psoriasis and acne, or inflammation that you feel in your digestive tract. In this article, I will walk you through the link between these events, which is intestinal permeability, or leaky gut syndrome.
What is intestinal permeability?
Intestinal permeability occurs when the intercellular tight junctions in the gut epithelial wall lose their integrity, and allow passage of larger proteins. This is associated with autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, as the body reacts.
What causes altered intestinal permeability?
There are many factors that can affect the integrity of the intestinal lining, with the most common being antigens from foods, stress, infections, and medications such as Ibuprofen.
Here is a more complete list:
- Food antigens (allergens and intolerrances)
- Infections & dysbiosis
- Intestinal inflammation
- Low stomach acid
- Medications, such as Ibupfrofen and NSAID’s especially
- Increased alcohol use
- Nutrient deficiencies
How does this lead to systemic illness?
Systemic illness means a disease or condition outside of the digestive tract. It could be any of the examples above – an autoimmune condition, joint inflammation, fatigue syndromes, endometriosis, skin conditions and more.
The mechanism is that the intestinal permeability:
- Increases passage of food antigens or allergic proteins into the body, creating bigger immune and inflammatory responses;
- causes malabsorption of essential nutrients from foods; and
- most importantly causes passage of toxins called LPS (lipopolysaccharides) from pathogenic bacteria in the gut to move into the rest of the body setting off major inflammation through a process called endotoxemia.
The good news is that this entire process can be reversed, and in doing this we turn off the fuel for inflammation. This can result in remission or reversal of immune-mediated conditions.
How is intestinal permeability repaired?
Before we can begin to repair the intestinal lining, it is important to first identify all of the factors that have caused it. That means going through the list above, and rebalancing the microbiome, removing food sensitivities, replacing digestive enzymes or stomach acid, reducing stress, removing medications where possible, and replacing depleted nutrients.
After this, we use nutrients and herbs such as L-glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine, butyrate, boswellia, licorice, quercetin, okra and omega-3 to provide the building blocks for repair. This is the phase where there is often a significant reduction in overall inflammation.
I hope that this short article helped to explain how gut health affects everything inflammatory in the body, and also whey naturopathic doctors very often start with the gut. If this is something you would like to explore in more detail, please ask at your next appointment.