What causes Leaky Gut? (And how do I fix it?)
We’ve all heard the term Leaky Gut, but do you know what that even means? It’s a common term, but a little complicated to explain. The main idea is that most people have poor digestion, eat too many carbohydrates and not enough of the right kinds of fats. This causes irritation in the small intestine, which leads to Leaky Gut. Let’s first take a look at how fat digestion works.
Fats in our diet are broken down by two substances- bile salts from the gall bladder and the enzyme pancreatic lipase. Both of these substances are released into the duodenum, which sits at the top of the small intestines and is where the stomach matter, or chyme, goes once it leaves the stomach. This means most of the fat digestion happens in the beginning of the small intestines. Sometimes fat is not properly broken down- this can happen for a few reasons. First, if the pH of the chyme is too high (say, if you have low stomach acid production) the pancreas won’t be stimulated to release lipase which our body uses to break down fats into smaller pieces. Without the lipase, large globs of fat will move further down into the small intestine. Second, when fats enter the duodenum, the gall bladder is stimulated to release bile.
If you eat a low or bad fat diet, your bile will sit in your gall bladder for a long time, which makes it get really thick and harder to release into your duodenum. This inactivity in your gall bladder can also lead to gall stones. So, when you do eat a meal with good fats in it, the gall bladder has to work really hard to get the bile to come out because it is just so thick and sometimes a gall stone can block it from coming out. This also leads to large fat globs moving further down the small intestine, since you won’t have the bile to break them down into smaller particles.
So, now you have large fat globs moving through your small intestine. These big fat particles sometimes get stuck in the intestines, and what happens to fat when it just sits somewhere? It goes rancid. As you can imagine, rancid fat in your guts is not good.
These fats can be very irritating to the gut lining, called villi. Villi are small finger like projections all over your intestine that grab nutrients like vitamins, minerals, broken down proteins and carbohydrates, and put them into your bloodstream to nourish your body. If you have rancid fats bumping into these villi over and over they can become shortened and damaged and cause tiny holes to form in your intestinal lining, sometimes known as “Leaky Gut”. Now larger molecules that should not be going into your bloodstream fit easily through these holes and are put into your circulation. The body recognizes these big molecules as invaders and your immune system goes into overdrive and sets up inflammation to fight them. Along with this constant battle, your body isn’t getting the nourishing fatty acids it needs to function at an optimal level. Without these healthy fats being absorbed properly, your body can’t efficiently build cell membranes, make certain hormones and you will definitely be hungry more often, since fats give us a longer lasting energy source.
As for carbohydrates, we know that a substance called zonulin opens up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining. Zonulin is found in all carbohydrate sources, including whole grains and even sprouted/soaked grains. This opening between cells normally happens, as I said above, to let nutrients into the bloodstream. But when grains are eaten in excess and too often, too much zonulin is ingested and those spaces open wider and stay open longer than they should. This again, leads to large molecules getting into the bloodstream.
So instead of focusing on the real invaders like bacteria, viruses, allergens and even cancers, your body is busy fighting the foods that should be nourishing it. All of this whole body inflammation can present in a number of fashions, including allergies, eczema, joint pain and a whole host of other issues. Constant inflammation in the body is a very common problem in the U.S., since the Standard American Diet (SAD, aptly named) consists of mostly grains, unhealthy fats and processed foods.
So, how can you avoid this problem, or fix it once it has happened? Eat healthy fats, optimize your digestion, and slow way down on the carbs and processed foods. Eating a nutrient dense, whole foods diet can achieve all three at once. I can help you find YOUR optimal diet, specific to your bio-individuality, to avoid or fix this issue and many others!