Yesterday I wrote about leaky gut syndrome, and gave a brief overview of some of the symptoms associated with it and some of the more serious diseases that can occur as a result of leaky gut. Today, I’d like to give you the 6 main causes of leaky gut, as laid out in the book Digestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CCN.
Diet and Nutrition
I’ll start with diet, because I think it’s the most significant. Not only can poor food choices lead to leaky gut, but proper food choices can actually heal leaky gut. For this reason, leaky gut seems to have anything and everything to do with what we eat. Simply put, eating too many bad foods and not enough whole foods leads to an imbalance of bacteria in our intestinal tract. Processed foods are lower in fiber (even if they say they are high in fiber, such as Fiber One pop tarts, don’t be fooled – they are fortified and this type of fiber is not easily absorbed by our natural bodies), and low-fiber diets lead to increased transit time for food passing through our digestive tract. The longer food stays inside of us, the more opportunity it has to begin to spoil and rot, which causes further damage to our intestines. Processed foods also promote inflammation, which can seriously damage the digestive tract over time.
When we are stressed for long periods of time, our immunity is affected. Over time, our body begins to react to stressors by producing less and less of two things: sIgA (one of the first lines of immune defense) and DHEA (an anti-aging and anti-stress hormone). Therefore, chronic stress actually leads to an impaired ability to deal with stress and increased susceptibility to sickness and aging (yikes!). The other thing that our body does when we experience chronic stress is to slow down digestion by reducing blood flow to digestive organs. Again, when our digestion slows, food has more time to go bad inside of us and eat away at our healthy intestinal lining.
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance of bacteria within the digestive tract. When “bad” bacteria is allowed to overgrow (as a result of poor diet, antibiotics, steroid medications, birth control pills, or other factors), it breaks down the strong walls of our intestines and causes severe gastrointestinal symptoms. One good way to fight dysbiosis is to take a probiotic supplement daily.
Every day, we are exposed to many household and environmental chemicals that put stress on our immune systems. Sometimes environmental contaminants can deplete us of important minerals, and can lead to tissue breakdown or inflammation. The best way to deal with this is to limit exposure to environmental contaminants as much as possible. Obviously it is impossible to avoid them completely, but we can do things like use gentler cleaning products and beauty products.
Overconsumption of Alcohol
I’ve talked plenty about alcohol, but just a quick reminder that alcoholic drinks contain very few nutrients but take many nutrients to metabolize. Alcohol strains the liver and damages the intestinal tract.
Use of Medications
Certain medications can damage different parts of our digestive tract. Some damage the delicate intestinal lining, which then allows microbes, partially digested food, and toxins to enter the bloodstream. This leads to much of the discomfot associated with leaky gut syndrome, and eventually more serious diseases. Since sometimes we must take medications for whatever reason, it is even more critical that we focus on a healthy, whole-foods diet so we can counter some of the effects the meds have on our body.
I hope this increases your awareness of leaky gut and the many different factors that can go into digestive distress. Try to become more in tune with your body and pay attention to certain things that may trigger specific symptoms. It is probably impossible to eliminate all digestive issues, but the more we can focus on healthy diet, exercise, sleep, and happiness, the better we will feel and the more productive we will be.