The gastrointestinal tract, referred to in this article as the gut, is a 30 feet long muscular tube, which is placed in an amazing way inside the abdomen. The gut has an ecosystem of microbiota composed of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other organisms that coexist in harmony until external factors disrupt this ecosystem, and in turn, can influence health.
The Gut - Brain Connection
There is a bidirectional connection between the gut and the brain. The brain sends signals to the gut, and from the gut, signals pass back to the brain. The vagus nerve travels from the brain into the neck, through the chest to the gut and plays a major role in gut brain connection. Moreover, within the intestinal wall there are several nerve plexus, which is part of the Enteric Nervous system (ENS) that can directly communicate with the brain.
Gut microbiota, mentioned earlier, have an important role for the gut. It has direct and indirect effect in influencing the brain. There are more than 1000 species of different microbes in the human gut. They prevent invasions from pathogenic microbiomes and produce necessary vitamins for the body. They can also help in the production of some of the neurotransmitters which influence brain health. Hence the importance of gut microbiota in mood disorders. Dysbiosis of the gut is when there is an over growth of a particular unfavourable microbe. This can cause intestinal inflammation and malabsorption.
The Gut Houses The Immune System
Seventy to eighty percent of our immune system is in the gut. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is a significant part of our immune system. It is within the intestinal mucosa and other tissues of the digestive tract. Hence the importance of a healthy gut in prevention of diseases. When there is inflammation in the gut due to any cause, the immune system becomes imbalanced. This can cause frequent infection, allergies and autoimmune diseases.
What Is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut occurs when inflammation causes the closely knit intestinal epithelial cells to shrink and gaps form between them. This allows bigger molecules of broken down food and toxins to pass freely between these gaps. Typically, these bigger particles are not be permitted to enter the blood stream in normal conditions. When they abnormally enter the blood stream, a great disturbance is caused to the immune system.
The Leaky Gut Process
When large molecules enter the blood stream, the immune system starts fighting them as the body perceives them as foreign. Antibodies are produced against them. The antibodies mistake the body’s own tissues as foreign and cause the immune system to attack them. These “autoantibodies” target different tissues in different people due to their genetic susceptibility.
Some of the target tissue can be:
- Thyroid --> thyroid related disorders
- Skin --> eczema, dermatitis, lupus
- Brain --> mood disorders, depression, brain fog, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple sclerosis
- Joints --> arthritis
- Ovaries --> Polycystic ovarian disease, infertility, etc.
What Causes Gut Inflammation?
It can happen due to number of causes, the most common are:
- Poor food choices
- Food sensitivities
- Imbalance in the gut flora
- Malfunction of major organs like liver, gallbladder and pancreas
The Stress - Gut Connection
Stress can impact gut in many ways. Some of which are through the gut brain connections, sympathetic over activity, stress induced inflammatory markers and hormone production. These can cause inflammation of epithelial cells, gut dysbiosis and also contribute to leaky gut.
Food Sensitivities, Inflammation & Leaky Gut
Food sensitivities can cause inflammation of the intestinal epithelial cells, disrupting them and producing leaky gut and the sequelae of symptoms with the leaky gut.
Addressing Autoimmune Conditions
Once an antibody is formed against a particular protein, this gets programmed into the memory cells. Whenever patient is exposed to a particular trigger, antibodies get reactivated. These antibodies are targeted towards the trigger as well as the susceptible tissues.
Strengthening Gut Integrity & Health
The aim of treatment should be to treat the effected system, to avoid exposure to the triggering agent as well as build up a balanced immunity.
Hence each patient should be individually assessed and treated for their specific health related concern while balancing areas such as:
· Healthy gut microbiomes
· Intestinal permeability
· Lymphatic system function
· Digestive enzyme production
Thus making a person healthier so the body can function without reactivation of the disease process. Therefore remission is possible once the root cause identified, eliminated and treated.
Specific Strategies For Healing
· First of all identify, remove and treat the offending agent or issue
· Good quality nutritious food, lots of green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and protein with meals
· Cutting out processed foods, cured meat and sugary products from the diet
· Incorporating probiotic containing foods in the diet
· Nutritional supplement, vitamins and herbs play an important role in balancing the gut and immune system
· Exercise, stress relief and relaxation are equally important for healing of the gut
If you are experiencing concerns with your mood, have an autoimmune condition or digestive issues and are looking for options that address connected symptoms, I would be happy to work with you to optimize your health. Contact our clinic for more information or to arrange a time to visit.
References on gut health for more information: