You may have heard this phrase before, but this popular Hippocrates quote leads the way in modern medicine, as the gut is the root cause of most of the chronic health issues I see today.
If our gut function isn't performing well, chances are we are going to see issues elsewhere in the body.
For me and many naturopaths, our work is centered around how your gut health is performing.
When I think of gut health I am thinking of it not only in terms of the big stuff like...
Do you get bloated?
Or do you have a tendency towards constipation?
Or perhaps you have IBS symptoms and don't know what will happen from one day to the next?
I am thinking of your gut health at a microscopic level.
Let me explain...
Over 10,000 scientific articles confirm the involvement of intestinal permeability aka "leaky gut" in human health and disease.
The intestinal barrier plays a crucial role in maintaining the overall health and function of the human body. It consists of a single layer of specialised epithelial cells lining the inner surface of the intestines.
This barrier serves as a physical and biochemical defense mechanism to prevent the entry of harmful substances into the body. The intestinal barrier is primarily composed of tight junctions, which are protein structures that form a seal between neighbouring epithelial cells.
These tight junctions regulate the permeability, or how many gaps there are within the intestinal lining, allowing nutrients and water to be absorbed while preventing the passage of larger molecules, toxins, and pathogens such as bacteria and fungus.
Image source: Bio-Practica, Australia
When the intestinal barrier is compromised, the tight junctions become more permeable, a condition referred to as increased intestinal permeability or "leaky gut".
This increased permeability allows antigens, endotoxins (toxins released by certain bacteria), pathogens, and other inflammatory substances to pass through the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Once these substances gain access to the systemic circulation, they can trigger an immune response and lead to local or systemic inflammation.
The immune system recognises these foreign substances as potential threats and mounts an inflammatory response to neutralise them. However, chronic or excessive inflammation can contribute to the development of various diseases, including autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, metabolic disorders, and even systemic conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
What can you do to maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier?
Several factors can compromise its integrity, including certain medications (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]), chronic stress, infections, imbalances in gut microbiota, and dietary factors (such as high intake of processed foods, alcohol, or certain food additives).
Promoting a healthy intestinal barrier involves adopting a balanced and nutritious diet, managing stress, avoiding excessive use of medications that can damage the gut lining, and supporting a diverse and beneficial gut microbiota through the consumption of a diet based on plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, good quality sources of protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, and water as your main beverage.
Additionally, addressing any underlying conditions or infections that may be contributing to increased intestinal permeability is important for maintaining a well-functioning intestinal barrier and preventing associated health issues.
Specific nutrients such as glutamine, zinc, and vitamins A and C can be supplemented to assist the health of the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
Herbal medicines can also work to correct bacterial imbalances and help to restore the gut lining and promote gastrointestinal immunity (like calendula, pictured below)
There is also a place for pre and probiotic supplementation if needed.
If any of the points made here have you questioning whether the gut issues you are experiencing could be due to dodgy gut lining, or if other health issues could be stemming from your gut health then I'd love to hear from you!
I offer a FREE 20-minute chat over the phone to give us the opportunity to discuss what might be going on for you and to sort out our best way forward.
It's called a Let's Talk appointment and you can book this here.
I'm Amy Donovan and I am a qualified and registered Naturopath, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist working from my private clinic in Te Awamutu, New Zealand.