Leaky Gut - Part 2
A lot of you are now familiar with this term - "leaky gut". But what does this really mean? What is really going on when someone has this?
Did you know that having a "leaky gut" may actually have a negative impact not just on our gastrointestinal system, but also on our cardiovascular system and even our brain health and mood?
The lining of our intestinal tract can be easily compromised because it consists of only a single layer of cells. Fortunately, we have a layer of mucus over this lining helping to protect it and to keep bacteria in our gut (good or bad) from getting too close. When we are eating lots of diverse plant based dietary fibers, it keeps our good bacteria well fed and happy so they don't start looking for other places for food, like our mucus lining.
But when someone eats too much sugar or junk food, or even goes on a lengthy fast or a "cleanse" very low in fiber, it can starve our good gut bacteria. Where will they then turn to for food? You guessed it: our mucus lining in our gut. This may then expose the cells of the intestinal tract to excessive bacteria and other microbes, making it "leaky".
Leaky implies that objects are passing through that should not be. So what is passing through? One problem molecule is called lipopolysaccaride, or LPS for short. LPS is a part of a bacterial cell, typically a gram negative bacteria, the kind that are usually not so friendly and invoke the human body's immune system.
Excessive LPS in the blood stream can trigger a robust inflammatory response in the body, probably since our immune system recognizes this molecule as a bacteria that should not be there. Immune cells will secrete compounds called cytokines that when left chronically unchecked can have profoundly negative consequences on our health.
It is important to note that everybody has LPS leaking into their blood stream at one time or another: stress, lack of sleep, and/or eating processed or junk food, will all raise LPS in our circulation. However, I feel the problem is when this leakage of LPS is going on excessively, all the time.
LPS will actually bind to cholesterol complexes (lipoproteins) and may be a contributor to heart disease. Soft plaques in arteries form because our immune cells recognize the intruding cholesterol particles as foreign and start to neutralize it, becoming foam cells. It is these foam cells that make up most of the plaque. Why are they attacking cholesterol in particular? I think a possible reason is due to the LPS bound up with the cholesterol. Remember, LPS is piece of bacteria that can trigger an immune response.
LPS can also have a negative impact on the brain. Our brain has a "blood brain barrier", a screen that selectively allows the crossing of molecules into and out of the brain. LPS from leaky gut may actually compromise this blood brain barrier, triggering a cycle of brain inflammation and even altering neurotransmitter levels, such as serotonin. This may set the stage for dementia risk and mood imbalances.
I know this blog post seems a little bleak... like a lot of negative scary science talk. Fortunately, one can be proactive in reducing their risk of chronic diseases and/or improving a chronic disease they already have. Food is powerful. Eating more of the right healthy foods can have a profound and positive impact on our gut microbiome and therefore a positive impact on our gut lining, reducing the risk of "leaky gut".
Testing can also be very helpful and can give a good picture of what is going on. I recommend the GI Effects stool test by Genova Diagnostics. It will show very useful clinical markers of gut dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance), inflammation, digestion, and potential pathogens. Then, when someone wants to take on their gut problems, or even autoimmune disease, etc., a better and more targeted plan for healing the gut can be formulated. For some more information click the link here. You can also contact me here for more information.