22.08.2014 Naturopathy

Leaky Gut and Poor Immunity

Naturopath Margaret Jasinska explains how a leaky gut can harm our immune system

Leaky gut syndrome is a condition you have probably heard of but may not fully understand. As the name implies, it is a problem with the intestines but the consequences can be felt in nearly every organ or tissue in the body. If you have at least two of the conditions listed below, there is a good chance you have a leaky gut:

  • Allergies
  • Hay fever or sinusitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Skin rashes such as eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis
  • An under active or over active thyroid gland

What is leaky gut syndrome?

It's not a very appealing name but leaky gut just means the intestinal lining is more permeable than it should be. The lining of your intestines is only one cell thick. The gut lining enables you to absorb nutrients from the food you've eaten and digested, and it keeps bacteria, wastes and undigested food out of your bloodstream and in your intestines where they belong. If you have a leaky gut, not only do the wastes and toxins gain entry into your bloodstream; you also have a reduced ability to absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from your food.

How can having a leaky gut harm your immune system?

Substances that get absorbed from your intestines head straight to the liver via the hepatic portal vein. That means if you have a leaky gut, you will flood your liver with toxins all day every day. It is no wonder leaky gut syndrome can lead to some pretty serious health problems eventually. The detoxification capabilities of your liver quickly become overwhelmed and toxins will spill out into your bloodstream. This places an additional strain on your immune system and will leave it less capable of fighting off infections. It will also make your immune system hyper stimulated and more likely to develop allergic reactions. If the problem continues, the risk of developing an autoimmune disease rises significantly.

How would you know if you have a leaky gut?

There is a test that doctors and naturopaths can perform called a urinary indicans test or a test where you drink a solution containing the carbohydrates called lactulose and mannitol. Your gut is not supposed to be able to absorb lactulose, but if it is leaky, lactulose does get absorbed and ends up in your urine.

However, I have found that these tests are usually unnecessary because leaky gut is such a common health problem and there are very clear signs and symptoms that can confirm leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is a forerunner to autoimmune disease, so anyone with a diagnosed autoimmune disease has surely got some degree of leaky gut syndrome.

What causes leaky gut syndrome?

Looking at this list, it's a wonder that leaky gut isn't more common. You would expect almost everyone living in Western society to have the condition.

The following factors raise your risk of having a leaky gut:

  • Sugar consumption
  • Antibiotics
  • Stress
  • The oral contraceptive pill
  • Food poisoning and gastroenteritis
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Food allergy and intolerance
  • Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Candida overgrowth in the intestines

Natural ways to strengthen your gut lining

Your intestinal lining has incredibly important functions - to keep the toxins out of your body and allow the nutrients in. The following strategies all help to improve the integrity of your gut lining:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, which are an excellent source of soluble fibre. Fibre helps to prevent stagnation of bowel contents and it feeds good bacteria in your intestines. Fibre acts like a prebiotic, meaning it provides a food source for good bugs in your intestines.
  • Try to consume fermented foods regularly, such as sauerkraut, other fermented vegetables, kefir and yoghurt. If you can't tolerate cow's milk, make the kefir and yoghurt out of sheep, goat or coconut milk.
  • Take a digestive enzyme supplement with meals if you experience indigestion, bloating, burping or gas. They are indicators that you aren't digesting your food properly. If that is the case, bad bugs, yeast and Candida will thrive on your undigested food and you'll end up with high levels of unfavourable organisms in your bowel.
  • You may need a herbal product to kill intestinal parasites and other bad bugs. The herbs black walnut, pau'd arco, cloves, oregano, thyme and wormwood are all effective anti-parasitics. It is important to get rid of gut parasites because they can cause a great deal of inflammation to the lining of the intestines. Glutamine is the number one remedy for strengthening the gut lining because the cells that line your intestines use glutamine as a fuel source. Glutamine is very beneficial when taken long term but it is also an excellent first aid remedy for diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, food poisoning or any condition that results in an upset tummy.
  • Find out if you have any food allergies and get rid of the offending food/s from your diet. You cannot make real progress in improving your health if you continue to eat foods your body considers toxic. Common culprits include gluten, wheat, dairy products, soy, corn, eggs and nuts. It is best to see a healthcare practitioner to help you figure out your unique food sensitivities.
  • Try to keep your intake of sugar and alcohol low. If you turn to those substances when stressed or exhausted, try taking a good dose of magnesium regularly. Magnesium is required by the enzymes in your body that generate energy. It also helps to relax your nervous system at night while you're asleep, or trying to get to sleep. I recommend a teaspoon of magnesium powder with dinner.

Margaret Jasinska has co-authored seven books with Dr Sandra Cabot. See www.sandracabot.com for information.

Margaret Jasinska

Sydney-based naturopath Margaret Jasinska has co-authored seven books with Dr Sandra Cabot