The digestive tract is responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients from our food. This involves the movement of digested food molecules through a porous intestinal lining and into the circulation. This means that to absorb nutrients we must always to some extent, have a leaky gut.
To facilitate the digestive process the structure of the intestinal lining is composed of several layers with different functions. A base layer of tissue supports a one cell thick layer of mucus secreting cells. These cells are closely packed and secured together by structures called tight junctions. The mucus secreted by these cells forms a further layer that separates and protects the cells from the intestinal contents.
A healthy intestinal lining allows small molecules to pass through it, but generally prevents the passage of larger molecules. In this way the intestinal lining is a defence against the intrusion of foreign invaders such as bacteria, yeasts and toxins.
However, the term leaky gut has come to mean a gut with increased intestinal permeability compared to the normal gut. In other words a pathologically leaky gut. One in which the noxious contents of the gut seep through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream.
Substances that seep through a leaky gut are seen as foreign by the immune system and can trigger a response promoting inflammation. But, having a leaky gut does not necessarily mean your symptoms will be in the gut. Once foreign substances leak into the circulation they can travel anywhere in the body. You may have vague symptoms of fatigue, anxiety or brain fog. Or you may develop a chronic skin disease, metabolic problems, a mental illness or an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis
As Hippocrates once said “All diseases begin in the gut”. And as gut problems are an underlying factor in many chronic diseases there has been a lot of research in this area over the last decade or so.
The GAPS diet was developed by Natasha Campbell-McBride to help her patients that were suffering from a wide range of intestinal and neurological conditions. At the root of their ill health was an imbalance in the gut microflora and a leaky gut.
The GAPS diet focuses on healing and sealing the gut lining with nutritious bone broths and includes fermented foods to rebalance the gut microflora.
Bone broth is typically made from bones with a small amount of meat attached, along with cartilage, tendons and skin. The broth is rich in amino acids such as glutamine, glycine and proline and other nutrients that are not often found in other foods
Studies show that glutamine reduces intestinal permeability. It helps to maintain the health of the gut lining and prevent damage from occurring. Glutamine is also available as a supplement.
If you think that a leaky gut might be at the root cause of your ill health then it makes sense to address other diet and lifestyle factors that contribute to a leaky gut. Get adequate sleep, take steps to manage your stress, and reduce or eliminate gluten containing foods.