Did you know that your biggest exposure to the outside world every day is through your mouth? That’s why 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, lying in wait to protect you from anything that seems foreign to the body (called antigens because they stimulate the immune system), which believe it or not includes food and the toxins and microbes that ride along with the food that you ingest while eating.
Your gut, which starts in your mouth, travels through your stomach, small intestine, colon or large intestine, and ends in your rectum, is supposed to be a closed tube – with the intestinal lining creating a barrier that separates the inside of your body and immune system from these outside exposures. When you digest your food, the intestinal lining can then selectively choose what can enter your body by opening and closing special gates called tight junctions.
In functional medicine, an intestinal barrier with damaged tight junctions that isn’t keeping antigens out of the body is known as a leaky gut. Studies have increasingly found that a leaky gut is associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, and food sensitivities.
Causes of leaky gut vary, but the most important is dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut, also called the gut microbiome. Dysbiosis can be an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites, or not enough good bacteria, and is commonly caused by a poor diet, a course of antibiotics, frequent use of antacids, and stress. These gut bacteria are important because not only do they interact with your immune system to keep it healthy, they also turn the food we eat into healthy compounds, especially something called short chain fatty acids which heal the tight junctions between your cells and protect the integrity of the gut barrier. This is why food is so important, too, because the food you eat determines which bacteria will thrive and what kinds of compounds they will make when they digest your food.
But why is leaky gut associated with inflammatory disease like arthritis? When the contents of your gut, which includes pieces of food and gut bacteria, “leak” into your body, your immune system is activated creating inflammatory chemicals that travel throughout your body and cause system-wide inflammation, especially in the joints. And this happens non-stop until your gut microbiome and lining are repaired.
The good news is that you can rebuild your microbiome and repair your gut. Food has the most influence on the diversity of the microbiome, and that’s why you should always start with changing your diet by increasing fruits and veggies, especially those rich in polyphenols, bioflavonoids, and fiber because these tend to increase the good bacteria that make short-chain fatty acids and heal the gut. Also, you need to remove foods from your diet that feed the bad bacteria like sugar, processed flour products, alcohol, and too many animal products. You also need to test yourself for food sensitivities and remove sensitive foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and the nightshade vegetables. Our elimination diet explainer shows how to do this.
The next step is to treat your dysbiosis. At Blum Center for Health we start with cleansing herbs like berberine, grape seed extract, black walnut, and oregano that can clear out bad bacteria and yeast. In fact, we created our own custom herbal antibiotic mix called Gut Cleanse. Once you have eliminated the bad bacteria and yeast, probiotics and the right food can help you rebuild the good stuff, repair the gut lining, reduce inflammation, and eliminate food sensitivities.
For more, please review the video above.