In the last post, we talked about what leaky gut is, but we didn’t really go into any detail about the causes. There are several factors that contribute to intestinal permeability, and they can all be traced back to stress… In every possible sense of the word.
Eating foods that aren’t ideal for human consumption (sugar, highly processed vegetable oils, refined flours, GMOs, and other processed “foods”) puts significant stress on the intestines.
Some of these foods (especially sugars) encourage the growth of pathogenic yeast and fungus in the gut, which further disrupt digestion, leading to inflammation and eventually leaky gut.
Wheat is especially responsible for contributing to intestinal permeability, because it contains a protein called Gliadin, the less famous brother of gluten.
Gliadin in turn triggers a hormone called Zonulin, which loosens the tight junctions in the gut. Even if you don’t have the genetic predisposition to develop leaky gut or autoimmunity, when you consume gliadin (wheat), you activate zonulin signaling, which temporarily causes increased intestinal permeability. Over time, this can lead to more chronic leaky gut syndrome. (Source)
Your job, or lack thereof. Your relationships, or lack thereof. Your sleep habits, or lack thereof.
Your boss is a jerk, your kids are a mess, your life is in shambles, you spilled mustard on your shirt, and you’re stuck in traffic listening to news radio, which is airing a segment about how stress kills people, which in turn makes you more stressed about your stress.
The immune system cannot function optimally in the presence of chronic stress. When the immune system can’t do it’s job, it gets overwhelmed and backed up with pathogens. This increases inflammation in the intestines, and eventually leads to leaky gut.
Keeping intestinal flora balanced (plenty of friendly bugs to keep the pathogenic bugs in check) is absolutely crucial for digestive health. Mental/emotional stress tends to favor pathogenic bugs.
Take a trip to the beach, get a massage, take a nap, take a bath, color in these neat adult coloring books… Or, treat yo’ self and do all of the above.
Think exercising is good for you? Think again!
Just kidding. Exercise is really, really good for you. HOWEVER… Not all types and quantities produce beneficial results.
When most people think of exercise, they think of running on a treadmill until their legs turn into rubber. Have you ever noticed that there is always a line for the cardio machines at the gym, but the weight stations are usually fairly empty?
There have been several studies in the last few years concluding that long distance cardio actually increases cortisol, decreases thyroid function, and over time leads to adrenal burnout, increased oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation.
As I mentioned in the last section, chronic inflammation leads to impaired immune function which leads to… say it with me… Leaky Gut.
Furthermore, long distance cardio isn’t nearly as effective at burning fat as high-intensity interval training. Maybe those CrossFit kids are onto something… :)
This is pretty intricately linked with dietary stress, but it also includes things like low stomach acid, dysbiosis, parasites (more people have them than you would think), candida overgrowth, etc.
Even mild leaky gut can lead to more severe leaky gut! It’s a vicious cycle.
Taking medication for one problem might just cause a few others. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are incredibly irritating to the gut lining. Antibiotics completely wipe out the gut flora, which leaves the gut susceptible to dysbiosis. Birth control pills similarly upset the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, causing nearly irreparable damage.
I’m not saying we should never use these drugs—there are situations where they may be useful or necessary—it’s just that we shouldn’t take them willy nilly. We need to recognize the full effect they have on our health, and do our best to support our bodies through that. (Don’t take ibuprofen on an empty stomach, do take lots of probiotics during and after a course antibiotics, etc.)
We are exposed to a myriad of other chemicals through our food and environment, whether we’re aware of it or not. Think pesticides, preservatives, water contaminants, hard-to-pronounce chemicals in your shampoo bottle… We absorb all of these things quite readily through the skin, lungs, and digestive tract.
Think twice before slathering on every scented lotion at Bath & Body Works. Cosmetics are an unregulated mess of chemicals!
How on Earth do we break this vicious cycle??
I’m glad you asked! Here are 12 ways to heal leaky gut. :)