I love guts. As complex as it is, it greatly simplifies the understanding of disease. The word “disease” is not an entity of its own. If you look closely, the word can be broken down to dis-ease; the loss of ease. Dis-ease only occurs when there is the loss of balance in an organism. In fact, the importance of balance has been acknowledged for thousands of years in medicine. Restoring the “four humors” in Ancient Greece, complementing yin and yang in Chinese Medicine, and balancing your dosha, or “constitution” in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. More recently, 100 years ago, Dr. Henry Lindlahr, a pioneer of naturopathy in this country, believed that the primary consequence of imbalance manifests in “the three primary causes of disease: 1) lowered vitality, 2) abnormal composition of blood and lymph, and 3) accumulation of morbid matter and poisons.” Amazingly, the condition of leaky gut touches upon all of these causes.
One may perceive Dr. Lindlahr’s outlook on disease as “rudimentary” in today’s scientific language, but the message he conveys is absolutely right. Let’s look at lowered vitality. Whether you’re spiritual or not, energy is all around us. From the heat generated from your computer, to the light emitted from your lamp, millions of atoms are at work, moving at rapid speed unseen to the naked eye. This “aliveness” of surrounding matter extends to our physiology. Even if we don’t see it at an atomic level within our cells, we can feel it each time we breathe, talk, and move. Where do we get this energy? From food. Food is the primary source of vitality in all living things.
Within the mucosa of our small intestine, hair-like projections called microvilli rest on our intestinal cells and absorb nutrients. In leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability), there is often damage inflicted upon the microvilli, hindering the uptake of nutrients. This has huge consequences. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can occur, which not only affects the body’s ability to repair the damaged microvilli, but is itself a critical component of energy production in the body. It’s not a surprise then that leaky gut manifests in conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, an autoimmune disease that is notably marked by low levels of energy.
But it doesn’t stop there. Not only are nutrients less absorbed, but toxins are more absorbed. Intestinal cells have small spaces between them called “tight junctions,” which restrict only the movement of water and electrolytes through them. In leaky gut syndrome, these small spaces increase, allowing less discrimination of particle movement. Thus, dead bacteria, bacterial toxins, and undigested food can directly enter the blood or lymph system. Is this not then the “abnormal composition of blood and lymph“? Our immune system recognizes these to be foreign in our blood, so it desperately mounts an attack by producing antibodies. Unfortunately, a lot of these “foreigners” deposit in our joints or elicit cross-reaction, so we end up attacking our own body, such as the case in autoimmune diseases. Similarly, experimental models of arthritis and colitis have been induced in rats when they’re injected with bacterial cell fragments and toxins. As inflammation ensues, our precious gut antibody IgA becomes depleted, further worsening the leaky gut.
Thankfully, we have our liver to help us out, or else anyone who had leaky gut would be in fatal condition. Almost everything that is absorbed in our intestines has to first go to the liver. It is our blood’s great protector. As if not busy enough already, in leaky gut, the liver works overtime to neutralize and detoxify our “foreigners.” In this process, liver cells can become damaged, and reactive by-products are secreted into our bile – entering right into our small intestine. This not only worsens the leaky gut, but adds even more stress to our liver. On top of that, this “accumulation of morbid matter and poisons” in the bile can reflux into our pancreas and damage our digestive enzymes, further worsening our vitality and composition of blood.
So is there any way out of this predicament? Or is one forever doomed to suffer the endless vicious cycle of leaky gut?
Stay tuned – the light at the end of the tunnel awaits in my next installment.