And even with all the latest technology and over 10,000+ research papers talking about intestinal permeability (or leaky gut), it’s still a hidden epidemic to modern medicine!
Many doctors and healthcare practitioners are more surprised than you are to learn about it. This isn’t something they learned about back in medical school. Researchers discovered it by accident in the 1980’s and even developed several tests for it, but it’s not talked about at the prominent clinics or leading universities.
It’s Now or Never For You And Your Loved Ones
It never feels like it’s about to end, till the funeral. Everyone has heard of a seemingly healthy person who just dropped dead. I’m not saying your risk is that high, but I do think it’s a good idea for you to understand your risks. Take this 3 minute leaky gut risk assessment before reading the rest of this article
Chronic disease is on the rise and most of us know someone we love who’s suffering from one. And the worst part is, modern medicine isn’t figuring out how to stop it.
- Already over 133 million Americans have chronic diseases, and by 2020 it’s expected that 157 million Americans will
- It’s now estimated that there are 50 million Americans with autoimmune disease (more than heart disease and cancer combined)
- 64 million Americans have digestive diseases
The crazy thing is, you have to add these together; the CDC does not combine digestive disease and autoimmune disease into their chronic disease number. That means we are talking about well over 200 million Americans who are suffering from chronic diseases.
And as you can see from the chronic disease numbers, people with these conditions are growing at a staggering rate.
What connects all these conditions? What has changed, and why do we have all these problems that our parents and grandparents never faced?
Modern Medicine Forgot the Old School Ways
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and creator of the Hippocratic oath, said 2500 years ago, “All Disease Begins In the Gut.” But it seems that this principle has been lost.
Until now. Now the science and testing has progressed to the point where we can prove how important the gut is for every single part of your body to work properly.
The food we eat becomes the cells that create every part of our body. These cells all completely die and get replaced every 7 years. Which means what you eat literally creates you.
Beyond that, we now know the digestive tract contains 80% of the immune cells your body has. It contains 400x more serotonin than your brain and 500x more melatonin.
Our gut is called our second brain for a reason. Sayings like “gut intuition” and “gut feeling” are real physical phenomenons not folklore.
This gut-disease connection is real and the founders of modern medicine knew it. Unfortunately, we forgot about this connection and have now drifted course to a quick fix mentality for chronic disease, which the numbers show is clearly not working.
Let’s Stop Talking about Chronic Disease – and Start Fixing It
If you are anything like me, you’re part of these statistics and you know how much it sucks to live with the symptoms. Not being able to do the things we want to do, when we want to do them. I hated it.
But what really stole my hope is when the many doctors basically shrugged their shoulders at me. They didn’t know what to do, so I turned to the internet. And I searched a lot.
I fell into what I like to call the “Search Engine Death Spiral.”
There I was sitting at my computer, anxiously searching and reading… next thing you know 4 hours later I’m exhausted, scared and convinced I’m going to die within 3 months. The problem with this spiral, other than the emotional toll, is most everything is just talk.
Diagnosis, symptoms… what does it all mean? Everyone was just talking and providing content to think about, but no one was providing answers.
That’s why I’m on a mission to start solving chronic disease for others, now that I’ve done it for myself and helped 1000’s of others over the last 5 years. In this article, I’m going to walk you through how important the digestive tract is for health, how it works, and what happens when it breaks down.
You’re about to get a college education on your gut. This isn’t going to be some 50,000 foot view, but that’s okay because it’s your health we are talking about here. We’re going to get nerdy and dive into how your gut works and why leaky gut is one of the most important chronic health problems in the world right now.
So, let’s explore that by taking a journey through your body when you eat food. And from that place, I can show you the disastrous consequences of what happens when they don’t.
What If the Holy Grail of Health Was Already Inside You?
We are all searching for that one thing that can make us healthy. And I want to argue that you already have it. You just have to pay attention, nurture it and if it’s broken, fix it.
I’m talking about your digestive tract and I’m talking about what happens when it breaks down and becomes leaky. Because a leaky gut creates big issues. The gut is a long hollow tube that’s actually outside the body. It’s meant to let the good things in (like nutrients from our food), but keep the bad things out (like toxins and undigested food particles).
When you have leaky gut, these bad things like toxins, bacteria, and undigested food get into your body instead of being dumped into the toilet.
These foreign particles really piss off your immune system, who’s standing guard to protect you with 80% of its soldiers right inside the gut wall in what’s called the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT).
When leaky gut is happening, the immune system sets off a bunch of chain reactions including localized inflammation in the gut wall and system wide inflammation throughout the body. This is one of the worst things that happens with leaky gut. Because we all know inflammation is the first step towards chronic disease.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The gut is actually very interesting. I think it should be on that show “Modern Marvels” because it’s one of the world’s most complex machines.
The World’s Oldest Modern Marvel
The most interesting parts of the digestive tract are the small and large intestines. These are amazing organs. Let’s start with the small intestine.
The small intestine, remember, is still technically outside the body and designed for absorption of nutrients. It’s pretty much a tunnel for food so your body can get all the good stuff out of it. Nutrients released from the breakdown of proteins, sugars, and lipids in the stomach are absorbed in the small intestine. The overwhelming majority of the nutrients from your food are extracted by the small intestine.
How it gets the job done is even more fascinating. It has a super crazy structure that maximizes this nutrient absorption, with a really fast blood vessel delivery system right behind it with highly intelligent membranes to get the good stuff into the body and cycle the bad stuff out.
The selective membranes of the small intestine only allow certain “good things” to pass through the tissue of the small intestine and enter the vast network of blood and lymph vessels below it.
You can think of the system like a massive commuter rail station. The trains and buses are the lacteals and capillaries of the lymphatic and vascular systems but only people with tickets can get on and ride. The tissue of your small intestine is only taking the good passengers with tickets. The non-ticketed, bad passengers keep riding the gut waves down to get flushed out of the body. And any bad passengers who make it into the body go on these trains and buses straight to the liver to get thrown out for not having a ticket.
Intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) can happen in the large intestine too, but for this article and the majority we’ll be talking mostly about the small intestine. The problem commonly associated with chronic disease begins in the tissues of the small intestines.
The Magic Powers of the Small Intestine
If you’re anything like me, you probably never thought much about how the food you eat actually gets into your body. The small intestine is where all the magic takes place.
The most fascinating things occur in the small intestine tissues. What does the tissue of your small intestine look like? How does it work? Let’s start in the the lumen and work our way outward…
Remember the small intestine’s most important job is to get as many nutrients out of the food you eat as possible. It has a super cool structure that allows it to get this job done, as I’ll explain.
The lumen is the hollow space inside your small intestine – the place where digested food passes through. It’s lined with epithelial tissue classified as a mucous membrane. Think of when you’ve had a runny nose – the lining of your nose is a mucus membrane – it can secrete stuff like mucus – the lining of your small intestine is similar. It looks like scrunched up shag carpeting. Literally…
The wave-like folds of this carpet are much like the plica of your small intestine and the individual shags of the carpet are much like the villi. Here’s an anatomical drawing…
So, you can see that there is a lot of stuff going on here. All of it is designed to maximize the surface area and absorption ability of the small intestine. You have the Plica folds, the villi protrusions, and then on top of that (literally on top of the villi) there are microvilli! These all work together to break down, grab and absorb nutrients.
Notice that the villi also contain the capillary bed and lacteals – this is the transport system we talked about earlier. As you can see, your vascular and immune systems are closely associated with the gut. They have to be! All the food you eat gets pumped around and distributed to your tissues via the vascular system. And at the same time this system encounters tons of pathogens, unwanted bacteria and undigested food.
The body has to be ready to tackle and get rid of the unwanted. With 80% of the immune system network waiting under your epithelial tissue it’s actually ready for the job and enjoys the daily fight. We now know that this daily battle is communication that the immune system uses to regulate itself.
So, this small intestine tissue regulates what passes into our bloodstream and what meets our immune system. Its ability to do this job correctly influences our entire health.
When it’s all working properly this is the keystone of health. When it breaks, watch out. Let’s go a level deeper to see how bad it gets.
How Tight Are Your Cells?
The cells in our body don’t just chill next to each other like best friends. In fact, they are joined for life and if these joints start failing bad things begin happening.
All tissues in the body are made up of cells – crazy amounts of specialized cells. But something has to hold them together, they don’t just sit next to each other in a row. They need to be expertly attached to one another. The small intestine regulates these attachments to get the right nutrients in and keep the bad stuff out. And when the regulation pathways or attachments start breaking that’s when we get a leaky gut.
The first line of defense that keeps the cells together in the small intestine and selectively allows passage for only certain molecules is called the tight junction. Think of the tight junctions as stitching that binds the cells of the mucosal epithelium together to create the small intestine barrier.
Now just like there are specialized stitches in sewing, there are other types of junctions that bind the cells together for different reasons. The other cellular junctions are called Gap junctions, adherens junctions and desmosome junctions. For the purposes of leaky gut, we’ll keep our focus to the tight junctions because if something gets past the tight junction, the other junctions aren’t likely to stop it because that’s not in their job description.
When sewing, we use thread to make a stitch. In the body, the “thread” in the cell junctions is made of proteins.
Proteins? The stuff that I need to eat to build muscle? Yes, sort of. The body has multiple uses for proteins. Proteins can provide ways for cells to communicate, build enzymes that catalyze reactions, and much more. You can think of the proteins that make up the tight junctions as structural proteins. They are like massive bridges that span the spaces between cells. There are several types of proteins that create the tight junction.
- Junctional Adhesion Molecules (JAMS)
All of these groups span between two adjacent cell membranes to hold on to one another.
This literally keeps the cells tight and the barrier between the outside world of the small intestine and your bloodstream intact. These tight junction proteins are connected into the adjacent cell’s membrane via an anchor protein. Much like a bridge is anchored to both sides of the river.
The anchors inside of the cells (purple boxes above) are proteins and go by the names of Zonulin 1 (ZO1), Zonulin 2 (ZO2) and Zonulin (ZO3). On the other side of the anchors are what can be thought of as drawstrings. The drawstrings (red lines) of the tight junction are called Actomyosin. It is this combination of membrane spanning proteins and anchoring proteins and drawstrings that create the tight junction.
So, to recap… Here’s the summary.
Bodily tissues are made up of tons of cells that are held together by junctions. The tissue of your small intestine is made up of epithelial cells held together by several junctions, the most important being the tight junctions. The tight junctions are made up of membrane spanning proteins, anchoring proteins and drawstrings that work together to uphold the integrity of the tight junction.
This tightly woven sheet of cells in your small intestine acts as a protective and selective barrier between the outside environment and you.
How Tight Junctions Create a Leaky Gut
Just like the Tower Bridge in London, the tight junctions of your gut can open and let molecules through. They function much like a gate in that sometimes they open for some necessary nutrients to come into the body.
But just like the Tower Bridge, they don’t just allow any ol’ thing to pass through. There is a regulatory system for it.
The opening and closing of the tight junctions in the small intestine are predominantly regulated by a molecule called Zonulin. Zonulin is like the gatekeeper. Zonulin acts on the proteins of the tight junction, causing a cascade effect that leads to the tightening and releasing of Actomyosin fibers (the drawstrings) which then create more or less space for molecules to move between the cells.
Research shows that Zonulin expression can be triggered by many things, like certain bacteria and foods like gluten. When there is an over expression (too much) of Zonulin, the tight junctions open up too wide or for far too long – that is when problems start to arise.
This is what is called a leaky gut.
A Leaky Gut Is as Useful as… an Umbrella with Holes in It
An umbrella is great in the rain… unless there’s a bunch of holes in it. When the tight junctions are chronically open, the once protective barrier has a bunch of holes in it, allowing all kinds of bad things into the body that aren’t supposed to be there. Things like:
- Bacteria and Bacterial toxins (LPS)
- Viruses, Yeast, Parasites & Other Gut Flora Organisms
- Partially Digested Food Molecules
- Metabolites and Acids
All of these foreign molecules gain direct access into the GALT – the transportation system we talked about earlier where 80% of your immune system is waiting.
When this happens the immune system jumps into action. It needs to neutralize, get rid of and tell the rest of the body about the attack. This process includes increasing inflammation around the gut wall and increasing the levels of inflammation in the whole body. The increased inflammation at the gut wall can then actually begin to damage the cells of the gut wall… which can quickly become a self-perpetuating cycle of cell damage and more leaky gut if it’s not fixed.
As more foreign particles trickle through from the leaky gut, the immune response increases and results in chronic inflammation. This is thought to be the beginning of autoimmune disorders and is never a good idea if you want to avoid chronic disease.
What Happens to Your Body in Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut starts with an increase in inflammation and the activation of the immune system. The immune system now begins to create antibody soldiers that are specific to the types of foreign particles that are getting through. It needs the whole body to know about the attack that is happening to the gut.
Many people have felt this process when they suddenly become intolerant to foods they’ve always eaten like dairy, eggs and even beef.
On top of that, the immune system can miss some foreign invaders or get overrun if your gut is too leaky. This puts the burden on the liver and detoxification system. Remember, the transportation system behind the gut wall is a direct transport right to the liver. And if you start slamming the liver with a bunch of toxins it’s going to start causing issues in the detoxification system.
While this is going on, your body begins to try to turn off the inflammation using hormones and other means. It also has to rush a bunch of nutrients in to help with detoxification and cell repair. This can create nutrient deficiencies over time which will only worsen the health of the body.
As you can see, leaky gut syndrome is a serious digestive tract problem that can burden the immune system, hormone system and detoxification system. The longer and more intense the leaky gut syndrome, the higher your risk of developing chronic disease.
How to Know If You Have a Leaky Gut
The research is becoming clear that if you have a chronic disease, you have an increased likelihood of leaky gut. But that doesn’t mean everyone has it, or that even everyone with a chronic disease has it.
So, you are left with a couple of next steps.
Step 1) Get tested
The first step would be to work with your Doctor to order a leaky gut test. The oldest leaky gut test available is called the “Lactulose-Mannitol test”. As with all medical testing, nothing is perfect and neither is this test. Which is why there is a newer test on the market from Cyrex Labs called “Array #2.” This test might offer better sensitivity and account for better individual difference in the absorption of food. But again, it’s very new to the market, so it doesn’t have the research studies and years of experience behind it that we wish it did.
Step 2) Take This 3-Min Leaky Gut Risk Assessment
Over the years, it’s been a challenge for many people to find a skilled practitioner willing to explore leaky gut and order the right tests. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to know if you have this sneaky problem, and no way of knowing. With that in mind, we spent the last 8 months working with a research team to put together a “Leaky Gut Assessment” that will help you get a better idea if you have leaky gut. It’s free and it’s based on the 10 most common leaky gut risk factors indicating your gut could be damaged.
Leaky gut is known as ‘The Disease Your Doctor Can’t Diagnose,’ for a reason.
It’s a dangerous and hidden cause of chronic illness that can show up as fatigue, anxiety, depression, digestive symptoms, weight problems, and other serious conditions…
What’s tricky about it is HOW it shows up. Everyone is different. One person can have inflammation in the gut leading to depression and anxiety. Another person will have severe acne.
What’s even worse is that 30% of people with leaky gut don’t even experience digestive problems.
The science and testing has progressed to the point where we’ve proved what Hippocrates said 2500 years ago… gut health is needed for every single part of your body to work properly. Just by reading this article you now have a better understanding of leaky gut than most modern medicine doctors… but don’t stop there.
I’m on a mission to change chronic diseases in the world… and your gut health is important to me.
Take the leaky gut assessment to find out whether or not you have any of the top 10 risk factors (and find out what to do about it).
– Steve Wright
Could Leaky Gut Be the Reason Your Health Is Suffering?Take this 3-minute free quiz - quickly learn if you might have leaky gut syndrome and get an expert interview on your #1 health complaint.
Research Resources Used For This Article:
- Dr. Allison Siebecker – Solving Leaky Gut – Leaky Gut Master Class Interview