your gut is like a donutPart 1 of 3: Leaky Gut and the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract

Leaky Gut Syndrome. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of it, but you probably don’t know exactly what it is. After all, despite increasing popularity, it is not recognized by most conventional physicians. Is Leaky Gut a real thing? If so, what does it do? What can you do about it?

Leaky Gut, also known as Intestinal Permeability or Leaky Bowel Disease, is a condition in which the gut barrier is broken down, allowing substances that are normally kept out of the body, by the gut barrier, to enter. When these foreign substances enter the body, they can trigger autoimmune responses, leading to a number of signs and symptoms such as bloating, cramps, fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and a number of dangerous autoimmune disorders.

Leaky Gut is especially dangerous because it affects the GI tract, one of the gateways to the inside of the body. In the first of this 3-part series, we will set the stage for Leaky Gut by introducing three key concepts about the GI tract.

1) The GI tract is outside of the body

Hang on a second! You’re probably thinking that your GI tract is very clearly inside of your body. Hear me out on this one. The GI tract is the pathway that food takes from the mouth through the esophagus and into the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and eventually out through the rectum. This pathway is technically outside of the body in the same way that the hole in the middle of a donut is not actually part of the donut. Food passes through the GI tract, but it does not technically enter the body until it is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream and surrounding tissues. So why is this important? Well, it’s important because…

2) The passage of food through your GI tract is a potential threat to your health

Over your lifetime, you will ingest approximately 60 tons of food that will ultimately pass through your GI tract. There is no doubt that food is extremely important for your wellbeing. It provides vital nutrients that are essential for a healthy life. Unfortunately, not all food is good for your body. Digesting food in today’s industrialized world of “Franken-Foods” (food products that are highly refined, pre-packaged, high calorie, low nutrient, and laden with chemicals) breaks down the protective barrier in your intestines and exposes your body to harmful undigested proteins and microbes such as viruses, bacteria, molds and fungus. Additionally, exposure to toxic chemicals can wreak havoc in your gut and even your entire body.

The simple fact that food remains outside the body while passing through the GI tract allows the body to carefully regulate what goes into your body to an extent, regardless of what kind of junk you may be eating. Franken-Foods are bad for you, but your body does a good job of keeping most of the bad stuff from getting into the blood stream as long as the gut barrier remains intact. All of that goes out the window when Leaky Gut comes into play, but we’ll talk about that more in a bit.

3) Approximately 60-70% of the body’s immune system surrounds the GI Tract

The human body is estimated to have approximately 100 trillion cells. However, there are roughly ten times as many microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, molds, fungi, viruses) in the intestines alone. This means that there are ten times more microorganism in your gut than you have cells in your entire body! Many of these are helpful organisms that have a symbiotic relationship with you and your body. Naturally occurring probiotic bacteria are one such example. They inhabit your gut and provide a great number of benefits.

Unfortunately, not all of these substances are helpful. When the gut barrier is healthy, these substances, known as antigens, have very limited access to the body. Antigens are any substances that are foreign in the body and do not support health. These include viruses, bacteria, fungi, intact food proteins, and chemical toxins. Antigens are able to enter the bloodstream in one of two ways: through the skin, or through the mucus membranes (the gut barrier falls under this category) that cover the lining of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. Remember the donut analogy? Yeah, that applies here too. The skin and the mucus membranes are barriers outside of the body that prevent antigens from getting in. Since nearly 70% of the immune system is located around the gut, the gut barrier is hugely important to overall health.

So clearly, the GI tract and gut barrier are important, but what does all this have to do with Leaky Gut? Read part 2 to find out!


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