The gastrointestinal tract is responsible for two primary functions: absorbing nutrients and screening out toxins. If the gut is not working effectively, cell health is compromised as too few nutrients and too many toxins enter the blood and penetrate cells.
Compromised mucosal barrier function, also known as gut permeability or ‘leaky gut’ is often associated with intestinal dysbiosis and contributes to metabolic, neurological and immunological problems. Treating and correcting gut function is a primary naturopathic focus and can produce benefits throughout the body.
The digestive tract and its contents are separated from systemic circulation by a 3mm epithelial lining. This lining is responsible for the absorption and exclusion of substances within the digestive tract. When the body’s defence systems are compromised, there is absorption of normally excluded substances. Such increases in intestinal permeability are associated with many symptoms and many diseases. Researchers recognise the possibility that increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules can lead to disease processes distant from the gastrointestinal tract.
Associated symptoms include:
Abdominal pain and flatulence
Abdominal distension and bloating
Food and chemical intolerances
Diarrhoea and/or constipation
Fatigue and malaise
Poor exercise tolerance Myalgias/Arthralgias
Cognitive and memory deficits
Associated diseases include:
Inflammatory bowel disease
Irritable bowel syndrome
Hyperactivity in children
Numerous factors alter the permeability of the intestine including stress, age, medication, alcohol, food sensitivities, caffeine and intestinal dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is a state of altered gut microflora, characterised by the overgrowth of certain species and resulting in an abnormal bacterial balance. Normal gut flora includes viruses, bacteria, yeasts and unicellular parasites, however, these must be balanced in order to maintain optimal health. Probiotics are live microbial supplements which have beneficial effects in improving microbial balance.
Additional contributing factors include:
Corticosteroid and hormone therapy
Low fibre diet
Impaired gastric acid secretion
Impaired pancreatic enzyme secretion
Oral contraceptive Pill use
Clinical diagnosis involves taking a thorough case history – initial consultations are an hour long to allow for this. Other diagnostic tools which may be used in clinic include a Hemaview Blood Screening which involves taking one drop of a patient’s blood and examining it under a microscope (patients are able to view this procedure via a screen). Hypersecretory platelets are the Hemaview marker most often seen in patients with ‘leaky gut’. Poor iron absorption and other inflammatory markers may also be seen using Hemaview. In some patients, it may be necessary to do a CDSA – comprehensive digestive stool analysis – to ascertain the exact nature of the problem.
Identification and treatment of the root cause of the problem is the initial focus.
Treatment may then proceed by removing the load of the GIT by avoiding reactive foods and irritants. A gentle detoxification program may be implemented. Mucosal healing and protection, gastric acid and digestive support will be given using herbs, supplements and diet. Specific strains of beneficial probiotics will be added to reinoculate the system and any nutrient deficiencies, commonly protein and zinc will be addressed.
All patients receive an individualised treatment and management plan according to their specific case history.