If you recall, your digestive system runs through your body. In essence, the food you have digested and the waste material that has been eliminated has occurred outside your body.
Your ability to get the nutrition contained within the food you consume into the cells of your body is of utmost importance. At a cellular level proper nutrition will allow your body the opportunity to take advantage of its innate ability to heal and create and maintain optimal health and function.
Without proper nutrition the cells of tissue, glands, organs and systems cannot function correctly. This will manifest as health concerns, complaints and if ignored long enough as a state of dis-ease. It is not a matter of if, but when and how.
To allow optimal health the body has to get the nutrients through the lining of your digestive system into general circulation. This process is called absorption.
Proper absorption requires a healthy functioning mucosal barrier You can think of this barrier as a second skin. Your mucosal barrier is designed to allow “good stuff” through and keep the “bad stuff” out. It runs the length of your digestive system from mouth to anus.
While your mucosal barrier does not take up a large volume of space, it does have a rather large surface area. It is much more than merely a tube running through you. The surface area of the small intestine is roughly 250 square meters – roughly the size of a tennis court.
How is this possible? Your mucosal barrier is not a smooth tube, it has folds. On the folds are Villi or projections of tissue. These projections are covered my microvilli. Under high magnification at a cellular level they appear brush-like. There is a huge amount of surface area within a rather small amount of space.
Due to the stressors (environmental, chemical, nutritional, physical, mental/emotional and spiritual) of living in a modern society, it is very common to have some degree of mucosal dysfunction.
Clinically this dysfunction is described as increased mucosal permeability or in layman’s terms “leaky gut.” In other words, the structural integrity of the barrier is compromised and the “bad stuff” is able to migrate through and cause problems and the “good stuff” is less able to be utilized for health building.
Under healthy conditions, food stuff namely fatty acids from fat, amino acids from protein, sugars (ending in -ose) from carbs, vitamins, minerals and other phyto-nutrients are able to move through or more precisely between the cells of the mucosa and enter the blood vessels of the hepatic portal system to pass through the liver and into general circulation.
Problems arise when gaps form between the microvilli (the “Tight Junctions” loosen up) allowing undigested or partially digested food stuff, toxins, pollutants and pathogens to pass through entering general circulation and creating a pro-inflammatory state often invoking an immune response.
Not only do the Tight Junctions loosen, but the villi can shorten and atrophy which greatly decreasing surface area and the ability to absorb nutrients.
In simple terms, your digestive tract, like your skin is the first line of defense to the outside world. Anything that compromises the function of the digestive tract will lead to a state of malnourishment and compromise the immune system. The result is a decrease in health over time. The question is not if, but when and how will this dysfunction manifest.
Symptoms of Increased Mucosal Permeability (aka. Leaky Gut Syndrome)
- Abdominal pains, spasms
- Anal/Rectal itching & irritation
- Muscle Cramps
- Muscle & fascia pain
- Hair loss
- Poor exercise tolerance
- Mood swings
- Increased / decreased appetite
- Poor memory
- Recurrent infections (bladder, vaginal, respiratory)
- Brittle nails
- Skin rashes
Conditions Associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Aggressive Aging
- Celiac disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Multiple chemical sensitivities
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases
What will alter the health and function of my mucosal barrier?
The structure and function of the gut suffers from irritation and inflammation.
The most common sources of irritation and inflammation include:
- Prescription and OTC drugs (especially antibiotics)
- Exposure to toxins, environmental pollutants and heavy metals
- Infections / infestations from pathogens (parasites, bacteria, viruses) and yeasts
- Mental / Emotional stress
- Poor dietary quality and choices
- Not eating right for your Metabolic Type®
- Food sensitivities
- Birth Control Pills
- Chronic stress in all forms and from all sources
Mentioned above is infections / infestations of nasty pathogens such as bacteria and parasites. These have an interesting impact on the mucosal barrier. As mentioned in part two, you have a symbiotic relationship with pathogens. Roughly 85% of the gut flora are healthy and 15% are unhealthy or bad.
When the mucosa and immune system are healthy, a balance is maintained. Any imbalance in flora (for whatever reason) will allow the bad bugs to literally begin terra-forming the mucosal environment making it more conducive for the procreation of more bad bugs. As the environment changes, the healthy bugs have difficulty keeping their populations up.
Keep in mind that if you have become home to a nasty pathogen, the fact that they have taken up residence means that your gut is already compromised. HCL in the stomach should be able sterilize any food consumed. A healthy gut and strong immune system should be able deal with all but the most nasty of bugs.
So What Can I Do? If you are showing signs and symptoms of increased mucosal permeability or have been diagnosed with conditions associated with increased permeability it would be best to confirm that this state exists within you. The objective is not to reduce the symptom(s) but to correct the underlying imbalance / dysfunction which is causing the symptom(s) to manifest.
From a functional perspective there are many lab tests available. I personally have access to BioHealth Labs and they offer a simple to perform saliva Mucosal Barrier Function test (BH304). If the 304 comes back and shows that mucosal function is compromised then you have to track down the sources of irritation and inflammation.
BioHealth also offers a pathogen screening stool test (BH401H) which is very effective at discovering bugs and a particularly harmful one H. pylori that will greatly damage stomach function.
Oxford Clinical Labs has the MRT (Mediator Release Test) which looks for food sensitivities through immune system responses. It will be very difficult, almost impossible to heal your gut if you are consuming on a daily basis food that is initiating an inflammatory immune response.
Trace Elements Inc. offers the HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Test) to look at your body’s effectiveness to mobilize and detoxify (remove) heavy metals. Heavy metal buildup in the body will not only harm the gut but also the liver (which will alter digestion and the cycle continues). Heavy metals are also associated with many mental health concerns. Supporting and assisting the detoxification pathways is required if you plan to heal the gut.
Closing Thoughts: Your digestive system is an incredibly complicated system. What was presented in this three-part series is merely a broad overview of function. There is so much more depth when you look at how the different systems in the body work together and overlap.
What you should keep in mind is that Nutrition drives body function from a cellular level. Malnutrition of any cells in any tissue, gland or organ will alter system function and in turn the health of the host.
Don’t get caught up treating the symptoms. Consider the symptom as a teacher, a teacher trying to bring your attention to a problem that exists and help you resolve it. The problem is a lifestyle that is out of balance. Ignoring the teacher or reducing the teacher with Herbal remedies, OTC or Prescription drugs will only allow the body to continue down the path of un-health. The teacher will be back and may even wear a mask of a different symptom entirely.
The question is, “When will you listen and how will you respond?” The foundational principles presented in my DRESS for Health Success® Program are just that, foundational. A poor or inappropriate diet, poor rest / sleep habits, too much or too little exercise and unmanaged stress will prevent healing and make matters worse.
Functional lab work will focus in on the underlying root causes. Knowing specifically what is taking place internally can allow you to focus specifically on the underlying dysfunction and support, assist and stimulate body so that your body can heal itself.
Your body wants to be healthy. It does not want to be in pain, inflamed, irritated and uncomfortable. Your body can and will heal itself if you give it what it requires. What it requires is entirely unique to you.
If you are ready to investigate what is hindering your progress and preventing optimal health, contact me for a free consultation. Your health is within your reach…
Change Your Lifestyle to Change Your Health!