LEAKY GUT. JUST IMAGINE A CASTLE.
Written by , May 26, 2020
I bet when you think about getting healthier, your gut membrane is not what you think of first (or at all, right?).
All disease begins in the gut
Hippocrates (born around the year 460 BC) was a Greek philosopher often referred to as the “Father of Medicine”. He made this remarkable statement: All disease begins in the gut.
Now we are discovering just how right he was.
The small intestine
Dr. Alessio Fasano is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is known worldwide as a pioneering researcher in the fields of celiac disease and intestinal permeability.
I had the privilege of interviewing Fasano in 2016 for my website Hypothyroid Mom. I not only audiotaped the interview but also had it professionally transcribed to ensure that I didn’t miss a single word. He is author of the book Gluten Freedom.
That interview is permanently etched in my mind and greatly informs how I interpret client laboratory data for markers of gut permeability in my health coaching practice.
The small intestine is the longest part of the gastrointestinal tract running on average about 20 to 25 feet long in an adult. It is a long and winding tube connected to the stomach on one end and the large intestine on the other.
Dr. Fasano described it this way, “It is a long tube that’s covered by single layer cells from top to bottom and you can conceptualize this single layer of cells as a sort of a wall. Like the Great Wall of China, if you wish, that divided the extended wall, the one that’s outside us to our internal body so that noxious and potentially harmful substances will not gain easy access.”
The walls of the small intestine play the critical job of gatekeeper like the gates of a medieval castle that keep enemies out and allow friends in. They keep unwanted “bad” stuff (like foreign microorganisms, toxins and large undigested particles of inflammatory foods) from entering inside the body while allowing the “good” stuff (like nutrients from the food we eat) to absorb in.
The intestinal wall is a single layer of tightly packed epithelial cells and is known by varying terms including the gut mucosal barrier. In a healthy gut, there are tight junctions between the epithelial cells and those tight spaces keep large unwanted particles from passing through the gut lining into the body. When those tight junctions loosen and become “leaky”, the larger spaces allow the movement of those foreign particles into the body where they shouldn’t be. Once they cross the intestinal wall, blood and lymphatic vessels are right nearby and these pathogens can now hitch a ride around the body.
Those tight junctions are pretty darn important – when they are leaky, we get sick.
Leaky Gut & Chronic Diseases
With a leaky gut, the gates of the castle get stuck wide open and the enemies are free to flow into the city whenever they want.
According to Fasano, “These enemies will instigate the immune cells. These soldiers will fight the enemies. And when you fight, there is always collateral damage, and the collateral damage is called inflammation. Now if this fight is confined to the intestine, then the inflammation occurs in the gut and you develop conditions with inflammation of the intestine like inflammatory bowel disease and so forth. Sometimes, and for reasons that we don’t know, the soldiers won’t engage in this battle. They eventually are programmed to leave the battlefield and go somewhere else. Some of the soldiers may go to the thyroid and you develop thyroid disease. Some go to the pancreas, you develop diabetes. Others, the joints and you have rheumatoid arthritis, etc.”
One day my body suddenly broke from hypothyroidism. I clawed my way back to health by devouring the scientific literature. You see, I was once the team leader of an Ivy League professor’s research team with no clue then that those skills would one day save my life and that my site Hypothyroid Mom would spread across the internet like lightening. And then came the day to share all my other precious health nuggets and Yes! Healthier was born.