Gut Health 101: Part 1 – What is Leaky Gut?

Aside from epigenetics, one discovery that has completely changed the way I view my body’s healing ability is gut health. Learning how to take care of my gut transformed my mental health.

5 years ago, the term was a mystery to me. I thought probiotics were only necessary when taking an antibiotic. And it’s true – considering the fact that most of the food we eat contains antibiotics, probiotics are a necessity.

The reality is, the state of our gut bacteria determines much of our health and well-being, from our immune system to mental health to most chronic diseases plaguing people in the 21st century.

From a young age, I was on antibiotics, steroids, and various medications that disrupt gut bacteria. I suffered from intense sugar cravings and yeast infections, major signs that my gut needed balancing. The state of my gut health, those genetic predispositions I mentioned earlier, and witnessing a traumatic event at the age of 9 are what I believe led to my mental illness crisis in my teens and 20s. It’s alllll connected.

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Here’s why:

Our bodies are made up of trillions of bacterial cells, and those cells determine the way every process goes down. When bad bacteria outnumber the good, leaky gut can occur. This means that the protective lining in the intestines opens up, and all kinds of toxins can be released into the bloodstream, triggering massive loads of cellular inflammation. Some sneaky invaders called lipopolysaccharides, which are never supposed to be in the bloodstream, will then wreak havoc and cause an uptick in inflammatory cytokines.

What do inflammatory cytokines cause? They cause all manner of disruptions in the body but recent research has been linking them to mental illness, like this article from Psychology Today states so much better than I could.

Yes, depression is a physical disorder. But it isn’t a chemical imbalance like the theory (which has never been proven) led many of us to believe. It is a symptom that other processes in the body are out of balance. It may not be that there are a lack of neurotransmitters, it may be that the neurotransmitters are just not working the way they need to due to inflammation and a leaky gut that is not absorbing nutrients or communicating through the Vagus nerve effectively.

A bacterial imbalance isn’t the only thing that causes leaky gut. Turns out that gluten causes zonulin to trigger leaky gut even for people who don’t have the Celiac gene like I do (see article here). No, the gluten free craze isn’t a fad. It can be extremely beneficial to give your gut a break from gluten (and your brain may thank you). The chemical mutagenesis of wheat the last 60 years has made it more and more difficult for our modern digestive systems to respond to it as anything other than an invader.

You know what else can disrupt your gut bacteria? Chronic stress. Sounds crazy, but when your body is in an ongoing state of fight or flight, important digestive processes are halted and the bad bacteria is more likely to overtake the good. More on that here

Pesticides, sugar, overprescribed antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, the rise in c section births and decline of breastfeeding all contribute to leaky gut issues in our modern world. Our children are being diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, and mental illnesses like never before in history!

It often seems like we are fighting a losing battle. If you’ve read any of my posts before, you know that I hate rules and dieting maybe more than anyone out there. So what are we to do with all this information? How can we nourish our gut health and also adapt to our 21st century environment? Is it possible to find balance?

I offer a solution in Part 2 of my Gut Health 101 series.

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