It All Begins In The Gut

All Disease Begins In The Gut

-Hippocrates

We have all heard the expression ” Go with your gut”. Or ” I have a gut feeling about… ” Well, indeed it turns out our gut knows quite a bit. In fact our gut is comprised of a very elaborate network of nerves  called the enteric nervous system. Later I will discuss the vital connection and pathway that exists between the gut and brain. We often do not think about our gut or digestive system until we have a problem – such as constipation, acid reflux, stomach discomfort, etc. Modern integrative  medicine is finally catching up with what Hippocrates discovered 2000 years ago – that an unhealthy gut is a precursor to a broad range of diseases that includes neuro-degenerative disease, obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and potentially cancer.

The gut is comprised of over 100 trillion microorganisms – in fact, 10 times more bacteria than all of the cells found in the entire human body. That is quite an astonishing fact! What is even more amazing is how this gut flora or microbiome impacts our health and immune system. This microbiome helps with gastrointestinal function, regulates metabolism, protects us from infection and makes up about 75% of our immune system. An imbalance gut flora is directly responsible for diseases such as depression, autoimmune disease, autism, IBS, leaky gut syndrome and type 1 diabetes. So what are some of the factors that lead to an unhealthful gut environment:

NSAIDs

Antibiotics  ( very destructive to gut flora)

Chronic and untreated stress

Intake of refined sugars, carbohydrates, GMO’s and processed foods

Dietary toxins ( wheat )

Sedentary lifestyle

Poor sleep

 

Antibiotics which are over prescribed are especially harmful to gut bacteria. Prolonged use of them can render the gut flora permanently altered. It is widely suggested that a ample dosage of  healthful probiotics be used after antibiotic use in order to restore proper balance and diversity.

One of the most important functions of the gut is to create a barrier to prevent foreign and toxic substances from entering the body. When the intestinal barrier weakens and becomes permeable ( ” leaky gut syndrome”), large proteins can escape and enter the bloodstream. These proteins which should not exist outside the gut, forces the body to  create an immune response to destroy them. Research indicates that this process of destruction plays a major role in the development of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and Hashimoto’s. In addition to environmental and genetic  factors, leaky gut or loss of “intestinal barrier function” may be a strong precondition to developing autoimmune disease. The breach of the intestinal barrier by food toxin like gluten and chemicals like BPA or arsenic causes an immune response that also affects other organs and tissue ( pancreas, kidneys, liver and brain)

Leaky gut can show up many different ways, not just as gut symptoms. It can manifest as brain fog, heart failure, autoimmune conditions affecting the thyroid  (Hashimoto’s), joints ( rheumatoid arthritis), skin problems ( eczema or psoriasis), asthma, allergies, depression and much more.

A protein called zonulin which increases intestinal permeability has been linked to leaky gut. Interestingly, gluten containing grains like wheat contain a protein called gliaden, which has been proven to increase zonulin production.  The same things that destroy gut flora can lead to leaky gut – medications ( antacids, NSAIDs, antibiotics, etc), poor diet, infections, stress, neurological conditions ( stroke, traumatic brain injury, neurodegenarative disease).

Bottom Line: If you have leaky gut you probably have compromised gut flora and vice versa. When the gut flora and gut barrier are impaired you will have inflammation! The systemic inflammatory response then triggers an autoimmune condition. Leaky gut and bad gut flora doesn’t always manifest itself in digestive problems and thus it can often be overlooked.

Restoring and Maintaining a Healthy Gut:

– Remove all food toxins

– Eat fermented foods ( kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, etc)

– Get plenty of fermentable fibers ( sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc)

– Take high quality probiotic

– Get tested for and treat any intestinal pathogens ( parasites)

– Manage your stress levels ( practice meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, etc)

– Get restorative sleep

– Exercise regularly

The Gut-Brain Connection:

In fact a very powerful interrelated and bi-directional axis exists between the gut and the brain. New research indicates that this gut-brain axis might be the clue to understanding and combating many auto-immune and neuro-degenerative diseases. Gut health, more specifically, gut biome may play a key to the onset and proliferation of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Recent studies have indicated that Parkinson’s patients displayed symptoms of leaky gut syndrome  ( permeability of the intestines) and SIBO ( small intestine bacterial overgrowth) and manifested weak motor function. When SIBO improved the motor function improved.  This is a breakthrough finding  verifying the gut – brain connection. In fact they both contribute to each other via a bi-directional pathway.

It is believed that many degnerative and auto-immune diseases – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome to name a few, are linked to gut health and intestinal permeability (SIBO) by impacting inflammation, oxygen delivery and blood sugar regulation. Another factor that  may create potential problems is gluten intolerance or sensitivity, by attacking transglutaminase 6 enzymes in the brain. Research shows that patients with neuro-degenerative disease test positive for gluten antibodies, specifically transglutaminase 6 (tTG6). The  best test currently available is Cyrex Array 3- which tests reactions against full wheat proteome, not just gluten, but other proteins in wheat.

Low-dose naltrexone (LDN) shows promise as a potential therapy for patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS. LDN helps increase intestinal motility and promotes T regulatory cell function which helps to regulate immune function.

Curcumin, found in tumeric seems to provide neuro protection for the brain. It passes through the blood-brain barrier and appears to reduce inflammation. The best source is liposomal curcumin (  available from Seeking Health).

Iron overload or elevated iron levels could be a potential risk factor for neuro-degenerative disease.  Too much iron can act as a catalyst for oxidative damage. So it is important to check your iron levels, specifically, serum iron and ferratin levels. Men are more at risk and to a lesser amount  pre-menopausal woman. Post-menopausal women do need to monitor their iron levels. If your levels are too high the best way to lower your levels is to give blood or reduce your consumption of organ meat, shellfish, avoid high doses of vitamin C, HCL and reduce alcohol intake.

Glutathione is a powerful anti-oxidant  that serves as a anti-inflammatory for the gut and brain. It is found in the body but gets depleted with high levels of stress, poor sleep, inadequate exercise and onset of  auto-immune disease. Best source is liposomal glutathione or alpha-lipoic acid.