Leaky Gut and Brain Function: Fact or Fiction?
The term “leaky gut”, also known as increased “intestinal permeability” is a term that we have been hearing more and more lately. Intestinal permeability occurs when the gut allows undigested or unprocessed food particles and molecules to cross the gut barrier.
The gut barrier is the lining that separates the inside of the gut from the outside, which includes your circulatory system and your immune system. That barrier is a just a cell thick. You can just imagine how fragile it is and how important it is to keep it healthy. When undigested food particles cross the barrier, they are identified by the immune system as invaders and they trigger an immune reaction, which causes inflammation.
Inflammation of the GI tract places stress on the gut microbiome through the release of cytokines and neurotransmitters leading to inflammatory symptoms throughout the body such as digestive issues, joint pain, fatigue and congestion. Elevated levels of cytokines and inflammatory molecules also increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and can lead to effects on brain function, such as anxiety, depression and memory loss.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mood disorders in the US, affecting up to 30% of the population. According to the CDC, 9% of the US population meets the criteria for depression and almost 30% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have either anxiety or depression.
For a long time, many conventional medical doctors dismissed intestinal permeability as something that was not scientifically based or relevant. However, recently, an increased number of research studies have looked at intestinal permeability and its link to mood disorders and related conditions. There is now scientific evidence linking mood disorders like anxiety and depression to the gut microbiome and intestinal health.
Approximately 70-80% of our immune system is in the gut and it is no coincidence that the food that we eat affects our immune response. When a baby is born, the first inoculation of good bacteria occurs when passing through the birth canal. The second exposure occurs when a baby is breastfed. As that baby grows and becomes an adult, many factors will affect his or her microbiome in a positive way, such as exposure to the outdoors, good bacteria, adequate sleep, stress management and a diet that includes whole foods, prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible forms of fiber found in some foods that feed the probiotics, which are the good bacteria in your gut.
Factors that affect the gut microbiome in a negative way include viruses and bacteria, antibiotics, toxin exposure, heavy metals, lack of sleep and stress. Our gut microbiome is constantly changing and evolving, depending on our “terrain” or environment. It is up to us to alter the terrain to benefit our bodies and its effects on gene expression and chronic disease. This is very important when it comes to genetic or epigenetic predisposition. If a person has a genetic predisposition to a disease. Inflammation and leaky gut may also contribute to that disease manifesting itself at some point in their life.
Any food can trigger a cascade of inflammatory reactions in a person. Stress on the body, either physical or psychological, can also increase the likelihood of a food affecting the immune system by decreasing parasympathetic response and proper production of digestive enzymes. A dysfunction in gastric enzyme production affects digestion and processing of food and can lead to leaky gut, which can contribute to anxiety and depression.
At NaturoMedica, our goal is to treat the whole person. I work with your physician by helping you identify the foods that are affecting your wellbeing and help you choose the foods to establish a healthy microbiome. I use different tools to look at your gut “terrain” by helping get to the root of the issue when it comes to your nutrition and lifestyle. Whether it’s weight loss, inflammation, food sensitivities, eczema, autoimmune conditions or mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression, I can teach you how to address your food intake to help heal your gut and your health condition.
My approach is to take your physician’s recommendation and help you implement lifestyles changes and create an ideal diet that will reduce inflammation, help you achieve an ideal weight and get you back to your best health.
Recommendations that Influence Leaky Gut and Mood Disorders include:
- Nutrition: An anti-inflammatory diet that includes whole foods with grass-fed meats, organic pastured poultry, wild caught fish and organic fruits, vegetables and nuts, including healthy fats
- Meditation/Relaxation Techniques to quiet the Mind: A planned time for mindfulness every day stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to help support digestion and the GI tract
- Sleep: At least 8 hours of sleep per night to balance the immune system and regulate sleep cycles is recommended
- Exercise: A program of at least 30 minutes per day of movement will help balance stress hormones and calm the nervous system, detoxifying the body through sweat production and building muscle to help balance blood sugars and insulin production
- Supplements to support your needs according to your condition: Your NaturoMedica physician will guide you through this regimen that might include probiotics, digestive enzymes, intestinal repair formulas or other supplements
If you are experiencing mood disorders or any digestive issues that are affecting your life, schedule an appointment with us, so we can help you with a natural approach to help you achieve optimal health.