Autoimmune disorders are well known for being difficult to treat and having a significant impact on wellness. One common factor in the development of autoimmune disease is gut-related dysfunction in the form of leaky gut syndrome.
Studies indicate that leaky gut syndrome is associated with a wide range of autoimmune conditions and some experts go as far to say that some degree of leaky gut is a necessary precondition of all autoimmune dysfunction. Recognizing and appreciating the important link between leaky gut and autoimmune disease may allow for greater prevention and treatment of autoimmune disorders.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The gut is arguably the most influential system in the entire body. Its impact can be seen in many areas including neurological function, digestion, immunity, and more. Unsurprisingly, intestinal malfunction such as leaky gut syndrome can have a dramatic effect on bodily function.
Leaky gut is a chronic condition of the intestine that can contribute greatly to the development of other conditions. The gut is protected by a single layer of cells maintained by proteins called tight junctions. When working as intended, tight junctions allow micronutrients to pass between the GI tract and bloodstream while keeping larger harmful substances contained within the gut to be safely expelled later. Leaky gut occurs when tight junctions break or become overly permeable allowing partially digested foods, toxins, bacteria, pathogens, and harmful particulates to pass from the gut and into the bloodstream.
What is Autoimmune Disease?
The immune system protects against harmful foreign substances such as allergens, germs, toxins, and viruses. Typically, it does a remarkable job at eliminating these threats and preventing the disease and illness associated with them. However, chronic immune malfunction can have an entirely opposite effect.
Autoimmune disease is a chronic malfunction of the body’s immune system. Typically, this involves continuous activation of the immune system. Constant immune activity leads to immune fatigue that causes the system to incorrectly target healthy cells and tissues in various systems throughout the body. The resulting damage triggers widespread inflammation that can contribute to the development of further health issues while exacerbating existing immune problems.
How Does Leaky Gut Contribute to Autoimmune Dysfunction?
Up to 80 percent of the immune system is contained within the gut. Therefore, gastrointestinal issues, such a leaky gut syndrome, can significantly disrupt immune activity resulting in chronic disease and autoimmune dysfunction.
If leaky gut is not recognized and resolved in a timely manner, it is likely that the individual will experience some degree of autoimmune dysfunction. As particulates, toxins, and pathogens continue to escape from the gut, the body’s immune system kicks into action to eliminate the foreign substances. If the immune system remains in an activated state for an extended period, it becomes fatigued thereby increasing the risk of malfunction.
Many of the foreign substances that escape the gut have a similar structure to cells in body. An overworked immune system can easily confuse healthy tissue and foreign substances, which may result in autoimmune disease. For example, gluten and dairy molecules are similar to those found in thyroid tissue. As these substances continuously escape from a leaking gut, the immune system is increasingly likely to misidentify cells in thyroid tissue as a threat. If it does, thyroid antibodies are released thereby triggering thyroid autoimmune disease in the form of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease. Other forms of autoimmune disease share a similar progression but the condition that develops is dependent on the cells and tissues targeted by the immune system.
Healing Leaky Gut to Restore Healthy Immune Function
To effectively resolve autoimmune disease, it is essential that proper immune function be restored. Because the gut plays such an essential role in immune activity, treatment of autoimmune disease should begin with optimization of gut function. This requires attending to any underlying intestinal issues such as leaky gut that contribute to continued activation of the immune system.
Most treatment protocols for leaky gut syndrome follow guidelines similar to those outlined below.
Eliminate Harmful Substances
Removing common contributors of leaky gut from your diet can relieve a great deal of stress on the GI tract and immune system. Ideally, patients eliminate inflammatory foods and allergens from their diet completely. Some of the most common candidates for removal include: alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and sugar. Avoiding potential gut stressors such as antibiotics and NSAIDs may also be beneficial.
Improving diet by incorporating more whole foods and nutrients that support digestion and absorption can significantly improve leaky gut. It may be possible to support these processes further through the use of various supplements. Taking digestive enzymes such as pepsin and pancreatin – we recommend HoltraCeuticals’ Allyzyme – and increasing intake of hydrochloric and bile acids helps alleviate toxic load in the intestine allowing for greater absorption and intestinal regeneration.
Maintaining a healthy population of bacteria in the gut is an important part of intestinal wellness and immune function. Some of the best ways of improving good bacteria levels is through the use of a probiotic. Multiple studies show that probiotics may be able to actually reverse leaky gut by improving production of tight junction proteins. When selecting a probiotic be sure to choose one that contains a high number of different live bacteria strains – we recommend HoltraCeuticals’ UltraBiotics.
Repair Intestinal Damage
Repairing damage done to the intestinal lining and tight junctions is a key component of treating leaky gut. You can support the body’s natural repair efforts by supplementing with the following substances.
- Collagen: contains various amino acids that help fill in the gaps created by substances escaping from the gut
- L-glutamine: an amino acid that supports rejuvenation of the intestinal wall and can be easily acquired in supplement form
- Marshmallow root extract and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) extract: both support mucus secretion, which may improve intestinal healing and immune action
Defeating Autoimmune Disease by Healing the Gut
Many experts believe leaky gut is a common cause of many forms of autoimmune disease. This is not surprising as it is well documented that intestinal distress can lead to significant disruption of the immune system. If you are suffering from an autoimmune disease be sure to have your doctor investigate the possibility of leaky gut or other intestinal issues. Only through effective treatment of underlying factors of autoimmune disease such as leaky gut can immune function be restored and your condition improved.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to utilize cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to uncover and address both leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease. Additionally, our Certified Health and Nutrition Coach will work with you and your HMG physician to develop a diet that addresses your unique needs. Call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you address the underlying cause of your autoimmune disease.
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4. Amy Myers, M.D. “The Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Connection.” Amy Myers, MD.