These bacteria help the body digest food, support absorption, produce vitamins like B and K, fight infection from other microorganism, and maintain the health of our mucosa lining by creating short chain fatty acids. Any imbalance of this complex intestinal microbiome, both qualitative and quantitative, can lead to intestinal permeability and microbial maladaptation in the gut, called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis and increased permeability can be caused by our own diet, delayed digestion or constipation, the ingestion of antibiotics from food or drugs, exposures to toxins and molds, too much alcohol, and use of non-steroidal anit-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Even psychological and physical stresses can disrupt your gut.
There are many problems that can arise as a result of microbiota imbalances, such as nutrient deficiencies, immune system issues or eventually autoimmunity, food sensitivities, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, rashes, hives, fatigue, skin fungus, joint pain, acid reflux, thyroid issues, gallbladder issues, and ulcers.
Both intestinal permeability and microbial imbalances have been associated with serious digestive disorders. This includes a nasty bug called Clostridium difficile (C. diff), diverticulitis, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO/SBBO), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as diverticulitis, Crohn’s, and ulcerative or microscopic colitis.
When you have an overgrowth of bad bugs, yeast, or parasites, this can negatively affect your intestinal mucus layer, allowing bacteria or foreign molecules through the gut lining and able to infiltrate the sterile area. That’s why its called leaky gut. Inflammation can get ramped up as a result. Sometimes biofilms form and these inhibit the bodies ability to easily repair the problems.
What we want to do in these cases is return our microbial colonies back to a state of symbiosis, or harmony. You also want to break down any biofilms and mend the damage caused to the intestinal barrier. We do this to enhance and support our bodies natural healing capacity for a healthy and balanced digestive system.
Sometimes we can simply reinforce the good bugs in order to get rid of the bad ones. Clinical grade probiotics may be enough. At other times we will want to be more aggressive and directly attack the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, yeast, fungus, and parasites. Then we may need prescription anti-biotics or anti-fungals. There are also studies showing some natural herbal extracts to be effective – such as berberine, allicin, and oregano.
The first step, though, is always a review and overhaul of your diet, removing starchy foods and sugars. Fasting, or an elimination diet, can help kick this off. High histamine producing foods and preservatives are also a big no no, along with foods that are typically pro-inflammatory or irritating. This includes dairy and grains. There is no single diet, supplement, or method that I’ve found, but these are the generalities.
Attending to your gut membrane during this time is critical. L-glutamine and N-acetyl-D-glucosamine are both shown to provide healing benefits. Slippery elm, aloe vera, and marshmallow also help soothe the cells lining the intestinal walls. Come on by if you want to learn more about leaky gut.
Scott Porter is a Functional Medicine Pharmacist at Sandpoint Super Drug. He is a member of the Sandpoint Wellness Council.
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