I have written several articles about our bodies being hotels for bacteria, and when the bacteria levels are balanced and the microorganisms are happy, we are healthy. These bacteria make up so much of our immune system, its hard for me to fathom why we haven’t placed more focus on their role in studying disease. It’s gaining traction, and therefore most people have heard the buzz phrase “leaky gut” thrown around somewhere. In this article, we are going to discuss what it actually is, and how it has to do with autoimmunity.
Let’s start with the basics. From your mouth to your anus, you have one long tube with stops along the way. The mucosal barrier that keeps food in the tube, and not in your tissue, it technically ON THE OUTSIDE! I know it sounds crazy, but that tube running down the middle of your body is an exterior surface. It’s comprised of a single layer of cells; that’s it! Pretty amazing if you think about how food goes in one and end and comes out the other. After food goes in your mouth, it has stops along the way and one of them is in the small intestines. The small intestines is where most of your nutrients are absorbed into the body. The way nutrients get into the body through the section of tubing we call the small intestine is by specific breakdown that occurs via acid, enzymes, bile salts, and bacteria. Proteins are broken down into their lego parts, amino acids. Fats are broken down into fatty acids, and carbs are broken down into simple sugars. Once food is broken down into its simplest form, it’s ready for transport into the body.
In order to get into the body, digested nutrients have to cross that single layer of cells called enterocytes. On the other side of the wall lives blood vessels, lymph vessels, and immune cells of the gut. The amino acids, simple sugars, minerals, and water soluble vitamins (like B vitamins) are transported via blood and the fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins (like A, D, E, and K) are transported through the lymph. A leaky gut occurs when there is damage to that single layer of cells and things that shouldn’t be able to cross over, do. This damage can occur by sections of cells themselves being damaged, or the bonds between them being broken. When this happens, now we have things like pathogens, incompletely digested proteins, bacteria, and toxic substances entering the territory where immune cells live. The immune cells immediately recognize them as foreign and plan an attack. However, if any of them get through that line of defense, now we have them floating in the bloodstream. The body frantically tries to clean it all up, and this produces a fairly global inflammatory state.
I think it’s worth mentioning that those undigested proteins stimulate a part of the immune system that produce IgE antibodies. Food allergies that cause difficulty breathing, swelling, ER visits…those are due to this IgE response. This is a TRUE allergy. However, when antibodies such as IgGs are produced, this is what we call a food sensitivity. The reason we call it a sensitivity is because the immune response produces symptoms of allergies for example, fatigue, mucus drainage, inflamed sinuses, and possibly even things like eczema. This is what doctors are testing for when they do a blood panel for food allergies! If you have ever had a food allergy/sensitivity test and it came back with a list of crazy amounts of foods like chicken, spinach, strawberries, etc., you are most likely NOT allergic to those foods. This is nothing more than a IgG production because food proteins got into spaces they don’t belong. Once you heal the gut and keep those foods from crossing the gut lining, your body will QUIT producing antibodies against them. I see this all the time when I work with food allergies. You can absolutely resume eating most of those foods without issue as long as appropriate care has taken place. I got off track….back to the antibodies. Of those antibodies being produced, some can be autoantibodies. When cytokines (chemical messengers) are released, it stimulates both the innate and the adaptive immune system. This pokes the bear of the adaptive immune system that can result in an autoimmune disease. If you remember from the previous article, this is where amino acid sequencing can get confused for our own tissues.
I hope I didn’t lose anyone with crazy words, but I think this connection between how the food we eat gets to places it shouldn’t, and the immune response that results is an important one to know!! Why? Because autoimmune diseases live in about 50 million DIAGNOSED people and cancer is only 12 million. Heck, heart disease is 25 million! Needless to say, this costs our country more than just $100 billion dollars in direct care costs, it is costing us our quality of life! Anytime I have a patient that is able to go about their day without worrying about the symptoms of an autoimmune disease, I do a happy dance. It gives them their life back! This is priceless. In the upcoming articles, I will talk about which foods can create the perfect storm, and other lifestyle factors that damage that single layer of cells that keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. These are things you CAN CONTROL! I’m getting pumped up…can you tell…welcome to what it feels like to be in the audience when I give a talk. I just can’t help myself….