The Role Of Leaky Gut In Autoimmune Disease
After discovering that I had autoimmune thyroid disease a number of years ago, I learned lots of things that I didn’t know before. I also put lots of pieces of information together that I did already know and managed to create a whole new understanding of how my body works.
One of the most important things I learned at that time was about the role that leaky gut plays in ALL autoimmune diseases.
What does the term ‘leaky gut’ mean?
Leaky gut is a term that is widely used (rightly or wrongly) to describe increased permeability (or intestinal hyperpermeability) in the gut lining. To make it simple – stuff gets through the gut wall (intestinal wall) that shouldn’t!
Our gut is designed to let some stuff through into our blood stream.
If your gut is functioning normally, as your food digests the nutrients etc that are supposed to pass through into our blood do so so that your cells can use them. That’s what is supposed to happen.
However when we have increased permeability in our gut lining, the gaps between the cells are bigger than they should be and allow particles of undigested food to pass through into our blood. This creates a toxic onslaught that our body then has to deal with because there’s a whole lot of stuff in our blood that’s not supposed to be there, creating chronic inflammation as well as upsetting our immune system…
The immune system will see these food particles as invaders and does its job by attacking them. The way our immune system works of course is that once it comes into contact with an ‘invader’ (in this case food) it then creates an imprint of sorts, so that it recognises the invader the next time it comes across it meaning that it can do its job more efficiently.
The reason that this then causes autoimmune disease is that some of the proteins in the foods we eat closely resemble proteins in our bodies.
In my case (for example), my immune system thought that my thyroid and the muscle tissues in my eyes were the same invading proteins that it had attacked (food particles – probably gluten and others) in the past when they had leaked through my gut wall.
Someone else who has Rheumatoid Arthritis has an immune system that has attacked and memorised proteins that closely resemble the cartilage in their joints – so it attacks those proteins causing the arthritis.
Make sense? This is a simplified explanation but I’m hoping you get the gist…
So what causes leaky gut?
There are different theories about what causes leaky gut. Some say diet – white bread, sugar, coffee, alcohol etc.
Others implicate stress, medications, chemicals in foods and water and antibiotics. I believe that all these things can play a part, but when you get right down to it, I believe that Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride is correct when she says that it is our gut flora that causes it – or to be more precise – gut flora that is out of whack.
The bad diet, medications, chemicals and stress will all play their part in creating digestive flora that is unbalanced, but the actual cause of the leaky gut is the overgrowth of certain ‘bad’ bacteria that are running amok in your belly.
There’s a lot to learn about the bacteria that live within us and the effects they have on our health – both body and mind, and you might find that you’re quite interested, as I was, to learn exactly how much they play a part in who you are and the way you think, as well as the role they play in making you do things you don’t necessarily want to do! But that’s another blog post….
Suffice it to say that the bacteria in your body are a huge part of you (90% actually – did you know that you’re only 10% human?) and they do have the power to exert some control over you!
So anyway, let’s get back on topic.
According to Dr Campbell-McBride some of these bacteria have a screw type shape and get in between the cells of our gut lining, pushing the cells apart and causing the increased permeability or leaky gut.
What I hadn’t considered until I read Dr Campbell-McBride’s book was that unless I actually heal my gut, then basically all food that I eat regularly is likely to be causing an immune response and contributing to chronic inflammation and ill health.
This was truly a revelation for me!
As I digested that information, it made the things that had been frustrating and confusing me for so long make some sense.
What I realised was that it meant that even if I avoided gluten and coffee and corn and dairy and sugar, plus all the other foods that seemed to be causing me problems, for the rest of my life, it wasn’t going to solve the problem.
My thyroid disease, my on and off digestive problems, my annoying on and off skin problems and persistent weight problem was never going to go away by avoiding those foods, eating a healthy diet and exercising.
It also meant that it didn’t matter if I was vegan, vegetarian, raw or carnivore – the problems would continue as they had throughout all my experiments with all types of diet over the years.
It made me undertand exactly why I felt so good on just juice or without food!
I remember saying for many years that if I could stop eating it would solve all my problems. Now I knew I was right. Kind of….
It also made me realise that I’d been correct in my suspicions that I wasn’t digesting food at all well and that I hadn’t been for a very long time.
I recall having food passing through me undigested for years but I hadn’t thought too much about it because for me it was ‘normal’. It seems a bit dumb now, but I just didn’t give it any thought. I knew I was eating a really healthy diet compared to most people around me. I was exercising and taking care of myself. Things should be well – shouldn’t they?
This also helped to explain why I never seemed to get the effects from supplements that other people got or that I expected. I only ever got limited results at best from supplementation because they probably weren’t being digested or used by my body!
Hallelujah! I remember thinking that it was good to finally know why. Now I just need to fix it…
How do you fix a leaky gut? Cement? Araldite? Bondcrete perhaps?….
No – none of the above thank goodness!
The answer to that question is the GAPS diet which was based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) with a few alterations and this diet was created by Dr Natasha Campbell-Mcbride.
The GAPS diet has helped many, many people around the world – adults and children alike – with all manner of health issues from Autism and Schizophrenia to Crohns and beyond.
I noticed a huge difference very quickly once I started on GAPs. I remained on it for over 2 years and between that and my eventual diagnosis and treatment (supplementation) for Pyroluria, I’m more than happy to report that my thyroid seems to no longer be an issue and my digestive system works better than it ever has before (still not quite perfect, but close!).
I would recommend that if you have any kind of mental illness, autoimmune disease, allergies, eczema or digestive problems that you try the GAPs diet! The testimonials are amazing and the difference that it’s made to the lives of many people is astounding.
Let me finish by telling you that this is not a quick fix. It’s a long term plan. As I said I stuck with the GAPS diet for over two years, and I still have broth often, avoid grains and sugars and go through stages of including gelatin daily.
I also think I’ll probably end up going back on GAPs some time in the future as I’m sure I can get more improvement and I know how much it agreed with me.
If you’d like more info on GAPS or you’d really like to understand what Leaky Gut Syndrome is and how to reverse it, I’d recommend reading Natasha’s book which goes into much more detail and can be found over at Amazon.