Can Leaky Gut Cause Autoimmune Issues?
Autoimmune diseases are notoriously difficult to relieve. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly why the body is attacking itself, and this is why most treatment plans focus on symptom management instead of dealing with the root cause. Lower inflammation. Take pain relievers. Get rest.
If you’ve decided to look into potential solutions to autoimmune diseases for yourself, you might have come across the concept of leaky gut. Could a leaky gut be causing your autoimmune woes?
As functional medicine practitioners, the team at SHE is committed to bringing you natural, holistic solutions to complex health problems. In fact, we’re all about gut health and have seen how a restored gut can completely transform people’s lives.
This article will give you a basic overview of leaky gut and autoimmune issues. If you’d like to learn more, consider scheduling a free discovery call with the team. See how we can help you navigate difficult health conditions.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is a condition where your intestinal barrier is compromised. This protective barrier stands between the gut and the bloodstream while allowing certain nutrients and proteins to pass in between. Ideally, the intestinal barrier selectively allows the absorption of nutrients while preventing the entry of harmful substances, such as toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria, into the bloodstream.
In a healthy state, the cells that make up the intestinal lining are tightly packed together, forming a barrier that controls the passage of substances. However, in cases of leaky gut, the tight junctions between these cells become damaged or loosened, leading to increased permeability. This allows larger molecules and pathogens to pass through the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream.
When the intestinal barrier is compromised, it can have several implications for overall health:
- Systemic Inflammation: The leakage of harmful substances triggers an immune response in the body, leading to chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation can potentially contribute to various health conditions.
- Autoimmune Reactions: With leaky gut, the entry of undigested food particles and toxins into the bloodstream may trigger an immune response that can result in autoimmune reactions. In individuals with a genetic predisposition, this can potentially contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.
- Nutrient Absorption Issues: The compromised intestinal barrier may hinder the proper absorption of nutrients, leading to nutrient deficiencies and related health problems. If the immune system isn’t able to get the fuel and vitamins it needs, it could develop chronic issues.
- Digestive Symptoms: Leaky gut is associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
As you can see, many of these negative side effects are directly related to autoimmune issues. We should also note that more and more research is showing that autoimmune disease is linked to environmental and lifestyle factors instead of solely genetic factors. The medical community is learning more and more about leaky gut every day, but we’re finding more and more links between leaky gut and autoimmune diseases.
What Leads to Leaky Gut?
Several factors can contribute to the development of leaky gut, including the following:
- Poor diet: Diets high in processed foods, added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and inflammatory fats can contribute to gut inflammation and damage the intestinal barrier.
- Chronic stress: Prolonged stress can disrupt the gut-brain axis and affect gut health, potentially contributing to leaky gut.
- Medications: Certain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can negatively impact the gut microbiome and intestinal barrier function.
- Imbalance in gut microbiota: Disruption of the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, known as dysbiosis, can contribute to leaky gut.
What About the Opposite? Can Autoimmune Issues Cause Leaky Gut?
We cannot say that there is a one-to-one cause between leaky gut and autoimmune issues. First, everyone has a different biology, which means conditions manifest differently. Second, leaky gut and autoimmune issues are correlated, and research is ongoing.
Understanding this relationship, though, autoimmune disease can potentially contribute to the development of leaky gut syndrome instead of just the other way around.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body. Chronic inflammation, a hallmark of autoimmune conditions, can disrupt the integrity of the intestinal barrier and contribute to leaky gut. Inflammation in the gut can impair the function of tight junctions, which are protein structures that hold the cells of the intestinal lining together, leading to increased permeability.
Additionally, certain autoimmune diseases have been associated with specific gastrointestinal issues that can contribute to leaky gut. One autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, celiac disease, can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine, leading to leaky gut. In addition, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, also involve chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which can disrupt the intestinal barrier function and contribute to leaky gut.
What Can You Do about Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Issues?
At SHE we follow a functional medicine approach to addressing leaky gut. This means we focus on identifying and addressing the underlying factors contributing to intestinal permeability. Here are some techniques commonly employed in functional medicine to support gut healing and reduce leaky gut.
A key aspect of functional medicine for leaky gut involves dietary changes. This typically includes eliminating or minimizing foods that can trigger inflammation or exacerbate gut dysfunction, such as processed foods, refined sugars, gluten, and dairy. Instead, the emphasis is on consuming a nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fiber. Some practitioners may recommend an elimination diet to identify specific food sensitivities that could be contributing to gut inflammation.
Various supplements may be recommended to support gut healing and reduce inflammation. These may include the following:
- Probiotics: Beneficial bacteria supplements can help restore the balance of gut microbiota, promoting a healthy gut environment. Strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are commonly used.
- Digestive Enzymes: Enzyme supplements can aid in the breakdown of food and support proper digestion, reducing the burden on the gut and potentially alleviating leaky gut symptoms.
- L-Glutamine: This amino acid is essential for intestinal cell repair and maintenance. Supplementing with L-glutamine may help strengthen the intestinal barrier.
- Zinc: Zinc is important for gut integrity and immune function. Zinc supplementation can support gut healing and immune system regulation.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These anti-inflammatory fats, commonly found in fish oil supplements, can help reduce inflammation in the gut and promote healing.
Chronic stress can contribute to gut dysfunction and inflammation. Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and regular physical activity, can help reduce stress levels and support gut health.
Functional medicine emphasizes the importance of lifestyle factors in gut healing. Getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, and engaging in regular physical activity can all support overall gut health.
Identification and Treatment of Underlying Factors
Functional medicine practitioners may conduct specialized testing to identify specific underlying factors contributing to leaky gut, such as gut dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or parasitic infections. Once identified, targeted treatments, such as antimicrobial protocols or personalized supplementation, can be implemented to address these factors.
Work With SHE to Find Relief
Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases are complex conditions. We don’t recommend trying to treat yourself using only at-home remedies and research. You should work with health practitioners who have experience helping others get to the root causes of their health issues.
And that’s what SHE is for. We help women find answers to health issues and rediscover the vitality they want out of life.
The next step is to get to know each other. On a free discovery call, you can see if functional medicine is right for you. Ask us questions (and we’ll ask you a few questions too). Afterward, we can move forward to get you plugged into our health membership program. And yes, our programs are hosted completely online. How convenient!