What is the “Leaky Gut”?
The leaky gut syndrome sets the stage for all of the other harm done by the “big 4” foods – gluten, dairy, soy and corn. These foods damage the intestinal villi of sensitized individuals, leading to nutrient malabsorption, tissue degradation, immune incompetence and ultimately to immune failure. The importance of our understanding the consequences of this “leaky gut” phenomenon cannot be over-stated.
What is the “Leaky Gut”?
by Dogtor J
© 2010 DogtorJ.com
The “leaky gut syndrome” is the term used for the situation that occurs when the villi of the intestinal tract have been damaged badly enough – and for a long enough time – to result in significant malnutrition, both from the lack of absorption into the bloodstream and from the leakage of substances from the blood into the bowel (e.g. serum proteins and serotonin). The principal foods that cause this intestinal damage (villous atrophy of small intestine) are what I call the “big 4” – gluten, dairy (casein), soy and corn. However, other legumes and the nightshades are also capable of compromising the bowel’s integrity.
Once this damage is severe enough, a hormone called zonulin is released by cells within the bowel wall. This, in turn, “relaxes” (opens up) the natural barriers of the gut in order to facilitate absorption of nutrients. These barriers are meant to limit the passage of items into the bloodstream to things that the body needs. However, the body will always find a way to overcome adversity and zonulin is the intestinal tract’s “plan B” for getting nutrients into the blood stream once the primary means- the intestinal villi – are compromised significantly.
Unfortunately, “plan B” often comes with a caveat and, in this case, the potentially harmful things that these barriers are attempting to keep out may have the opportunity to enter the blood. These include microorganisms, chemical compounds, and food proteins. Think of the latter as being partly undigested foods that enter the bloodstream in a way that the immune system does not recognize as being normal. This is the known mechanism behind the development of “secondary food allergies” – those to eggs, tree nuts/peanuts, shellfish, topical fruits, tomatoes, etc.- foods that are otherwise considered to be healthy for us. Some secondary food allergies do make more sense than others, such as those to shellfish, tomatoes and pork, as they present other challenges to those who consume them (e.g. microorganisms, lectins and parasites). However, if we did not have previous villous damage from the “big 4”, it is unlikely that we would ever develop allergies to these other foods.
What can be done?
How do we reverse this? Very “simply”, we must stop eating the “big 4” – gluten (wheat, barley rye), dairy, soy and corn – especially if we are found to have a sensitivity to one or more of these foods. The elimination of these damaging lectins (dietary glycoproteins) alone heals the gut in most cases. Others have to restrict all legumes, as many will cross-react with soy. Others may also need to avoid all nightshades – potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco. Thankfully, these intolerances are clinically less common but may be much more of an issue than currently believed.
That is why I am such a fan of the Sage ELISA Test. (www.foodallergytest.com). This blood test can identify many more of the culprits than most other tests because it tests against all classes of antibodies to 135 foods and chemicals. The most commonly used laboratory tests measure only the “allergy” antibody known as IgE. Sadly, many individuals do not form this antibody even though the lectins of that food may be doing immeasurable amounts of harm to their gut, neurons, liver, joints and every other tissue in their body. As an example, not all celiacs are “allergic” to wheat. This is actually bad news. One would think that an individual would form allergies to a food that is inducing brain damage, arthritis and kidney failure but this is not the case. I believe this phenomenon is an example of an “acquired immune deficiency”, set up by the malnutrition that results from the intestinal damage. But either way, we know this happening. Fortunately, the Sage Test and those like it will help identify the primary foods (the “big 4”, legumes and nightshades) that are doing the most harm as well as the secondary food allergies that occur once the damage is bad enough for zonulin to be released.
Case in point: Celiac researchers recently did a study on a group of celiacs who had all been on a gluten-free (GF) diet for over two years. In this group of nearly 2000 gluten intolerants – all of whom claimed to have reached varying degrees of recovery – the small intestinal biopsies showed normal villi in only 16.7% of them. Wow! But why?
Why do some fail to improve on the diet?
The main reasons for the villi of a celiac to not grow back properly are: 1) cheating on the diet; 2) hidden sources of gluten in the diet (which are very common, including condiments and medications); or 3) consuming a food that does the same kind of intestinal harm as gluten. I believe the third reason is as important – if not more so – than the other two. And we know what these foods are: Casein from cow’s milk, soy, and corn. Because other legumes can cause cross-reactions with soy (with gas being the warning sign), some individuals need to avoid all legumes (the bean family, primarily). But the nightshade family can also do intestinal harm, particularly when not cooked…or cooked properly (e.g. refried beans – cooking once is not enough in some cases).
Yes, cooking helps to inactivate lectins. Many members of of the nightshade family (e.g. potatoes and eggplant) are considered toxic when eaten raw. Why wouldn’t tomatoes and peppers (e.g. bell peppers) be the same? Maybe that’s why we soak pepperoncini in vinegar, which helps to clean our villi, or marinate tomatoes in olive oil, which helps to prevent the lectins from attaching to the intestinal wall. So…I am now questioning the wisdom of our eating raw tomatoes and peppers. Could that be why tomatoes are such a common allergen (other than the fact that kids put ketchup on everything)
How do we insure our recovery?
The two things that help to remove the big 4 “glue foods” from our villi and help them to heal are alcohol and vinegar. It’s great to know there is a non-alcoholic alternative for removing these alcohol-soluble glues. What do we use to get wallpaper glue residue off the wall? Vinegar and water. What is wallpaper glue frequently made from? Wheat gluten. Yes, these glues from casein, gluten, soy and corn are not water or even acid soluble. They are alcohol and alkaline soluble. That’s why they survive the digestive process of simple-stomached animals, leave that stomach, and adhere to the villi. But alcohol and vinegar will help get them off. Ruminants (animals with a forestomach, such as cattle, sheep, goats) are better equipped to handle these foods because they ferment their foods, a process that produces alcohol. But even they are not immune to the harmful effects of lectins, as illustrated by the negative effect that corn has on the fat in their muscles. We like the marbling of meat that corn-feeding produces, but this is a totally abnormal physiological event. (I explain this in the Obesity section).
How have Italians survived as celiacs?
Understanding this principle gives us tremendous insight into how Italians have survived over the years being a pasta-based culture. They drink wine with their meals and eat their oil and vinegar-soaked salad after their meals. Their appetizers (antipasto) are usually high fat meats (e.g. salami, prosciutto) and those items marinated in olive oil or vinegar. The fat and oil protects the villi from the attachment of gluten and casein in their upcoming main course while the vinegar and wine washes clean what does manage to attach. The fiber from the salad then scrubs the villi clean. It’s like soaking a paintbrush in mineral spirits then wiping it clean. How cool is that?
How common is celiac disease?
Americans, Scandinavians, British and Italians are gobbled up with celiac disease, with the official word in Italy now being that 1:55 Italians are gluten intolerant. That number was 1:100 ten years ago when the official word from the American medical profession was that “celiac disease is a rare disorder occurring in less than 1:5000 Americans”. The official number in the USA is now 1:120 but researchers believe that number is way to low, with some now estimating that 1:30 Americans are suffering from serious gluten intolerance.
However, the latest thinking is even more profound. Some celiac researchers now believe that everyone is gluten sensitive but only 1/3 of the population is showing symptoms at any given moment. Wow! That is quite the quantum leap from being a “rare disorder” just ten short years ago. But this is in keeping with what I started to write a while back: “Today’s man-made gluten is not good for anyone or anything that consumes it. It is simply better tolerated by some than others.” Yes, we did this to ourselves. There is now evidence that original wheat (einkorn) does not even elicit a reaction in known gluten intolerants. Amazing. The history of wheat, dairy, soy and corn tell us all that we need to know: Man messes up everything that he touches in nature.
Gluten is not alone!
The bad news? Gluten is only one of the culprits. We now have to deal with casein, soy and corn, all of which are capable of duplicating gluten’s harm. Many can understand how our Germanic ancestors made a serious mistake in creating common wheat 1500 years go. But most have not seen the gravity of our dairy choice, jumping from goat’s milk (the “universal foster milk”) to cow’s milk. We even chose the wrong cow (A1 vs A2 cattle). Soy was the Asian mistake and I rue the day they ever dug it out of the ground and decided to start eating it. Corn took thousands of years to cultivate and now it can’t even reproduce on its own…and kills other plants (Google “corn gluten meal’). No wonder it is a major allergen in children, especially the GMO version.
There is hope!
The good news? Miracles happen when we eliminate these foods…absolute medical miracles. And, we now know exactly why. By eliminating the “big 4” foods, we reverse this process – and quickly. The gut can begin healing a matter of days once these insults are removed. I have seen years of intestinal distress in pets resolve in less than 48 hours on the proper diet.
When the villi re-grow, proper nutrient absorption returns and all of the tissues in our body – the brain, liver, kidneys, muscles, joints skin, blood cells and more – begin to receive what they have needed all along to heal and operate properly . This also allows immune system to bounce back and the multitude of enzyme systems – most of which are taken for granted – to begin functioning optimally again. As a result, years of “disease” symptoms can finally start to resolve.
Is there any limit to what proper nutrition – that which is biologically appropriate, non-offending and completely nutritious – can do for our ailing bodies? Certainly, we have environmental factors with which to contend (e.g. air pollution) but a diet rich in antioxidants can do much to mitigate their damage. The addition of appropriate supplements can do wonders (e.g. vitamin D3, omega-3s, grape seed extract, sublingual B complex), especially in the early stages of recovery when our nutrient reserves have been depleted.
We can turn this situation around. It can take a major effort on our part, especially when dealing with severe neurological disorders (e.g. MS, ALS) or cancer. But when the lesser symptoms of IBS, allergies, fibromyalgia and even epilepsy resolve, we should have hope that even the most severe medical conditions can be helped.
I no longer put any limitations on what this miraculous thing we call a body can do, only what we are willing and able to do for it. Will we feed it properly? Can we give up the junk food, cigarettes, and substance abuse? Are we willing or able to leave a highly polluted city? Can we afford the necessary supplements (e.g. antioxidants) to counteract those environmental toxins that are out of our immediate control? Will we start to exercise more and commit to getting a better night sleep? These are all important steps toward regaining our health.
We can do this! We do have the destiny of our health in our own two hands. Let’s get started!