by Dr. Will Cole
In a previous article, I showed why and how increased permeability in your intestinal system – a condition known as leaky gut syndrome – is linked to many chronic diseases. I also showed which four lab tests can determine whether or not leaky gut is a factor in your case. If you haven’t already, I would read that article first to gain a more complete understanding of how leaky gut syndrome works, and the effects it can have on your health.
In short, your gut health impacts every other system in your body, so when the gut lining becomes damaged and permeable, it can cause systemic inflammation and trigger an autoimmune response in any other system in your body. But’s let’s take a look back to the original causes – why do you have leaky gut in the first place? In my experience, there are five things that are common causes or significant contributors to gut damage – and they are all things you could, in most cases, choose to avoid.
1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are pretty good at relieving pain and inflammation by blocking an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase. Relieving inflammation sounds like a good thing, right? The problem is that this enzyme the NSAIDs are blocking also performs important functions, such as protecting the stomach from the corrosive effects of its own acid, strengthening the activity of the immune system.
When cyclo-oxygenase is blocked, its anti-inflammatory effects can be overwhelmed by intestinal inflammation caused by the damage of the stomach acid to the lining of the intestine and the resulting intestinal permeability. Even worse, when the intestine becomes permeable, this can turn on or trigger an autoimmune response in the body. Among people who chronically use NSAIDs, research estimates that 65% will develop intestinal inflammation and up to 30% will develop ulcers. Eventually, these conditions could lead to autoimmune disease.
Sometimes antibiotics are life-saving. There is no doubt about that. However, they are over prescribed and overused, to the detriment of health. Frequent use of antibiotics can decrease your beneficial protective gut bacteria, since antibiotics kill bacteria without consideration for which ones are bad and which ones are beneficial.
With your body’s natural defenses down, antibiotics are also more prone to damaging your gut’s lining, as more pathogenic bacteria may proliferate. What’s worse is that without some healthy intervention, your body’s unique diversity of trillions of beneficial bacteria won’t automatically be recovered after it’s lost, and less bacterial diversity is a mark of less vigorous health. If you are prescribed antibiotics, ask your doctor how necessary they are, and whether there are any other alternatives.
You can’t avoid all stress, but you can take some pretty effective steps to avoid stress’ damaging health consequences. Chronic stress will weaken your immune system’s response to infection and can also contribute to conditions like anxiety and depression, since the brain and gut are linked through the gut-brain axis.
A glass of wine every evening may or may not benefit heart health (evidence suggests it may only benefit those with a certain genetic profile). However, many people go far beyond that one glass, and nobody disputes the health consequences of over-consumption of alcohol, which has a negative impact on just about every system in your body. As far as your intestines go, alcohol can irritate the stomach and intestines and suppress the hormones which protect against the inflammation that contributes to leaky gut syndrome, so stick to one drink max, or have a cup of tea or club soda with a lime instead.
The negative impact of gluten is well documented now, but in a few years, I believe research will confirm the similar, possibly even worse, negative impact all grains, including those that are gluten-free. With their abundance of amylose sugars that cause inflammation, anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates that bind to the intestines and make nutrients inactive in the body, and a low nutrient density trade-off for the calories that contain (especially when refined), grains can cause a wide array of damage to your gut and your general health.
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