Women, Autoimmune Disease and the Leaky Gut Connection

by Dr. Marianne Beck

 

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky Gut occurs when the tight junctions between the cells lining your intestinal wall become widened and allow large molecules of undigested foods, toxins, bacteria and yeast (such as Candida) to enter the blood stream where they do not belong. These toxic substances irritate the intestinal lining causing inflammation that eventually causes gaps or holes in your intestinal wall.

This allows the flow of toxic particles to leak into the bloodstream which causes an immune reaction in your body that creates a vicious cycle of increased intestinal inflammation and an increased leaky gut.
The scientific name for leaky gut is ‘increased intestinal permeability’. When people think of leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease and colitis come to mind. However, the medical literature is now connecting leaky gut with various autoimmune diseases along with depression, anxiety and a host of other brain related symptoms.
 

What Causes Leaky Gut?

The scientific literature notes many causes of leaky gut. However, anything that causes inflammation of the intestinal lining can cause and perpetuate leaky gut:
 

Antibiotic use

Medications such as antacids (Pepcid/Prilosec/Nexium), steroids such as prednisone and birth control pills.
Eating inflammatory foods such as gluten (wheat/rye/barley), dairy, alcohol, excess sugar, processed foods and “fast foods”.
Intestinal infections: yeast and bacteria overgrowth, parasitic infection, intestinal virus and H. pylori infection
Hormonal deficiencies of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormones.
Neurologic conditions such as stroke, brain trauma and brain degeneration.
Stress: physical/emotional/chemical which cause increased cortisol production by the adrenal glands which in turn causes deterioration of the gut lining, decreased intestinal blood flow and overgrowth of fungi and bacteria.
 

What Can Leaky Gut Cause?

As stated previously, most people think of leaky gut in connection with any bowel disease, one of which is Crohn’s disease which is an autoimmune disease. Now, research is connecting many other autoimmune diseases, where your body’s immune system attacks various organs and tissues in your body, with leaky gut. These include Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Scleroderma, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves Disease, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Sarcoidosis, etc. It has now been concluded that you cannot develop an autoimmune disease without first having increased intestinal permeability/leaky gut! Other conditions associated with leaky gut include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Food Sensitivities, Chronic Pain Syndrome, Chronic Urinary Tract Infection, Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS) and Colitis. In fact, a 2005 article published in the European Heart Journal linked leaky gut to chronic heart failure. Another article in the Acta Gastroenterol Belgium in 2010 stated that leaky gut may contribute to obesity!
 

The Brain and Leaky Gut

One of the most profound discoveries coming out of leaky gut research is how leaky gut and inflammation impact the brain. The gut is known as the “second brain”. It contains nervous system tissue (neurons) and produces more serotonin – a brain neurotransmitter, than the brain. “I have a GUT feeling” or “when I am nervous I have diarrhea,” are now easily explained! Also, the brain and gut both developed from the same embryonic tissue. The intestine and the brain are intimately connected in that they communicate with each other in the secretion of gastric enzymes, acid, gastric blood flow and the rate of digestion. So, when you have leaky gut, toxins not only inflame the gut lining but they leak into the bloodstream, flow throughout the body and into the brain. Therefore, a toxic gut equals a toxic brain! Various inflammatory brain symptoms that are associated with leaky gut are depression, anxiety, “brain fog”, schizophrenia, poor memory, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dementia and autism. A paper in the Neuroendocrinology Letter 2008 stated the link between leaky gut and major depression and went so far as stating that patients with major depression should be tested and treated for leaky gut!
 

How to Know If You Have Leaky Gut

Sad to say, in today’s society with the overuse of antibiotics, prescription medications, birth control pills and the ingestion of fast foods and overly processed foods, most people have leaky gut to some extent. For those who suffer from an autoimmune disease or any other chronic inflammatory disease, leaky gut syndrome is present. If there are symptoms of depression, anxiety, poor memory or any of the other brain symptoms listed here, it is advised to be tested for leaky gut. For anyone experiencing chronic digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, stomach pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, burping, GERD or severe food allergies and intolerances, testing and treatment for leaky gut is advised.
 

Women and Leaky Gut

Women seem to be more prone to developing leaky gut. Increased mental, emotional and physical stressors are placed on women in our current society from raising families, doing home chores, cooking and driving children to a myriad of after school activities, not to mention in addition, working a 9-5 job. All of this, along with taking birth control pills, antibiotics and medications have contributed to leaky gut in women. Also, women are more prone to hormonal deficiencies in progesterone, testosterone, estrogen and thyroid hormones which can lead to leaky gut. Perhaps this is why so many women suffer from symptoms of anxiety, depression, brain fog, mood swings and are the most likely sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and a host of autoimmune diseases.
 

The Good News

The good news is that now there is sophisticated yet inexpensive blood testing available to determine if you have leaky gut and how extensive it happens to be. Once tested, a program of “gut restoration” to heal the digestive tract can begin. Hippocrates stated that all disease begins in the intestinal tract—today, researchers are proving him to be correct!

Marianne Beck, DC is the director of BestHealth, 601 E. Sample Road, Suite 104, Pompano Beach. She has been in active practice for over 30 years and is a clinical nutrition and functional medicine practitioner. Contact her at 954.782.4855 and WomensBestHealth.com.
Call her Menopause and Stress Hotline at 1.888.855.6761 for Free Recorded Messages.

 

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