Leaky Gut and Autoimmune conditions

Gut health has always been at the heart of nutritional therapy and research focusing on the intestinal lining, its ‘barrier function’ and its resident microflora, is giving strength to the argument that an overly leaky gut lining can both trigger and perpetuate autoimmune conditions.

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Heart shaped bowl of healthy vegetables

We now recognise that there are over 80 autoimmune conditions.  Their diagnostic label indicates which organ or tissue is under attack by the immune system, but many of these conditions will have had an underlying bacterial or viral infection that initially triggered the immune reaction, which for some individuals then goes awry and misdirects its attack beyond the pathogen, and to include self tissue.

Immune tolerance

Our ‘mucosal’ tissues (the moist tissues lining the nasal passages, lungs, mouth, intestines, genital tract), have a critical role to play here, because these tissues have to interact with the outside world. They come in contact with all sorts of things from our environment and have to determine what gets tolerated, are these things friend or foe?

Our lungs for example whilst giving passage to oxygen and carbon dioxide have to block dust, pollen, and air-born debris. Likewise gut tissue gives passage to fluids (both ways) and food nutrients (in), whilst also trying to maintain a barrier against bacteria, viruses, pathogens, undigested foods.

Our immune system stands guard just the other side of all these tissues, sampling all that passes through, knowing to tolerate some, but reacting against others, directing an army of immune ‘pac-men’ type blood cells to engulf and destroy all it perceives might harm us.  The levels to which the immune system reacts is partly determined by our genetics.

In terms of the gut, when properly digested food nutrients are absorbed in the intestines, they will be deemed harmless, well tolerated and shouldn’t provoke an immune response. But if the gut is inflamed or damaged, and therefore becomes overly leaky, it may give passage to larger, only partially digested food particles, or even opportunistic viruses, bacteria and their by-products, and these can all trigger immune reactions.  In the genetically susceptible, this reaction can raise risk of autoimmunity because if the protein structure of the invading particles are similar enough to the protein structure  of any host tissue – the immune system may opt to play safe and attack both.

So looking upstream at the health of a person’s mucosal tissues is foundational when investigating autoimmunity.  Is there systemic inflammation eroding the barrier function of any mucosal tissue?  Is medication or dietary factors affecting the integrity of the barrier function?  Does the individual have really effective digestion to break down all food into the smallest constituent parts – before absorption? Is there a gut microflora problem, perhaps a fungal overgrowth or a complete lack of microbiome – post antibiotic use?  Is a chronic use of NSAIDs and painkillers damaging the integrity of the gut lining?

Finding the upstream root cause of overly-leaky, hyper-permeable mucosal tissue is foundational when addressing autoimmune conditions, or looking to reduce the risk of them.

Nutritional therapy has a good evidence base for restoring gut mucosal health, which along with supporting a diverse healthy microbiome, can help to restore good barrier function, stemming the flow of triggering antigens, and if caught early enough can even reverse the progression of some autoimmune pathology.

Functional testing can now assess the health and diversity of an individual’s gut microbiome, as well as the integrity of their gut lining. To find out more about how we can help investigate and support your autoimmune health issues, please contact us or book an initial appointment.

Genova Lab G.I. Effects    Invivo Healthcare

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