Under unhealthy conditions, however, permeability increases and the small intestine is unable to be as selective for absorbing particles into the bloodstream. The junctions between the villi become cracked and broken, allowing more to seep into the bloodstream unmonitored. Undigested and partially digested food particles can enter the bloodstream, as well as bacteria and other toxins. As this happens, our outer world and inner worlds collide, causing inflammation.
Inflammation is the root of all diseases, and when undigested particles and foreign particles enter the bloodstream, our immune system is responsible for attacking and destroying the particles that can cause harm to our health. When our immune system is regularly focused on attacking food particles in the bloodstream, it is less equipped to protect against real health threats.
There are five dietary factors that lead to the degradation of our gut health:
- High sugar consumption
- Low fiber intake
- Food sensitivities and allergies, including the use of NSAIDs
Sugar is inherently inflammatory in the body. It also feeds pathogenic gut bacteria, allowing them to thrive while the healthy and necessary bacteria in our microbiome are dampened. Sugar throws this delicate balance off, leading to an increase in pathogenic bacteria that result in a condition called dysbiosis. The result changes in the mucosal lining of the intestine and increased permeability.
Stress can create an unbalanced microbiome. However, it’s important to keep in mind that stress can be mental, physical, and internal. Exercise is an important part of health, but high levels of exercise can create stress on the body, resulting in gut issues. Stress occurring higher in the digestive system (at the level of the stomach, liver, and gallbladder) can lead to increased intestinal permeability. For example, when food reaches the small intestine, it should be nearly fully digested and broken down. If this is not happening thanks to the preliminary digestive organs, the small intestine can be damaged and unable to work properly.
Food sensitivities and known or unknown allergies create internal stress on the body as the immune system, much of which resides in the small intestine, works to fight the effects of food causing a reaction. While this may not always look like an allergic response where histamine is in action (hives, anaphylactic shock, etc.), food sensitivities create unnecessary stress on the body. When our immune system is working to battle our food, it’s often unable to employ adequate efforts to other immune needs.
In addition to food sensitivities, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and over-the-counter pain medications increase intestinal permeability. In their goal of reducing pain, they decrease the small intestine’s natural ability to selectively absorb nutrients leading to further long-term inflammation.
Alcohol affects our gut health in two vital ways. First, alcohol affects the activity levels of prostaglandins, substances responsible for regulating inflammatory responses in the body. Alcohol also reduces the ability of the small intestine to pull and absorb nutrients from our food, meaning that more passes through our body without absorption. If our food is not absorbed, it is serving no purpose.
WHAT TO EAT TO PROMOTE GUT HEALTH