2,000 years later, we are just beginning to understand how profound and accurate Hippocrates was in saying that “All disease begins in the gut”. Gut health is critical to overall health, and an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, autism, depression, and anxiety(1).
Gut infections such as SIBO/gut dysbiosis are a major cause of leaky gut(1), (2). SIBO both causes and contributes to gut immotility and dysfunction, slowing down intestinal transit time which in turn, allows the bacterial overgrowth more opportunity to feed. Thus, their populations increase and they cause further damage to the gut, thus continuing the vicious, gut-damaging SIBO cycle.
We unearthed exactly how SIBO damaged the intestinal barrier and the consequential and far reaching damages this causes in the body on the Gut Dysbiosis/SIBO In Depth page.
Leaky gut can develop over years or even decades and when it comes to healing, there is no quick fix. It can take time and learning to be patient with the healing process is all part of the journey. See Healing SIBO.
The gut is a hollow tube stretching from the mouth to you know where :P that passes out every thing that is not digested, including our body’s waste products such as dead cells and urea. The gut barrier, a multilayer system made up of intestinal epithelial cells and proteins, prevents the escape of non-nutritive (and potentially harmful) substances from the intestine into the bloodstream. When the structural integrity of the gut barrier is compromised, large proteins and other molecules escape from the gut into the blood; this phenomenon is referred to as “leaky gut.”
Leaky Gut, or Intestinal Hyperpermeability, is a chronic condition that is common but often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, partly due to the multitude and broad ranging symptoms but also because medical practitioners have not yet heard of leaky gut - it is relatively recently discovered and is still little understood. As the condition of the gut degrades, the health impacts can be dramatic and far-reaching(3).
Symptoms of a Leaky Gut
Left untreated, leaky gut can lead to IBS, celiac disease, obesity, acute gut inflammation, arthritis, eczema, depression and chronic fatigue.
This can result in -
Leaky Gut > Immune Response = Autoimmunity
In leaky gut syndrome, the tight junctions of the intestinal epithelial lining loosen, allowing harmful substances like bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles to enter your bloodstream and thus inducing the autoimmune response(4). Thus, leaky gut syndrome is believed to be linked to various conditions, including a wide range of autoimmune diseases, migraines, autism, food sensitivities, skin conditions, brain fog and chronic fatigue(5).
How Leaky Gut Leads to Autoimmunity + Damage
Once your gut barrier is “leaky” and toxins, viruses, bacteria and food particles flood your bloodstream, the immune system marks them as dangerous invaders and initiates the immune response, causing inflammation in an attempt to get rid of them. As the gut barrier disintegrates and more particles escape into your bloodstream, your immune system responds with wave after wave of inflammation. Eventually it becomes over stressed and begins firing less accurately. This in turn leads to autoimmunity, as your own tissues end up in the crossfire. What’s more, many of the particles that are now flooding your bloodstream look a lot like your body’s own tissues (self-antigens). Your immune system will then create antibodies against these substances which mistakenly attack your tissues in the process, in a phenomenon called molecular mimicry.
“All Disease Begins in the Gut”
Was Hippocrates right in saying this 2,000 years ago? The truth is, he was more right than he could know. Method and evidence-based science is now proving that gut health is everything.
The gut is the largest and most dynamic immunological environment and organ within the body. “Indeed, gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the prominent part of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) and represents almost 70% of the entire immune system; moreover, about 80% of plasma cells [mainly immunoglobulin A (IgA)-bearing cells] reside in GALT.”(6). Thus, 80% of the immune system resides in the gut, lending meaning to the saying “All disease begins in the gut. This is less surprising when you learn that the ‘gut immune system’ has a surface area equivalent to that of a small studio flat (100-130 square feet) and that the gut is the largest part of our digestive system, measuring at 12 feet in length.
The Gut Barrier
The gut barrier is a functional unit, organised as a multi-layer system, made up of two main components: a physical barrier surface (the gut barrier), which prevents bacterial adhesion and regulates paracellular diffusion to the host tissues - thus acting as a first-line defense against outside microbe threats - and a deep functional barrier, that is able to discriminate between pathogens and commensal microorganisms (such as bacteria), regulating the immune tolerance and the immune response to pathogens.Thus these two gut variables - the intestinal microbiota and the gut barrier - form an immunological barrier and physical barrier which determines the health of the gut and consequently, overall human health(7).
Why Healing Autoimmunity + the Gut Are Linked
We delve into the vital importance of the microbiome and its profound influence on human health on the Nature + the Microbiome page, but here’s a few nuggets of info demonstrating the hand-in-hand relationship between the gut and immune system, and why healing the gut and autoimmunity are linked -
Treating SIBO is separately discussed on the Healing SIBO page.
To further understand why healing the gastrointestinal tract and autoimmunity are such a similar process and share many of the same steps, it’s also important to understand chronic inflammation and the relationship between inflammation + autoimmunity. Here’s some short n’ sweet nuggets of info, taken from the SIBO + Autoimmunity page where we focus on this subject in depth -
“Inflammation appears connected to almost every known chronic disease — from heart disease to cancer, diabetes to obesity, autism to dementia, and even depression.”(10)
“Autoimmune conditions are connected by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.”(10)
Inflammation is a defence mechanism triggered when the immune system recognises damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens, and begins the healing process. When something negatively affects a part of our body, the body’s biological response is to remove the harmful stimuli. So inflammation is normally a good thing - it’s a sign that the body is trying to heal itself. Indeed, it’s a vital part of the immune response - infections, wounds, and any damage to tissue would not be able to heal without an inflammatory response. But in those with chronic inflammation, the inflammatory response spirals out of control and causes serious damage, and can trigger chronic diseases including AID(10).
Now you’ve done the donkey work, you can read our 5 Steps to Immune + Gut Health which will make a lot more sense now. You’re ready for some serious healing!
Onwards to health, happiness + freedom!