Leaky Gut Syndrome & Brain Health
Leaky gut syndrome is quickly becoming a focus of greater interest and study for physicians and patients alike. Doctors and scientists are increasingly focused on discovering how a leaky gut can affect the brain and lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even mood and mental health disorders in people of all ages.
Leaky gut syndrome is another way to say “increased intestinal permeability”. Though the intestines are meant to be somewhat permeable, this syndrome is caused by the dysfunction of tight junctions, which are a specific type of barrier between intestinal cells. Tight junctions work together with layers of intestinal mucus to create a mucosal lining that acts as a physical barrier. This barrier keeps pathogens, bacteria, macromolecules, and other environmental toxins contained within the intestines. If the barrier is compromised in some way, these toxins and pathogens can escape the intestine. A variety of factors can reduce the effectiveness of tight junctions, compromise the barrier, and lead to leaky gut, including an imbalanced gut microbiome and chronic inflammation.

Each person’s gut contains a specific and unique set of microbes that work together to aid our digestive and immune systems. A balanced gut will help keep your brain, digestive, and nervous systems healthy, while an imbalanced gut is a risk factor for countless problems. Healthy gut microbiota play a role in the body’s ability to regulate brain chemicals, including neurotrophins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which support neuron regeneration and overall survival. When the gut is dysregulated, not only does the body become less effective at regulating the systems and chemicals mentioned above, it also leads to a weakened mucosal barrier. Pathogens are able to escape more easily, and then the body’s immune system responds with an inflammatory response. This response can promote further dysregulation of gut microbiota, more inflammation, and continued leaking in an already weakened intestinal mucosal barrier, creating a cycle of hyperpermeability.

Once a harmful pathogen, bacteria, or macromolecule escapes the intestines through leaky tight junctions, they can end up anywhere in the body if they enter the bloodstream. This may cause widespread peripheral inflammation, including in the brain. This gut-related brain inflammation can also lead to the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, resulting in “leaky brain”. Leaky brain, unfortunately, means that these pathogens are able to reach and affect the brain, promoting a wide array of brain issues and disorders.

Cognitive Disorders

Cognitive decline and memory disorders, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, are known to be caused by the degeneration of brain tissue. Toxins that are leaked from the gut and blood-brain barrier can attach to vulnerable neurons, chronic inflammation due to leaky gut, and the immune system’s response to that chronic inflammation can all contribute to this degeneration. This can lead to issues with memory and learning and is associated with neurodegeneration and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, have very similar origins. Studies on Parkinson’s Disease have shown that it is very likely to begin because microbes have entered the blood-brain barrier, due to inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. Interestingly enough, those with Parkinson’s disease often have ongoing intestinal dysfunction in the form of constipation, and constipation can actually begin to manifest in those suffering from Parkinson’s disease years before other symptoms manifest.

Mood Disorders

The gut microbiome plays a huge role in our mood and mental stability as well, and even the development of some mental health disorders. Because changes in microbiota correlate to changes in brain chemistry, a gut microbiome disruption due to illness, antibiotics, etc., can be associated with abnormal behavior and cognition, including mood disruption, depression, and anxiety. If this change in the microbiome causes leaky gut and thus weakens the mucosal lining and increases permeability, inflammation can be another driver of mood disruption and can also be both a cause and result of depression.

Healing leaky gut is straightforward: protect and heal the gut microbiome! If gut microbiota are well-balanced and healthy overall, it results in stronger tight junctions and better mucosal lining, thus reducing intestinal hyperpermeability.

In order to improve gut microbiome health, it can be helpful to focus on:

  • Improving your diet to include more fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean meats

  • Avoiding excessive sugar and/or alcohol consumption

  • Taking a gut health supplement daily (try our effective GutMEND digestive health powder)

  • Finding ways to manage and reduce stress (using techniques that work for you, such as deep breathing, prayer and meditation)

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