Alright, time for me to break it down. I've mentioned leaky gut before and the concept of it is pretty simple once you can visualize it. When I first read about it in It Starts With Food, I realized right away I probably had it. I am (was) a bagel, pasta, fresh crunchy baguette loving woman, especially in college, so grain was pretty much my number one food group. I asked a doctor friend of mine if real MDs acknowledge leaky gut as a real thing or if it's just some crazy holistic idea and I was surprised by the answer. Doctors definitely acknowledge that leaky gut (also commonly know as intestinal hyper-permeability) is a problem, but they are just now learning more about how it relates to disease and auto-immune disorders.
The best and shortest way to describe leaky gut is this:
70% of your immune system is located in your belly, which is hard to imagine since we typically think of our immune system as being, well, everywhere. But think about it, you bring in food, toxins, germs and more through your mouth and into your gut every day, so the immune system is there to fight off those invaders at the front door. If you think of your intestinal lining as a brick wall there are cells and mortar. In a normally functioning gut, the mortar is strong and nothing can pass through the wall, but if a gut in attacked over and over again by things like yeast, parasites, bad bacteria, viruses, alcohol, antibiotics, NSAIDS (Advil / ibuprofen) the mortar starts to weaken and gets leaky causing these invaders and other non-digested particles of food into the bloodstream where they are not supposed to be.
Think of your intestine like you think of the outside of your body. You put unprocessed food in it to be broken down. So anything that starts on the outside of our body that goes through your mouth and into your intestines is technically still on the outside of your body until digested properly. When the lining of your gut is permeated, those things that belong on the outside seep to the inside.
Let's take gluten as an example since removing it from my diet is what confirmed to me that I had leaky gut. When undigested gluten leaks into your bloodstream over and over again, your immune system recognizes it as bad and attacks it. What happens next is crazy. The gluten DNA looks a whole lot like human joint DNA and overtime, your exhausted immune system confuses the two and starts attacking your joints. In my case, this is why when I eat gluten, my RA symptoms flare up. My immune system thinks my joints are bad foreign invaders. For me, those are the only symptoms of leaky gut I had so removing the gluten improved my joint pain and helped me realize my gut was leaky.
For many though, there are no signs or symptoms of leaky gut. A recent study mentioned in Dr. Blum's book The Immune System Recovery Plan says that the majority of people with an auto-immune diseases also have leaky gut. This is a huge statement that would be basically impossible to prove, but I think it sheds light on how many people are most likely sick because of leaky gut and don't even know it.
The reason why functional doctors like Dr. Blum say they can reverse auto-immune disorders is that once you remove the gluten and heal the gut lining, your immune system should restore itself and stop attacking your body in whatever way it has manifested. It's a long process that I'm working on over time, but I've noticed that the absence of gluten in my diet is helping me more than any other medicine I've taken. That is enough to believe food has a major impact on our health.
I know that being gluten free is seen as very trendy right now. A year ago, I too thought it was a stupid fad that everyone was jumping on, but now I see the benefits. There are a lot of books out there that talk about why wheat and other sources of gluten are not native to human bodies and why they're suddenly making our bodies go nuts. If you want more info and don't want to read the books I've listed above, check out these articles that I think illustrate leaky gut pretty well: