Which came first? The chicken or the egg? We can ask the same of leaky gut and toxicity. Which came first? Leaky gut or toxicity?
To understand that question, you need to understand a bit about gut health and also where toxins come from.
Gut health involves two components: the health of the gut microbiome and the health of the intestinal cells that line the small intestine. The microbiome and the intestinal cells have a codependent relationship, so the health of one affects the health of the other. If the health of either of these two pieces is compromised, then eventually the health of the other will become compromised as well. I'll provide an example to help illustrate this point.
Most people are familiar with the impact that antibiotics have on the gut organisms. Antibiotics typically kill off all species of bacteria, including the beneficial ones that live in our guts. When those species are killed off then that leaves organisms such as yeasts, fungi, parasites and viruses to propagate. These organisms are always present, but in small numbers. When the bacteria get killed off by antibiotics, then the opportunity exists for organisms that are usually present in small numbers to expand. When this happens it is referred to as dysbiosis, meaning that the balance of organisms has shifted into an unhealthy state.
As mentioned previously, the health of the microbiome affects the health of the cells in the small intestine, so once dysbiosis exists, then the intestinal cell's life cycle is altered. With this alteration in the life cycle, these cells are no longer capable of consistently producing tight junctions. Tight junctions are what hold the cells together to create a barrier. When those tight junctions aren't formed, then a condition known as leaky gut develops. Without those tight junctions, the cells are unable to create a barrier, so various particles start to leak through. To understand the barrier, imagine a brick wall. A brick wall is very strong, and doesn't allow anything to get through. Now imagine that the mortar used to build that wall has deteriorated significantly. With crumbling mortar, water leaks through the wall, insects can crawl through, and plants might even take root and start growing through the cracks, further breaking down the mortar. The same thing happens in your gut. The loss of tight junctions is like the crumbling mortar. Undigested food molecules leak through, undesirable organisms get through, and some of our opportunistic gut organisms can burrow in and take root. The other thing that leaks through are metabolic products from our own gut microbiome. Each species that lives in our gut, metabolized the food you eat, and produces different end-products known as metabolites. These metabolites can be TOXIC. Normally these metabolites would get excreted with your fecal matter, but if your gut is leaking, then these metabolites leak through.
Toxic metabolites add to your body's burden. Your liver has the job of clearing hormones, neurotransmitters, cell waste and toxins, so when metabolites are leaking through the gut, it just increases the work load of the liver, and when the liver can't keep up, then toxicity results.
So gut health has a huge role to play in toxicity. What about the role of toxicity on gut health?
Whether you like it or not, we take in toxins on an ongoing basis. We breathe toxins in, we ingest them from our food supply, and we absorb them through our skin. Unfortunately, we have created a world in which we have surrounded ourselves with toxins. These toxins have huge implications on the health of our guts. Toxins can act directly on either the gut microbiome or on the intestinal cells.
Let's look at our food supply as an example. Crops typically get sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and desiccants. When ingested, these products upset our gut microbiome negatively. Just like the pests that get killed in the field, the organisms in your gut are affected as well. As we've already discussed, once the gut microbiome is disrupted, the the intestinal cells are affected, and leaky gut results. Once leaky gut is present, all those chemicals we unintentionally eat have a greater chance of getting into our bodies.
WHICH CAME FIRST?
The answer to the question, "Which came first, leaky gut or toxicity?" will differ from person to person (and is not very clear cut, as you'll see).
If you have been on repeated courses of antibiotics, or a long course then leaky gut will likely have occurred first. Leaky gut then increases your toxicity.
If you have been on pharmaceuticals then it's very likely that leaky gut and toxicity were happening side by side. Many pharmaceuticals impact either the microbiome or the intestinal cells, while adding to what the liver has to metabolize.
If you consume conventionally raised vegetables, fruits, grains and animal products, then it's also possible that leaky gut and toxicity were happening side by side for the same reasons as pharmaceutical use.
If you've had job exposure to chemicals, then it's likely that toxicity happened first. The toxic exposure likely altered your gut microbiome.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GUT REPAIR
Regardless of which came first, fixing leaky gut is a vital step in supporting your body to detoxify. You can take measures to support your liver, or to help clear toxins from your body, but unless you fix leaky gut, toxins will continue to have easy access to your body, and toxins that are normally excreted through your digestive tract will have the opportunity to re-enter your body.
Have you done a detox with only short-term results?
Have you done a detox and not seen the results you'd hoped for?
If you answered "yes", then maybe repairing your gut is the next step.
Happy, Healthy Eating (and repairing)!