Have you heard the term 'leaky gut' being used recently? Is it science or is it voodoo? In this post we'll aim to discuss what leaky gut is and isn't, and everything you need to know about how it might be affecting your health and wellbeing.
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut is the process by which unhealthy particles are able to cross over from the gut into our bloodstream, where they can then travel around the body and to the brain, causing inflammation, oxidative stress and cellular damage. You may hear it also described as 'increased intestinal permeability'.
'Leaky gut' is different from 'leaky gut syndrome'. Leaky gut describes the process by which dysfunction happens in many gut and brain conditions, and has already been linked with many conditions including IBS, IBD, Parkinson's disease, Fibromyalgia, chronic pain and more. 'Leaky gut syndrome' is a diagnosis in and of itself. This term is a bit more contentious, and many practitioners argue that leaky gut is a process leading to a diagnosis, but not a diagnosis by itself.
Your gut is made up of many protective layers of cells. This includes two layers of mucous (yes, your gut is lined by mucous, which plays an extremely important role as the first line of defence to your body, and also as a food source for your gut bacteria). Beneath this, we have the gut cells, which are lined by microvilli: fine hairs that provide a brush-like surface to capture and prevent big particles from getting through (just like your nostril hairs- in fact, in many ways, you may think of your digestion originating in your nose and mouth!).
We want a gut that can absorb good nutrients, while rejecting bad, or inflammatory nutrients. When leaky gut happens, there is a breakdown of the mucous layers, and a separation of the cells in the gut epithelial layer, which are usually kept closely bound together by tight junction proteins. This allows larger, and potentially harmful, particles to get past our barriers of defence and enter the bloodstream. Our bloodstream isn't defence-less: it can also produce immune cells to help combat these particles, however once these particles are in the blood, they can travel freely around the body, and even travel to the brain. This is the mechanism by which leaky gut has been associated with many brain disorders, including depression, anxiety, and Parkinson's disease.
How does leaky gut occur?
Leaky gut has been associated with many things, including genetics, an unhealthy diet, poor sleep, lack of exercise, an unhealthy gut microbiome, gut infection and more. Most likely, it occurs as a combination of these factors, which leads to a breakdown of the mucous layer, negatively impacts the gut microbiome, and disrupts the tight cellular junctions keeping everything held closely together. It's important people avoid unhealthy, highly-processed foods high in refined sugars and saturated fats; and to eat a diet rich in fresh produce. It's also important to be feeding the microbiome by eating fermented products and fibre.
For more about the relationship between leaky gut and Parkinson's disease, please read our other post here.
How does light therapy promote gut health?
In a trial of people with Parkinson's disease, it was shown that SYMBYX light therapy could positively improve the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is critical to preventing leaky gut. In particular, a healthy gut microbiome will produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate, which have been shown to be protective against leaky gut and helps re-establish a healthy mucous layer.
Butyrate is made by many positive types of bacteria, but most importantly, is having a gut microbiome that has a healthy balance of a wide diversity of species. In other words, we need variety: we don't want just one species present, but rather an ecosystem of many species working together. This is why it's commonly recommended that people eat at least 30 different fruit and vegetable sources per week, and consume multiple types of fermented products (beer only counts as 1!).
One ways scientists measure the health of the overall gut microbiome is by using the Bacteroidete: Firmicute ratio. This is because the two main species of bacteria in the gut can be divided into belonging to either the Bacteroidete or Firmicute group. A ratio that is out of balance in either direction is not ideal, and has been associated with conditions including obesity, mental health problems, IBS, and IBD.
In a research paper published in 2022 testing people with Parkinson's disease, it was shown that SYMBYX light therapy positively improved the Bacteroidete:Firmicute ratio for participants. In other words, the overall health of their gut microbiome was positively impacted! For people with Parkinson's, this is particularly important, as, improving the microbiome to prevent leaky gut, it may also be that the aggregation and spread of unhealthy alpha-synuclein (AS) proteins to the brain may be slowed.
Further clinical trials testing the benefits of light therapy on gut health using SYMBYX devices are currently underway around the world.
To find out more about how our laser light therapy devices can help with your leaky gut, please contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone.