‘Leaky gut’ and inflammation – understanding the science

Understanding the gut-inflammation link involves grasping the concept ‘endotoxemia’. Let’s break it down for you:

What is endotoxemia?

Bacteria in the gut release fragments, known as LPS (lipopolysaccharides). They are essential in the body – our bacteria use them as signaling, communication and attachment tools. LPS particles are not problematic to the body when in the gut. However, excessive ‘leakage’ thereof into the bloodstream can cause issues.

Endotoxemia refers to the excessive buildup of unwanted LPS fragmentsin the blood. Our immune systems detect endotoxins and act on them immediately! They respond by manufacturing specific inflammatory proteins. Ongoing exposure to LPS molecules causes the immune system to remain activated – termed ‘chronic inflammation’. 

The immune system’s response to endotoxins is often ‘low-grade’, meaning we do not often present with any overt symptoms. However, continuing LPS exposure has been associated with the development of the following conditions:

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Autoimmune disease, such as Lupus
  • Mood disorders – anxiety and depression
  • Neurological conditions – Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Disruption in satiety & hunger hormones
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Excessive muscle breakdown in cancer
  • Low testosterone (hypogonadism) in males

As integrative nutritionists, we aim to support the gut lining in order to prevent the uncontrolled movement of endotoxins from the gut into the bloodstream. Our clinical goals involve restoring GUT barrier structure, promoting healthy gut flora balance, and supporting immune system functioning. 

Again, we acknowledge that nutrition is KEY to gut health, and that personalized treatment is essential to achieve successful outcomes. Microbiologist, Kiran Krishnan, highlights some key interventions to address ‘leaky gut’:

  • ‘Anti-inflammatory’ eating.

As high ‘inflammatory’ fat, high caloric intake exacerbates the endotoxemia response.

  • Dietary Diversity

Dietary diversity leads to a diverse gut microbiome. The more diverse the microbiome, the more protective it is against endotoxemia.

  • Healthy gut flora balance

Use of certain bacterial strains in probiotic supplements are showing promising effects on reducing LPS buildup in the blood. Spore-based probiotics are currently in the limelight.

  • Probiotic intake

Specific carbohydrate derivatives, known as, produce powerful messengers in the GUT, called short-chain fatty acids (SFCAs). SCFAs promote growth of ‘beneficial’ gut bacteria & stimulate regeneration of ‘leaky’ gut walls.

  • Antioxidant intake

Polyphenols and flavonoids found in plant foods reduce damage of unstable molecules to gut cells.

  • Fasting

Intermittent fasting regimes, involving 13 to 14 hours of fasting with an 8- or 9-hour feeding period, is showing promising results.

  • Moderate exercise

Low-grade exercise has a modulatory effect on the barrier function of the gut. Interestingly, one study showed that 30 mins of moderate exercise prior to eating a meal significantly reduced LPS levels in bloodstream.  

For more on the science, take a listen https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/sites/default/files/media/nmj_metabolic_endotoxemia.mp3

Author: Stephanie Rouillard, RD

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