Believe it or not, the first step of the digestive system actually happens before you even put a piece of food in your mouth. In fact, the second you start thinking about how good something will taste, or if you get a whiff of something delicious nearby, you salivate – and that kicks digestion into gear.
But what happens once you’ve taken a bite?
Well, if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know I’m all about the good bugs that live in your gut and how they help keep your digestive tract in tip-top shape. But, to keep the good bugs in and the toxins out – you’ve got to pay attention to your gut wall and how it works.
So, what’s the gut wall?
Simply put, the gut wall is the mucous-like lining to your intestines.
It’s really more like a screen than a wall, because it’s got holes all over it. And, these tiny holes serve as a strainer, or filter, of sorts – a protective barrier, allowing only certain substances to pass through into the rest of your system. Chunkier, undesired particles are supposed to be kept out, and eliminated. When your gut wall is healthy, these particles are barred from entry to off-limits places like your bloodstream or other organs.
But sometimes your gut wall suffers damage – especially if your diet consists of foods you’re not actually supposed to eat. Then, intestinal permeability occurs – aka leaky gut syndrome. That’s when the holes in your gut wall grow bigger, causing significant discomfort.1 Even worse, the dangerous particles the net is meant to filter away can pass right on through where they shouldn’t – causing even greater health issues.
In fact, if your gut wall becomes compromised, then viruses, waste, and bad bacteria can seep through the net into your bloodstream or your gut. This can end up causing unusual reactions like headaches, rashes, bloating, fatigue, allergies, and inflammation.2
But how’s the gut wall supposed to work?
Well, here’s where it gets a little complicated …
Along with your human cells, you’ve got these non-human cells – bacteria, fungi, molds, and viruses – making up your microbiome – it’s natural. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, we’re as much microbe as we are human. Most of the time, this works in our favor. You see, this vast community of microscopic organisms camps out in your gut, on your skin, and in the air around you. And most of these organisms serve a purpose … to communicate with your human cells about the conditions of the “outside” world. They’re really there to help.
But your body doesn’t always recognize the good bugs from the bad. So it always does its best to keep non-human organisms on their side of the gut wall. And keeping intestinal microbes in their place is tougher than it seems, because your gut wall has tasks that seem in conflict with one another. For instance, your gut wall has to –
- keep toxins, viruses, and dangerous lectins out.
But, the cells that line your intestines must also –
- let valuable vitamins and nutrients in.
How do the nutrients from your lunch get through your intestinal wall?
Well, all food has to be broken down into amino acids, fatty acids, or sugar molecules. These single molecules give you energy and supply your body with nutrients.
And when these substances get to your gut wall, your mucosal cells literally break off a single molecule of those amino acids, fatty acids, or sugar, passing them through the cells of your gut wall.
Finally, they release the nutrients into your portal veins or lymph system – this system carries a liquid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, and delivers it throughout your body.
When the gut wall works as it should, the bigger, more dangerous molecules remain on their side of the wall, so to speak.
Well, the mucosal cells on your gut wall are designed to only “bite off what they can chew.”
How often do unwanted trespassers get beyond the wall? In a word… often, sadly.
So much has changed in terms of what we eat, how food is cultivated, and the chemicals we consume. Things like painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and lectins can get through your gut wall every day. And, lectins, in particular, are skilled at widening the holes in your intestinal mucosal border – ripping it, and allowing more foreign bodies to gain access to places they don’t belong. Then your immune system counterattacks, alerting your body to store fat in defense. The rest is a downward spiral of discomfort and inflammation.
You can help to keep your gut wall healthy by limiting your lectin intake. Stay away from toxins, sugars, and over-the-counter drugs like NSAIDs and antibiotics as well. For more information on ways to protect your gut wall, keep reading here. Your body will thank you for paying attention – and taking the best care of it you can.
Like I always say: If you take care of your gut, it will take care of you.
1 Bischoff, S., Barbara, G., Buurman, W., Ockhuizen, T., Schulzke, J., Serino, M., Tilg, H., Watson, A. and Wells, J. (2014). Intestinal permeability – a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterology, 14(1).
2 Vajro, P., Paolella, G. and Fasano, A. (2013). Microbiota and Gut–Liver Axis. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 56(5), pp.461-468.