Symptoms indicating a “leaky gut” include:
- Allergies/food intolerances
- Asthma/atopic eczema
- Chronic fatigue
- Coeliac disease/Crohn’s disease
Often called “the second brain”, because of the high concentration of neuro-peptides and neuro-transmitter receptors present along both the large and small intestine, the gastro-intestinal (GI) system is highly responsive to any emotional or mental distress we might be experiencing and it is the first organ system to lose its blood supply during a stress response.
A constant blood supply to the GI tract is very important since the lining cells forming the barrier between the contents of the intestines and the blood are replaced approximately every 14 hours and need a constant supply of nutrients to allow this cell turnover. Hence, the blood supply (at rest), to the GI tract is greater than any other resting organ system in the body.
This rapid cell turnover means that the GI tract particularly sensitive to any nutrient deficiencies in the diet as well as any stresses which have the same nutrient depleting effect by starving the lining of its blood supply.
When the lining cells are no longer replaced effectively, digestive health begins to be compromised. Our entire health is then put at risk as nutrients are less effectively absorbed and the lining cells suffer even more. The downward spiral has begun! It is at this stage that we can become more sensitive to environmental toxins and undigested proteins and increasingly susceptible to invading organisms and even our own emotional responses.
If the repair mechanisms worsen, a loss of integrity of the barrier function can occur creating the condition known as “leaky gut syndrome“. Partially digested food, toxic chemicals, whole bacteria, viruses and parasites are then able to enter the bloodstream.
Once in the circulation these substances are recognised as being “foreign” by the body, provoking an increase in the number of white blood cells (leucocytes) in the circulation. Circulating Immune Complexes are then formed as these blood cells attempt to neutralise the foreign substance. If the lining of the GI tract is not quickly repaired, the production of leucocytes becomes excessive and chronic, invariably causing inflammation locally in the GI tract or elsewhere in the body.
Many chronic auto-immune conditions are caused by these immunological reactions, as the raised level of circulating antibodies mistakenly attacks our own tissues.
A healthy GI tract is home to approximately 1014 ‘friendly’ bacterial cells of more than 500 species weighing approximately 1.35 kg. Beavering away inside, they contribute to our health by secreting important compounds such as butyric acid, vitamins and natural antibiotics, which prevent the growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria. They also digest certain foods and support the body’s immune function. Generally, friendly bacteria maintain an intestinal environment that promotes healthy intestinal mucosa (2). However, they too are also easily disturbed by a poor diet, illness, or any emotional or physical stress or trauma (including surgery), and can be wiped out completely by antibiotics.
The distal part of the GI tract, which is home to the majority of these bacteria, used to be considered almost as an appendage of the digestive tract, whose principal purpose was the conservation of salt and water, and the disposal of waste materials. However it is now recognised that the metabolic potential of the human colonic microflora is impressive in terms of the number of biochemical reactions and transformations in which it participates. Bacteria play a key role in numerous processes in the large bowel, including carbohydrate and protein fermentation, bile acid and steroid transformations, metabolism of xenobiotic substances, development of the immune system, as well as the activation and destruction of potential mutagenic metabolites (3).
Healthy microbiota also play an important role in stimulating colonic motility and decreasing transit time-therefore reducing the opportunity for fermentation and the production of pathogenic catabolites by potentially pathogenic micro-organisms.
Indeed, the GI bacterial flora exert their many effects mainly through catabolic pathways. For example, in exchange for the supply of complex carbohydrates (starches and non-starch polysaccharides) from the host, intestinal bacteria produce butyrate, a bacterial fermentation product and principal source of energy for epithelial cells in the distal bowel.
The role of probiotics
Today’s Western diet (high in fat, sugar, salt and low in vegetable fibres, minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chromium, Omega-3 fatty acids, membrane lipids, vitamins and antioxidants) has been shown to predispose humans to inflammatory, infectious, ulcerative, degenerative and neoplastic diseases. Such diets show a virtual absence of beneficial bacteria. Called probiotic, because they are literally ‘for life’, these beneficial bacteria are part of naturally preserved foods such as sauerkraut, yoghurt, and kefir. A probiotic can be best defined as a live microbial food supplement that beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.
Most organisms studied in this respect are lactic acid producers, namely the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which stand out as being essential not only for the functionality of the intestines but also for the reinforcement of the natural defence of the whole body. Human and animal studies in vivo, as well as numerous clinical studies, indicate that intestinal flora positively affect many organ systems distant from the gut. Similarly an overgrowth of the wrong bacteria, which may establish themselves after a course of antibiotics can provoke disease states far away from the gut, for example:
- Arthritis: For reasons not fully understood, the wrong bacteria in the digestive system can cause or worsen arthritis. This ailment is strongly associated with GI problems such as colitis, coeliac and Crohn’s disease.
- Hyperactivity and Autism: These conditions have been linked with toxins in the gut produced by harmful bacteria.
- Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases: research suggests that an overload of these gut toxins may be responsible for the destruction of brain and nerve cells.
To encourage the growth of friendly bacteria:
- avoid sugar to prevent yeast overgrowth in the colon
- regularly consume insoluble fibre from corn and wheat bran to feed the good bacteria
- avoid alcohol and antibiotics
- minimise stress as much as possible.
However there is no substitute for the use of high-quality probiotic supplements. Just about everyone, even those who do not have GI problems will benefit from their anti-ageing, disease fighting effects. Potency and purity are especially important when choosing a brand since the bacteria are, after all, alive.
For a probiotic to be effective it must:
- retain potency during storage
- survive passage through acid and bile mediums
- attach to the intestinal walls and proliferate well
- compete with any pathogenic bacteria present
- produce B group vitamins and enzymes
- stimulate a beneficial immune response
Many products currently marketed claim some or all of these properties but on testing, some 70-90% regularly fail to comply with even their own claims. Either the strain declared on the label is not the one actually present, or it is mixed with other strains; a problem which is often coupled with the further negative fact that the actual bacterial count on average is significantly lower than that declared.
Therefore, it is necessary to select probiotic strains based on the ability of the manufacturer both to guarantee their actual nomenclature and adopt biotechnological and/or other methods to enhance stability and activity over time.
The most reliable, commercially available strain to guarantee a strong stability over time at room temperature, together with correct nomenclature and high count, is the Lactobacillus acidophilus strain DDS-1, manufactured according to the proprietary methodology developed by Prof. Shahani at the University of Nebraska (4).
Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1
The ability to stimulate a primary immune response in the gut is one of the main benefits of a good probiotic, and is strictly associated with the contribution that such a probiotic can make against pathologies such as allergies, inflammatory conditions, diarrhoea and even cancer. Diarrhoea is a pathology that involves both a bacterial and a virus infection, and probiotics that can both produce natural antibiotics and can stimulate an immune-based anti-viral response are indeed very effective in different types of diarrhoea, from children to adults and travellers.
Different types of human strain probiotics have been shown to be active against diarrhoea (5). L.acidophilus DDS-1 is known to produce the powerful natural antibiotic “acidophilin” , which has been shown to strongly inhibit at least 23 pathogenic bacteria, including streptococci, salmonella, staphylococci, pseudomonas, proteus, shigella and E.coli, one of the major culprits of diarrhoea (6). Given also its ability to stimulate a local immune response, L.acidophilus DDS-1 has indeed all the requirements and has been repeatedly proven to be a powerful tool against diarrhoea as well as other bacterial and viral infections (7). DDS-1’s immunological proerties extend also into the very important area of tumor prevention and treatment. It does this by preventing the transformation of nitrates and nitrites into nitrosamines and has been repeatedly proven to inhibit tumor cell proliferation up to 41% in vivo! (8)
DDS-1 also has the ability to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood (9). It has been proven to produce higher levels of lactase and beta-galactosidase enzymes than most other lactobacilli, thus proposing itself an important addition in the treatment of lactose intolerance .
Find L.acidophilus DDS-1 in vitalSHAPE
1. SALMINEN, S. et al. Functional food science and gastrointestinal physiology and function. British Journal of Nutrition 1998; 80 (suppl 1):147-171.
2. GOLDIN B. Health Benefits of Probiotics. British J Nutr. 1998;80 (suppl 2): 203-7.
3. MACFARLANE G. Human colonic microbiota: ecology, physiology and metabolic potential of intestinal bacteria Scand J Gastroenterol. 1997;32 (suppl 222) :3-9.
4. SHAHANI, K.M. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1980,33,2448-2457.
5. GUANDALINI, S. et al. J of Paediatric Gastroenterolgy and Nutrition 2000, 30, 54-60
6. SHAHANI, K. et al. Cultured Dairy Products Journal 1977, 12 (2), 8-11
7. FERNANDESC.F.;SHAHANI, K.M. J of Applied Nutrition 1988, 40, 32-43
8. LEE, H. et al Applied Nutrition 1996, 48, 59-66
9. SINAH, D.K. Thesis, 1978, Univ of Nebraska, Lincoln