In this video I use my favorite teaching toy (the infamous Sea Squirmer) to explain “Leaky Gut” or Increased Intestinal Permeability – a common root-cause of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases like Celiac Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Type 1 Diabetes, and thyroid, skin, brain and connective tissue disorders, to name a few. (If you’re one of my patients and you have one of these conditions you’ve probably gotten the Sea Squirmer talk from me before.)
What’s with the Sea Squirmer toy?
I came up with my Sea Squirmer spiel to help my patients conceptualize the inside of the GI tract as an EXTERNAL space. Even though we usually think of the GI tract as our insides, what’s inside it (bacteria, potential toxins and any foreign substance you put in your mouth) is really on the outside (whooooaaaa).
The Intestinal lining and increased permeability:
Since the inside of the GI tract is OUTSIDE of our body, the lining of the GI tract serves as the front lines of the immune system and the border patrol is tight (under normal conditions). The gut lining has little gates that open and close to let the body see some (but not all) of the substances in our gut. The problem is these gates can get broken and stuck open, letting large molecules pass through.
Lots of foods, medications and toxins can cause the gates to get stuck open, the best studied of which is gluten.
The interface with the immune system:
To make leaky matters worse, just inside the gut lining sits 70% of the total immune tissue in your body. Now these large molecules coming through the holes in the gut are presented directly to the immune system, which thinks it must be under attack. The immune system creates an inflammatory response in the gut, sending all of its soldiers (white blood cells) to the front lines (the gut lining) to protect the body.
When the white blood cells report back about the invaders, the immune system can get confused, since some of the molecules coming through look similar in structure to the normal tissues of the body. Through “molecular mimicry” the immune system begins to sensitize to its own tissues and attack them.
The end result:
The immune system can attack single organs (like the pancreas in diabetes) or spread the inflammation more diffusely. We also see people developing new food intolerances and allergies as a result of leaky gut, through the same immune system sensitizing mechanism.
Make sense? I guess that explanation may be a bit sophisticated for most five-year-olds… but you should see the kids that read this blog.