Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Invisible Inflammation: Leaky Gut and a Possible Connection to Hot Flashes

Written by Holly Lucille, ND, RN
Chair of Public Education and Media Outreach Committee

We had a saying in Naturopathic Medical School that stated, “if you want to heal a person, heal the gut." It's fitting that I have written about digestive issues like intestinal permeability or “leaky gut syndrome” and all of its complications at various times in the past decade and the time has come again.

Intestinal permeability describes a cascade of symptoms and disorders that stem from small intestine’s semi-permeable membrane becoming excessively permeable for a variety of reasons, allowing infiltration of microbial and metabolic toxins (as well as undigested food) into the bloodstream. The symptoms and disorders include fatigue, immune deficiency, food allergies, asthma and eczema. Intestinal permeability may also be a contributor to other modern illnesses such as insulin resistance, obesity, neurotransmitter disorders, autoimmune disorders and cancer. In fact, it may account for 50 percent of chronic illness.

One symptom that I have not linked to intestinal permeability in the past, which has been getting my attention lately, is the vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, an overlooked aspect of inflammation. Here's the story as I see it: Intestinal permeability stimulates a classic hypersensitivity response to the undigested foods and to components of the normal gut flora that are “leaked” into the bloodstream. This creates a “non-specific” activation of inflammatory pathways through inflammatory mediators. TNF Alpha, produced mainly by macrophages mediates acute inflammation, by helping to stimulate inflammation in the endothelial tissue cells; it also helps WBC migrate into the tissue space and helps macrophages secrete IL1 and PGE2. This is all a part of the body’s response to inflammation. Another function of inflammation is something called, “diapedesis”. This is the passage of blood cells through the intact wall of the capillaries and it accompanies an inflammatory reaction. It is basically vasodilatation!

Sure, it is helpful for women to avoid spicy foods, alcohol, dairy products and sugar when experiencing the vasomotor symptoms but I have been getting fantastic results by going back to core of my curriculum and “healing the hole”!

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