Leaky gut and Cardiovascular Disease

A few years ago I attended a conference where the keynote speaker was the world-renowned cardiologist from the USA Dr Mark Houston, who is regarded as a leading hypertension (high blood pressure) and vascular health physician.  I was inspired. 

Cardiovascular Disease prevalence

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia for both females and males. This link from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that gives details of cardiovascular disease statistics in Australia. Of note among these statistics are:

  • Almost 1 in 3 deaths in Australia in 2015 were due to cardiovascular disease.
  • An estimated 4.2 million (22%) Australian adults aged 18 years and over had 1 or more cardiovascular diseases in 2014–15, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014–2015

So the importance of understanding the driving forces behind the development of cardiovascular disease cannot be overstated.

Closing the Gate

During one of Dr Houston’s lectures, he spoke about the importance of “closing the gate” to reduce the risk of heart disease.  By “closing the gate”, Dr Houston is referring to repairing a “leaky gut”.  “All diseases begin in the Gut”– Hippocrates (460BC – 370BC)  Yes, this includes cardiovascular disease. 

Hippocrates is often referred to as the father of medicine. So the gut was at least suspected as being involved in disease 2500 years ago!

What is “Leaky Gut”?

Although it may sound like a bike tyre with holes in it, “Leaky Gut” is simply a reduction in efficiency of the gut wall’s barrier function.  In addition to cardiovascular disease, leaky gut has been linked to a host of other chronic disease states too numerous to mention in this article.

Functions of the gut wall

A few of the functions of the gut wall include:

  • Absorption of nutrients
  • Preventing absorption of substances in the gut that should not be absorbed into circulation (I refer to this as the gut’s “barrier function”)
  • Complex roles in immune system regulation

When the barrier function of the gut is compromised (that is, when the gut is leaky), increased amounts of the following substances pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream:

  • Undigested food particles,
  • Waste products and
  • Bacterial cells (which contain the highly inflammatory material Lipopolysaccharide or LPS)

In other words substances that should remain within the gut pass through the gut wall and enter our circulatory system.

What causes a Leaky Gut?

  • Stress
  • Antibiotics
  • Other Medications
  • Environmental chemical exposure
  • Gluten
  • Lectins
  • Junk food
  • Other dietary factors
  • Genetics
  • Gut infections such as parasitic infections
  • Gut bacterial imbalances with the intestines
  • How well you are digesting your food

What are the effects of having a Leaky Gut?

As a result of this increasing internally derived toxic burden, levels of oxidative stress increase throughout the body.

Increased levels of oxidative stress cause increased levels of tissue damage throughout the body.

When tissue damage occurs, the immune system and natural tissue repair processes become involved leading to increased levels inflammation throughout the body as the immune system tries to deal with “foreign” particles getting into circulation. So the immune system is not dysfunctional – it is responding normally to an abnormal set of circumstances.

Main Drivers of Cardiovascular Disease

According to Dr Houston, the following three factors drive cardiovascular disease:

  • Oxidative stress,
  • Inflammation and
  • immune dysfunction

Oxidative stress can be defined as an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects through their neutralization by our body’s antioxidant systems.  Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation lead to chronic immune dysfunction.  Immune dysfunction that arises from increased oxidative stress is what initiates cardiovascular disease through tissue damage to the endothelium.

What is meant by “Immune Dysfunction”?

The term “Immune dysfunction” implies that the immune system is not working properly.

In cardiovascular disease, this is not true – the term “Immune dysfunction” is actually a misnomer.  The immune system is actually doing what it is meant to do – scanning for threats and dealing with invaders that should not be there.  So the immune system is not dysfunctional.

So the immune system is not dysfunctional – it is responding normally to an abnormal set of circumstances.

The problem in cardiovascular disease is that due to abnormal goings on within the arteries due to oxidative stress, the “teflon” like inner most lining of the artery wall is injured and breached which leads to immune system intervention which results in inflammation and the initiation of vascular disease.

The Endothelium

The endothelium is the inner most lining of our arteries. It is considered to be an organ of the body – in fact it is the largest organ in the human body. The skin is the second largest organ.  The endothelium is the interface between circulating blood and the rest of the artery wall.  Atherosclerosis is phenomenon involving formation of plaques within the wall of the arteries.

The cells of the endothelium are involved in many aspects of vascular function including acting as a selective barrier between the contents of the blood stream and the surrounding tissue.  

So oxidative damage and inflammation of the endothelium, along with the
resulting immune system intervention, set the stage for cardiovascular disease.

How do I know if I have a Leaky Gut?

There is a useful and non-invasive pathology urine test that I have been using for over 15 years to detect leaky gut.  It is an intestinal permeability test urine test that also tests for how well your gut is absorbing your nutrients.  It can be assumed that most of us have a degree of leaky gut – but the question is HOW leaky? Knowing how leaky the gut is can help determine how long you may have to work on “healing and sealing” the gut lining. 

Healing a Leaky Gut

To heal a leaky gut, identifying and addressing the causative factors listed above will help to heal a leaky gut.

Also, there are many nutrients and supplements that can be taken to accelerate gut healing including:

  • Slippery elm
  • Aloe Vera
  • Glutamine
  • Zinc carnosine
  • DG Licorice
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Flavonoids
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Collagen supplements and collagen forming amino acids (eg lysine, proline)

Why did Dr Houston’s lectures inspire me?

  • I’m now hearing a top cardiologist mention leaky gut as one of the major contributing factors in the worlds biggest killer, cardiovascular disease.
  • Naturopaths have been talking about leaky gut s as a major contributing factor to many disease states for decades
  • Leaky gut is almost never considered as a cause of chronic disease in standard medical practice. In fact the suggestion that “leaky gut” can play a role in any disease state is still dismissed and often ridiculed in orthodox medical practice.

Acceptance is needed

To reduce the alarming rates of cardiovascular disease world wide, it is important to identify, accept and address the driving forces behind this pandemic. The contribution of leaky gut as a major driving force behind cardiovascular disease is solidly embedded in science. Identifying and healing leaky gut should become an integral part of orthodox medical practice if rates of cardiovascular disease are to be reduced. The impact of gut wall integrity on a person’s cardiovascular health should no longer be ignored. 

But first it has to be accepted as one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease.

Hippocrates again! “Healing is a matter of time, but also a matter of opportunity”

The key word in this quote is “opportunity”.

Lets give people the best opportunity possible of avoiding the world’s biggest killer – cardiovascular disease by:

  • Accepting the pivotal role that gut wall health plays in cardiovascular disease
  • Testing for leaky gut
  • Making the treatment of leaky gut an important part of cardiovascular health treatment protocols

PETER RADI | NATUROPATH

Peter Radi is a fully qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist with 17 years clinical experience. After gaining his qualifications in Naturopathy, Nutrition and Herbal Medicine at Nature Care College in Sydney he went on to earn a Bachelor of Health Science Degree in Complimentary Medicine from Charles Sturt University. Peter’s detailed naturopathic knowledge, together with his ability to find the root cause of a person’s symptoms, inspires and supports his clients to achieve the health and vitality they seek.

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Peter Radi
Peter Radi