Toxicity and the Gut
If you know me or have been a client of mine, you will know that I love to talk about your toxic load, and especially your environmental load. So, today I would like to discuss the role of toxicity in your gut!
There are scientific definitions of what constitutes a toxin and you can Read here for further explanation. This will also explain where we find these toxins.
To begin at the gut, we must first talk about the gut microbiota, as this is the first line of defence (in the gut) when dealing with toxins and chemicals.
What is Microbiome?
The microbiome are the genes and material found inside the microbial cells. These can be found all over the body. The microbiota refers to specific microorganisms found in a specific place, ie: gut microbiota. You then have microbiota diversity which is a measurement of the different species in your microbiota and how well they are distributed throughout your body.
The microbiome composition has a heritable component and is also influenced by environmental factors, dietary factors, exposure to pharmaceuticals and heavy metals. Your microbiome can change over your lifespan and is dependent upon how you eat, where you live and how well you treat yourself.
The microbiota of the gut is considered the key to many areas of human health. This includes the immune system, metabolic health, neurological system, hormonal health and cardiovascular health. Although there are many other areas that microbiota affects, and as a newer area of research we are still learning how this all happens.
When you are exposed to pesticides, heavy metals and chemicals, especially in your food, they must first go past the microbiota. These products can then alter the composition of the gut microbiota and change or alter its function.
How might a change in the microbiome affect your gut:
- The pH of the gut might be altered, and higher or lower levels of acidity can occur. This can affect the way your food is broken down and it may change the microbiota diversity.
- The creation of oxidative stress may occur this also changes the diversity of the microbiota alongside altering the function of the gut.
- A dysregulation in protein transport carriers, means you are not able to break down your food properly. And then your nutrient uptake is compromised.
- A dysregulation in detoxification enzymes means your detoxification pathways are not working optimally and this can have many flow on effects.
- The transit time (the time it takes to move through the digestive track) can also be slowed (causing constipation) or increased causing diarrhea like symptoms.
- Estrogen metabolism requires a healthy microbiome, so this can be compromised when there is a change in the diversity. This means not only a change to hormones but can also change those processes that govern healthy estrogens versus the more sinister ones.
When the microbiota is exposed to these chemical or toxins, there is a flow on affect with the function of the gut. The gut barrier function can become impaired leading to a more permeable lining this leads to symptoms of leaky gut. (Or dysfunctional gut).
Leaky gut is when the barrier function of the gut has been compromised and it becomes more permeable. Meaning it lets molecules and products through where they shouldn’t, and this can cause a reactive response by the body which can result in food sensitivities and gut issues. You can read more about Leaky Gut in a previous post here.
These microbiota alterations can lower your immune system and increase your risk of allergies, especially if heavy metals are part of the symptom picture. This can often lead to histamine responses like hayfever and or hives.
If the gut microbiota is not functioning properly then the lower digestive system often feels the effects as they work together. The microbiome of the lower bowel relies on short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) to work optimally. These SCFA’s are produced via the fermentation process happening in the colon. But these microbes need to feed on the right ingredients to make this happen. And these food sources must come from the gut.
The term “Dysbiosis” is used to describe an out of balance microbiota. With dysbiosis you may see a set of symptoms including:
- Feeling of fullness and discomfort
- Pain after eating
- Changes in bowel movements
I have written a few posts on your toxic load which includes information about personal care products and home cleaning. But in this discussion, we are talking about what we consume via eating and drinking.
I would like you to consider all the hidden toxins and chemicals that are in your food products. We find these chemicals and toxins in:
- The water we drink – and maybe do a google here on what is in your drinking water! There are many heavy metals added to water and you also need to consider the pipes in your home as these contribute to the quality of your drinking water.
- Pesticides – these are used in the growing of fruit and vegetables and the quality of the soil also plays a large role. Pesticides are used when growing both in the soil and the plant. The food can be sprayed with chemicals to help keep them for transport and to make them look more appetizing!
- Anti-biotic and hormones – often these are added to animal products to help reduce bacteria levels. But these also change the microbiome of the animal.
- Preservatives – found in packaged foods. There is a whole mix of different chemicals used for these, some of which can cause many food intolerant type reactions. Especially if you already have an overworked gut.
What can you do to help?
One of the best things you can do to help your gut is work on your diet.
- Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables gives you a nice boost of antioxidants and helps your detox system work better. If you cannot afford organics you can look at the clean 15 and dirty dozen lists. Whilst not completely accurate it is a good guide to using your organic dollars wisely. Eating seasonally can also help as these have higher amounts of nutrients versus products that have traveled far.
- Eating enough protein. This helps the gut by providing the ingredients for enzymes and amino acids. You can find the protein list here
- Drink enough water as this helps the detoxification pathways and the removal of toxins. You need 35ml of water for every 1 kilo of body weight.
- Reduce alcohol and sugars as these also impact the microbiota diversity. Alcohol has a big impact on the microbiome so when it is consumed regularly this can become an issue.
- Eat plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods. This is the best way to improve your microbiota diversity. If you want a list of these foods read here
So hopefully by now you have a greater understanding of why I go on about toxic load. It really makes a big difference to your gut health. If you are experiencing gut symptoms then it becomes even more important.
There are plenty of products on the market to help your gut and some are good others not so much. But if you are experiencing gut issues and have been for a while, you may need more personal care. As a Naturopath I can request pathology testing to look at your gut health and this can give me a much better understanding of what is happening inside your gut. This then allows for a more targeted and personal approach to healing your gut.
So if you would like to do some work with your gut you can book in for a chat with me.
Duan, H., Yu, L., Tian, F., Zhai, Q., Fan, L., & Chen, W. (2020). Gut microbiota: A target for heavy metal toxicity and a probiotic protective strategy. Science of The Total Environment, 742, 140429. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140429
Utembe, W., & Kamng’ona, A. W. (2021). Gut microbiota-mediated pesticide toxicity in humans: Methodological issues and challenges in the risk assessment of pesticides. Chemosphere, 271, 129817. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.129817
Valdes, A. M., Walter, J., Segal, E., & Spector, T. D. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ, 361, k2179. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2179