What is commonly known as “leaky gut.”
In leaky gut, the intestinal barrier breaks down and allows passage of undigested food particles, bacteria, and toxins into the body. Think of the small intestinal lining like a cheese cloth. With the surface area of a tennis court, it is the largest interface between the outside world and the body. If you were to puree food in a blender and put it through a cheese cloth, the liquid would pass through and the solids would stay on top. If the cheesecloth were leaky, the solid chunks would pass through too. This is what it is like to have a "leaky gut".
Leaky gut is almost always present in digestive conditions, such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and can precede many inflammatory or autoimmune diseases. Think of it like this: when intestinal barrier function is lost, foreign particles enter the body, the immune system becomes activated, and the body becomes inflamed. We see this pattern in arthritis, psoriasis, migraines, and even depression.
One important part of treating leaky gut is following an organic diet that eliminates genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are created by inserting genetic material from one species into another species. Genetically modified corn, for example, contains genetic material from soil bacteria that create a natural pesticide: Bt toxin. The result is a crop that produces Bt toxin in every cell of every kernel of corn. Insects die when they eat the corn, farmers use fewer pesticides, and our world is a better place, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Bt toxin has pesticidal activity because it punctures holes in the intestinal tracts of insects.[i] Could it do the same in humans? No studies have ever evaluated whether Bt toxin creates leaky gut in humans, but the toxin has been found in the majority of pregnant women’s blood tested as well as the blood nourishing their babies.[ii] This tells us that Bt toxin remains intact and can be digested and absorbed from the genetically modified corn we eat.
What may be even more concerning than the Bt toxin in GMOs is the herbicide residue on genetically modified crops. Most soy and some corn are genetically modified to tolerate massive applications of Roundup®, an herbicide that kills not only weeds but also many other living things—including beneficial bacteria in the gut.[iii] Disrupted intestinal flora is an important cause of leaky gut, making Roundup®—and the GMOs soaked with it—a serious concern. Just as Bt toxin has been found in cord blood of pregnant women, the active ingredient in Roundup has been detected in the breast milk of nursing moms.
The easiest way to avoid GMOs is to purchase food that is either certified organic or Non-GMO Project verified. Avoid any nonorganic ingredients that are made from corn, soy, canola, or sugar. This is just one piece—but likely a very important piece—to help solve the leaky gut puzzle.
[i] Palma L, Muñoz D, Berry C, Murillo J, Caballero P. Bacillus thuringiensis toxins: an overview of their biocidal activity. Toxins (Basel). 2014;6(12):3296-3325.
[ii] Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol. 2011;31(4):528-533.
[iii] Shehata AA, Schrodl W, Aldin AA, Hafez HM, Kruger M. The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro. Curr Microbiol. 2013;66(4):350-358.