For many years now, the health community has been abuzz with the term “leaky gut”—the fact that the lining of your gut can be weakened by pathogens, toxins, and stress. When the gut lining is weakened, those toxins and harmful bacteria leak into the bloodstream and wreak havoc on the rest of the body.
But what’s actually going on when this happens?
It’s not as though there are giant holes appearing in your gut lining; you wouldn’t be long for the world if that happened. This leakiness is actually occurring on a microscopic, cellular level. You might more accurately refer to it as leaky cells.
In the gut specifically, there are sections between the cells called tight junctions. When healthy, they remain tightly sealed, separating the contents of the gut from the rest of the body. But when these junctions loosen and become “leaky,” material escapes through.
This doesn’t only occur in the gut either. All of our cells have a cell membrane, the fluid barrier that surrounds the tiny organelles inside the cell, which produce energy and perform so many other functions for our bodies. Any of these cells have the potential to become “leaky” when the cell membrane does not have enough of its essential components: certain lipids and proteins. Just like in the gut, they can also become damaged by pathogens, toxins, and stress.
In this article, we will discuss:
- The importance of the cell membrane
- Selective permeability and cell communication
- What happens when cell membranes become “leaky”
- The root causes: lack of nutrients, more toxins, more stress
- How to promote cell membrane health
- Balancing your bucket
- Nutrition for leaky cells
- Supplements for leaky cells
- Managing environment and stress for leaky cells.
The Importance of the Cell Membrane
Cell membranes enclose the cell and protect its organelles. These “little organs” generate energy, process waste, and perform many other functions on our behalf. The organelles themselves also have their own membranes.
Cell membranes are made of about 80% phospholipids and 20% cholesterol. Did you just cringe after reading that word: “cholesterol?” Fear this integral cell membrane component no more!
Your body needs cholesterol to function. It’s essential to the myelin that surrounds and protects our nerves, maintaining our hormones, and producing the bile acid we need to digest fats. There are many studies that show that low cholesterol levels, supposedly ideal, are actually an indication of declining health, higher risk of dementia, and a greater risk of death overall. In women especially, elevated cholesterol levels above the “normal” range seem to actually be beneficial. Perhaps due to its role in our cell membranes and hormones?
To learn more, you can read more about cholesterol in our blog here.
Back to cell membranes. Cell membranes serve as the organizational structure of the cell, allowing trillions of cells to come together to create our organs and tissues. Cell membranes are also capable of allowing passage of certain materials in and out of the cell, like nutrients and waste, via transmembrane proteins.
Transmembrane proteins, in addition to moving nutrients and waste in and out of the cell, may also carry out hormonal or immune system signalling.
In short, your cell membranes do a lot for you and your body!
Selective Permeability & Cell Communication
One of the key features of our cell membranes is it’s selectively permeable nature. Selective permeability simply means that the cell membrane can choose––yes, there is a level of intelligence here––what to allow in and out of the cell.
Your cell membranes have the ability to signal, using its transmembrane proteins, what it needs to function, whether that be a certain hormone, nutrient, enzyme or other requirement.
Your cell membranes are constantly communicating with the other cells in your body to perform its specifically designed function, whether it’s a liver cell, brain cell, stomach cell, and so on.
When you really start to think about it, you realize there are trillions of these cells and cell membranes that make up your body, all signalling to each other constantly to keep the many organs and systems of your body running smoothly. It’s a little mind-blowing, and we think that it’s not talked about nearly enough in the context of our overall health.
As you might expect, this constant signalling requires a great deal of nutrients, energy, and other inputs, as well as minimizing stressors that could overwhelm the cells and disrupt its operations. Unfortunately, modern life is full of stressors and is often lacking nutrients. It’s no wonder our cells have become “leaky.”
What Happens If Cell Membranes Become “Leaky”?
When we say that cells can become “leaky,” we mean that your cells may be lacking the available phospholipids, essential fatty acids, cholesterol, and proteins needed to construct and support the cell membrane and all of its critical functions to your health. It’s not so much that the cells are actually leaking material or organelles out into your body (a distressing thought), but that they are simply underperforming their functions, leading to a general decline in health.
The Root Causes: Lack of Nutrients, More Toxins, More Stress
Just as larger body systems and organs can be overwhelmed by a lack of nutrients, an overabundance of toxins, and stress, these same issues trickle down to performance issues on a cellular level.
If you are not consuming enough of the building blocks of your cell membranes––phospholipids, cholesterol, and amino acids that make proteins––then your cell membranes are not able to function well. Additionally, when you pile on the toxic exposure to pesticides, pollution, and chemicals in our personal care products, this adds more work for the cell membranes to detoxify your cells. On top of that, you add daily stress from constant work, screen usage, even hard exercise that further overburdens your cells.
Under all of this pressure, your cell membranes begin to deteriorate and may even get confused about which functions they should be carrying out. Perhaps autoimmunity results from cell membranes oversignaling, sending out a constant alarm in response to toxins and stress. Maybe their function gets slower and slower due to a lack of nutrients, resulting in constant fatigue and brain fog. Many, many negative effects can result from these leaky cells, eventually leading to full blown disease.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to address these three main issues of nutrients, toxins, and stress, and help our cells and cell membranes restore their function––and our health.
How To Promote Cell Membrane Health
Balance Out Your Bucket
We can improve cell membrane health by using the “bucket” concept. This is an idea explained by many functional and integrative physicians to describe our overall health. Think of your health as a bucket. When the bucket fills up with negative inputs like toxins and stress, it becomes heavier and heavier and harder for the body to carry, until eventually, it spills over. This is when disease manifests.
In order to empty our buckets of negative inputs, we can carefully start removing the toxins from our environment and actively lower stress levels. At the same time, we can focus on refilling the bucket with positive inputs like nutrients, movement, and mindfulness practices (which continue to lower stress). Eventually, you end up with a balanced bucket that contains mostly positive inputs and isn’t constantly spilling over.
Nutrition for Leaky Cells
A nutrient-dense, lipid-forward diet that supports cell membrane health incorporates:
- Bioavailable animal protein, which the body is able to breakdown into amino acids and reform into the proteins it needs
- High-quality fats that support cellular health
- Easily digestible carbs (the main source of energy for your cells!) like root vegetables
- Cooked and raw cruciferous/green veggies to tolerance. While the current trend is to eat loads of broccoli, spinach, and kale everyday, some people have difficulty digesting these vegetables, so they may be adding more burden to your body than help. Find a level that works for you and check oxalate content which can be eaten in moderation.
- Non-glutinous grains to tolerance. Again, everyone is different, and you may be able to more easily digest certain grains, nuts, and seeds when they are soaked and/or sprouted.
Specific foods to add to your diet:
- Pastured, organic eggs (get your healthy cholesterol!)
- Pastured beef, chicken, fish, wild meats and organ meats such as liver
- Animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado
- Root veggies, fruits, honey, maple syrup, etc. for easily digestible energy, balanced with protein and fat
- Cow, goat, or sheep’s milk, hard cheese, yogurt, kefir, etc. if tolerated.
- Rice, beans, legumes, buckwheat, etc. if tolerated.
In general, avoid these:
- Genetically modified foods
- Processed oils and foods
- Conventional dairy
- Low-quality seafood.
Supplements for Leaky Cells
Optimal nutrition is the foundation for good health, but often it’s not enough to get the targeted support we need for the best cellular health. Here are a few additional supplements that can help.
Bodybio PC: Remember, your cell membranes are 80% phospholipids. PC replenishes the lost phospholipids your cell membranes need to do their job. But make sure you’re getting some of that healthy cholesterol too for the other 20%!
Bodybio PC has been trusted by practitioners for decades to improve health on the cellular level.
Bodybio Balance Oil: Balance Oil is the perfect combination of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to support cell membrane fluidity and structure. Plus, it also supports the liver, cardiovascular function, and immune health.*
Bodybio Butyrate: Butyrate is absolutely critical for supporting good gut health and preventing leaky gut.* Because guess what, if your gut is leaky, the rest of your cells are probably leaky too. Butyrate helps strengthen the tight junctions in the gut, preventing pathogens and toxins from getting to the other cells of your body and weakening them as well.
Managing Stress and Your Environment for Leaky Cells
It’s not only what you put in your body that affects your cellular function, it’s what you’re exposed to on a daily basis, whether that’s physical, mental or emotional. A few additional tips to manage your environment and your stress levels for healthier cells:
- Detoxify your home: switch to non-toxic cleaning products, invest in appropriate air filters, and filter your drinking and cooking water.
- Limit screen time as much as possible, especially before bed.
- Prioritize sleep and an optimal sleep environment: dark, cool, and undisturbed.
- Manage stress with meditation, gentle exercise, and social time.
Leaky Cells Can Be Strengthened
And when we support our cells and cell membranes, our whole body benefits. Of the tips above, what can you implement today to start improving your cellular health?