Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the lining of the gut, which is only one cell layer thick, becomes compromised or damaged. When this happens there is a breach in the barrier system of the body whereby “things” leak into the blood stream and trigger an immune system response. This immune response will result in inflammation and potentially lead to an autoimmune response where your body begins attacking itself. We will get to the “things” that cause leaky gut later.
How does one get a leaky gut?
This is an interesting question and the reality is that there is no one specific answer. The current think is that there is one or several insults to the lining of the GI tract and this causes openings or gaps either between the cells or through the cells themselves. Once this happens various particles can leak through the gut lining such as food particles, toxins, bacteria, parasites, viruses and/or the toxins they produce themselves, one of which is called LPS or lipopolysaccharide. LPS can actually be measured via blood. If this is elevated, there is a strong chance you could have leaky gut. Other markers are available such as Zonulin which is also a strong predictor of leaky gut. The fact of the matter is that most functional medicine and natural practitioners believe that everyone has a leaky gut to some degree and the effects of this can vary between individuals.
Here are some of the causes of leaky gut:
- Lifestyle – nobody wants to believe in this one because for some reason this contributing factor always seems to get brushed off. Why? because it is too simple and it couldn’t possibly be the “real” cause of a leaky gut. Did you ever hear about stress? What are your average daily stress levels? Do you meditate daily? Ok so its been said. Lets blow this one off for now but don’t forget it.
- Foods – certain foods can by themselves trigger an immune response in your gut and you would never be the wiser. Take some of the common foods such as wheat-gluten, corn, milk, eggs, dairy products, nuts and soy products. And yes, you don’t have to have celiac disease to be gluten or wheat sensitive.
- Pathogenic microbes – there are many bacteria, parasites and viruses that can cause leaky gut. For example every person has their own micorbiome or ecosystem of the gut. This microbiome consists of mostly good bacteria but we also harbor other bacteria that are not good. Fortunately the good bacteria keep the bad bacteria in check, however, when there is some disruption in this ecosystem such as for example food poisoning, stomach bug, Lyme disease, Mono or EBV that infects you, this delicate ecosystem can become damaged and the insulting factor can produce a leaky gut.
- Toxins – This can range from exotoxins (what you get from your environment) or endotoxins (what you actually produce or get from your body). For example an exotoxin can range anywhere from hormones that are found in meats to GMO’s found in corn to heavy metals found from the workplace or environment. Endotoxins are found in the body and can occur from proteins that certain bacteria give off such as LPS as mentioned above.
- Travel – water borne illness in underdeveloped countries can easily infect our GI system and cause micro biome disruption and lead to leaky gut.
- Antibiotics – Taken orally or those found in our food supply (meat, poultry and fish)
- Pesticide contaminated foods
- Prescription medications
- Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Excessive amounts of refined foods
Symptoms of a leaky gut
- Constipation, diarrhea or both
- Gas and bloating especially after meals
- Joint pain
- Skin rash, eczema
- Depression, anxiety or other mental illness
- Memory loss, brain fog
- Autoimmune disease (thyroid disease – Hashimoto’s/Graves, Lupus, Crohn’s, Celiac, IBD, RA, Sjogren’s, etc.)
- Nutritional deficiencies, weight loss/gain
Heal a leaky gut
So most of you who are reading this either have been diagnosed with a leaky gut or have figured it out on your own. I suspect the later as most mainstream doctors are unfamiliar with this concept.
- Test, don’t guess. As technology continues to improve so do functional medicine tests. One of the tests that will best assess a leaky gut and altered microbiome is called the Wheat Zoomer and Gut Zoomer I would recommend doing both of these tests so you can get an accurate picture of what is really going on with your GI tract. If you have leaky gut, the Wheat Zoomer panel has a section that will evaluate this for you.
- The second thing I recommend is getting a food sensitivity test done. If foods are irritating your GI and causing an immune response you will be able to identify what they are and avoid them for a certain period of time until you fix your leaky gut. Food Sensitivity Test
Some of the testing is out-of-pocket and can be costly, however, I believe that the testing is worth getting done. If finances are really a concern here are some things you can do to help fix you’re leaky gut.
Leaky gut protocol:
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid caffeine
- Avoid the common food allergens: dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt), wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, shellfish and eggs
- Avoid refined foods (cookies, candy, cakes, white flour products and sugars)
- Avoid sodas and anything that has corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup
- Keep your sugars below 30 grams per day
- Drink filtered water
- Buy organic, free range/grass fed and non-GMO foods
- Eat slowly and chew your food well
- Meditate on a daily basis even if only for 10-minutes each morning
Diets that I’ve modified and found helpful for leaky gut:
- Modified Mediterranean diet – excludes the common food allergens above
- Modified Low FODMAP – excludes the common food allergens above
Supplements and natural products that I’ve found helpful for leaky gut:
- Ultra GI Replenish
- Kettle & Fire Bone Broth
- Colostrum Powder
- Digestive Enzymes Ultra
- GI-Revive Powder
There are so many variations and complexities with leaky gut. I recommend finding a natural medicine practitioner who fully understand leaky gut and is well read on the testing and literature. In reality healing a leaky gut is possible once you get the the root of the cause of this issue. The time frame will vary between individuals and it can range between 3 months to 1-2 years depending on the underlying factors that may have to be cleared.
Dr. Picard available for consultation at 401.942.6967
Image courtesy of yodiyim at FreeDigitalPhotos.net