Leaky Gut (aka Intestinal Permeability), occurs when the tight junctions of the intestinal wall become so enlarged that pathogens, undigested food particles and toxic bi-products (that are normally kept inside the intestine) leak into the bloodstream. These toxins then travel throughout the body and trigger an inflammatory respose that presents as physilogical symptoms. In fact, leaky gut can be a major contributor to things like allergies, skin issues and joint pain. Arthritic pain is another key connection, as the toxins can actually travel through the blood stream and get lodged in your joints, leading to inflammation and pain.
While it is not clear if leaky gut is a cause or a symptom, it has also been linked to irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and diabetes, among others. Some research has shown that leaky gut may be a factor for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well.
Signs & Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Many of the symptoms of Leaky Gut are shared with other health conditions making Leaky Gut difficult for doctors to identify, however these are a few of the symptoms I see most often in-clinic:
· Chronic diarrhea, constipation, or bloating
· Nutritional deficiencies
· Sinus Congestion
· Difficulty concentrating
· Skin problems such as acne, rashes or eczema
· Joint pain
· Widespread inflammation
· Food sensitivities
· Frequent infections
· Intolerance to Grains
A skilled practitioner can help you identify whether Leaky Gut is a factor for you based on your symptoms, especially when combined with Functional Gut testing. For leaky gut specifically, we teste for a protein called Zonulin, which is known to increase intestinal permeability. Essentially, the more Zonulin that is present, the more severe the case of Leaky Gut.
6 Root Causes of Leaky Gut
1. NSAID use - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include Aspirin and Ibuprofen, can increase intestinal permeability and contribute to leaky gut. NSAIDS are toxic to the intestinal epithelium, causing erosions, perforations, and longitudinal ulcers in the gut.
2. Medications - Modern medicine is a double-edged sword. While it has helped us in addressing many acute concerns, the most common challenges in healthcare today are chronic issues. The medications relied on for addressing chronic problems treat the symptoms rather than trying to identify and overcome the underlying cause of the condition. With the use of many common prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, you could be compromising your gut health without even knowing it, leading to leaky gut. This isn't to say that medications are *never* needed - Instead, focus on protecting and taking care of your gut health, and addressing your root cause.
3. Food sensitivities - Food sensitivities are the main cause of symptoms associated with leaky gut. Food sensitivities create a vicious cycle in that they help maintain the reason for their development (the leaky gut) while being the direct cause of the various symptoms suffered. This vicious cycle can only end after carefully removing all sources of reactive foods and chemicals, which not only eliminates symptoms, but also allows the gut to finally heal. In some cases, we use a Mediator Release Test (MRT) to quantify the degree of the inflammatory response to a wide range of foods and chemicals, identifying both your “reactive” foods and your safest foods. However, these foods are not meant to be avoided forever, and once the intestina llining is "healed and sealed" they should no longer pose a problem.
4. Pathogen overgrowth - As metioned above, in pathologic conditions, the permeability of the epithelial lining may be compromised, allowing the passage of toxins, antigens, and bacteria to enter the blood stream. Growing evidence shows that the gut microbiota is important in supporting the epithelial barrier and therefore plays a key role in the regulation of environmental factors that enter the body. Pathogenic bacteria drive up inflammation in the gut and can "crowd out" our healthy gut bacteria - Over time, this can facilitate intestinal permeability.
5. GMO / glyphosate foods - Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. It is a broad-spectrum herbicide that is widely used on many of the largest crops we consume and it directly affects the tight junctions between cells in the intestine. According to the USDA, it is estimated that 92% of corn and 94% of soy is genetically modified. GMO plants are also engineered to enhance plants’ natural “plant protectors,” including prolamins, agglutinins, digestive enzyme inhibitors, and saponins. These chemicals contribute to leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, and inflammation.
6. Stress - high levels of stress over time increase the intestine's permeability. During times of stress, the emptying of the stomach is delayed, which can lead to a stomach ache, indigestion, heartburn and nausea.” As the stomach is slowing down, stress causes increased motor function in the large intestine. So at the same time that you're stressed, you might experience bowel urgency or diarrhea. This means that particles, such as bacteria and undigested food, can move more easily into the bloodstream, which can cause damaging chronic inflammation.
What to do? Tips on Healing a Leaky Gut:
The key to healing a leaky gut is changing your diet and eliminating the foods that your body treats as toxic. Removing inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol may be necessary to give your gut time to heal. Often times, people experience renewed energy levels, the diarrhea and bloating subsides, and they have better quality sleep.
In addition to eliminating inflammatory foods, adding supplements and nourishing foods to help repair leaky gut may be needed. These included healthy fats such as fish, coconut and olive oils; avocados and flax; probiotics to restore the healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and L-glutamine, an amino acid that rejuvenates the lining of the intestinal wall.
Best Foods & Supplements for Leaky Gut
1. Bone broth - Bone broth (or stock) is fabulous for healing intestinal permeability. It contains collagen, which nourishes the intestinal lining and reduces inflammation. Plus, it’s easy for a damaged gut to digest and reap the benefits of its protein and minerals.
2. Fermented Foods - Fermented foods are desirable for leaky gut because they contain easily digestible fibers that serve as food for the healthy bacteria in our guts. You can also think of them as naturally rich sources of probiotics – the beneficial bacteria that our guts rely on for health. Common fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, apple cider vinegar and coconut kefir.
3. Aloe Vera - Aloe Vera on an empty tummy twice a day, will help cool and heal the gut by creating a mucilage to ‘glue’ the holes in the small intestine together. Aloe vera is soothing and protecting. Aloe vera supports your immune system, improves water balance within your intestines, and aids in controlling pathogen overgrowth that may be contributing to intestinal permeability (including yeast). It also provides a wide range of nutrients and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E.
4. Zinc / foods rich in zinc - Zinc is critical to intestinal health. Zinc helps to strengthen the gut lining by modifying the tight junctions of the intestinal lining, helping to limit gut permeability. Good sources of dietary zinc are oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. You may also want to think about adding in a supplement to help during the repair stage.
5. Cabbage juice - Traditionally used for GI ulcers, modern research has shown that cabbage is rich in an antioxidant known as sulforaphane that inhibits the growth of the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori. The other phytochemicals in cabbage have a protective effect on the gut lining, making it an ideal medicine for people suffering from GI problems including leaky gut.
6. L-Glutamine – L-glutamine is an amino acid. Your intestinal lining actually uses L-glutamine as fuel to create a strong surface for digestion and absorption. Supplementing with L-glutamine is the most effective treatment to heal the gut lining for those suffering from leaky gut.
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