What it is, how it’s caused and ways to heal it
When I met Dr. Heather in late 2004, she talked to me about the medical condition called Leaky Gut. My response was a good chuckle. I asked her why I had not heard of this diagnosis after 10 years of medical training. Her response, “Read about it.”
So, I did. The education on this topic was absolutely fundamental to my understanding of disease. Most MD’s are not paying attention to the concept of all health starts in the gut.
Now you can learn what the MD doesn’t know.
Leaky gut is a serious medical condition that allows undigested food particles, toxic waste products, environmental chemicals, and nasty bugs like viruses, bacteria, yeast and parasites to “leak” through the intestines into the blood stream. This “leaky gut syndrome” is prevalent in America and is associated with a wide variety of medical conditions and diseases.
To best understand leaky gut syndrome, let’s understand what a healthy gut is.
In a healthy gastrointestinal tract, the small and large intestines have lining that forms a barrier to separate the intestines from the environment. This lining is made up of a layer of intestinal cells (called the “intestinal epithelium”), which are meant to protect the gastrointestinal tract via a physical barrier.
In a healthy body, this cellular layer is linked together via tight junction proteins forming a “tight junction”. Along with this defense system, there are a multitude of other immune molecules there that support the barrier.
Together this specialized barrier functions to protect the digestive system and the body from entry of foreign invaders. The goal of this barrier is to create intestinal impermeability.
If there are any abnormalities with this barrier or it’s helper molecules then intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”, could result.
Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the intestines has become been “damaged” in some way.
Due to this barrier damage, undigested food particles, harmful bacteria, and even toxins can leak out of the intestines and diffuse into the blood stream and lymphatic system causing tissue and other damage.
When there is a foreign (i.e. not recognizable by the body) byproduct that gets into the bloodstream, this can generate both local and systemic immune responses. It can also provoke an autoimmune (a response produced against the self) response in which the body produces autoantibodies against its self.
Because of the heightened immune responses systemic inflammation and widespread allergic reactions can occur.
Additionally, digestion comes to a halt.
Leaky gut can also impede the body’s ability to make sufficient digestive enzymes, which further impairs digestion and absorption of nutrients.
While leaky gut typically starts in the digestive system, it can affect all aspects of health and has been linked to a myriad of chronic diseases1.
The symptoms of leaky gut are shared by other disorders. Leaky gut tends to be a root cause problem in many disorders, one that conventional doctors aren’t treating.
Take our leaky gut test to identify if you are suffering from the disorder. You’ll discover your level of intestinal permeability and what your immune response to wheat and gluten (common allergens) is.
General symptoms of leaky gut include but are not limited to:
Essentially, many factors work in combination to wreak havoc on the barrier lining of the intestine to create leaky gut.
The tight junctions in the gut are there to control what passes through it. These factors (listed below) can all result in poor digestion and loss of healthy gut flora. When good bacteria diminish and pathogenic bacteria flourish, it can trigger a breakdown of the gut lining. When this barrier becomes permeable, bad things can start to happen.
Increased intestinal permeability (i.e. Leaky gut) can develop as a result of any one or combination of the following factors:
1. Gut flora imbalance
Research has suggested that the gut microbiome is key to regulating the intestinal barrier lining and gut permeability1. If there is a high level of pathogenic bacteria and a low level of good bacteria, problems arise. In fact, several studies have shown that administration of probiotics can actually reverse leaky gut by enhancing tight junctions1. It is thought that one of the main mechanisms behind this is the influx of good bacteria, which pushes out the bad guys, and ultimately aids in gut repair.
There are specific foods that can feed pathogenic bacteria and destroy the gut lining such as refined sugar. There are also foods individuals can be sensitive to (i.e. gluten, soy, or dairy) which can generate an autoantibody event in the body causing further stress. Additionally, a low-fiber diet has been found to contribute to an increase in the strains of pathogenic bacteria that are able to degrade the barrier integrity1.
3. Low stomach acid or digestive enzymes
When you are low in stomach acid or digestive enzymes, this can impair normal digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Improperly digested food can compromise the gut lining through regular wear and tear.
4. Excessive alcohol intake
Alcohol is a known toxin and irritant to the body. In fact, the body handles alcohol as a toxic substance and gives it first priority in the digestive system. This means that excessive alcohol intake can also impede normal absorption of nutrients, which further impacts the health of the gut.
5. Pharmaceuticals, toxins or chemical exposure
These are all toxins that can harm the gut barrier lining. They can also destroy good microbes, which in turn, increases the accumulation of pathogenic microbes. Essentially, they “sterilize” our gut ecology, or microbiomes. A healthy gut microbiome needs diversity with a variation of beneficial bacterial strains.
6. Chronic stress
Chronic stress produces ongoing inflammation and damages gut health. Additionally, stress can cause increases in cortisol production, which leads to further systemic inflammation in a continuous cycle.
7. Infections (i.e. H. Pylori)
Stomach infections such as H. Pylori can interfere with the structure and function of the intestinal barrier lining, specifically by damaging tight junction proteins and causing widespread inflammation.
8. Antibiotic use
Antibiotics are anti-everything. They’re meant to kill the bad, the good and everything in between. While there is excessive use of antibiotics as medication, they’re also found in meats and eggs that are conventionally raised.
A leaky gut diet starts with eliminating harmful, reaction-triggering foods and toxin exposures from the diet.
Foods that can trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body can vary for people. Typical ones include gluten, soy, dairy, refined sugar, processed foods and alcohol.
The first step is to cut these foods out.
Next, you’ve got to add healing foods back in to replace the foods that are eliminated. Then you have to rebuild your gut flora and reduce stress and inflammation.
Above all- go organic, gluten-free and soy-free to protect the integrity of your gut lining and support gut health. Understand what works best for you. The Paleo diet is great for the gut as it is highly anti-inflammatory.
If you’re on a leaky gut protocol, here is a daily sample menu (with recipes) of what you could eat. This menu reveals key foods that support gut healing and overall health as a part of the leaky gut diet.
Breakfast: Healthy Gut Smoothie (Throw some of our quality beef, collagen-boosting protein powder in there for a full-force gut healing drink).
Lunch: Grass-Fed Burger Salad (Get your grass-fed beef, leafy greens, and sauerkraut all-in-one sitting)
Dinner: Paleo Salmon Salad Bowls (Salmon, greens, avocado, spices and apple cider vinegar make this a potent gut-healthy bowl)
Snacks: Sip on protein-rich, healing bone broth as a snack! Get some sprouted nuts for your mid-break snack. Or if feeling fizzy, grab a cold, local kombucha for your afternoon beverage. You can also make your own immune juice to help the healing process along.
It’s a fact that food today is less nutritious than it was just 40 years ago. That’s because soil depletion, use of pesticides and environmental pollutants have robbed our food of necessary nutrients. That’s why nutritional supplements are a must when treating leaky gut. Here are a few of our favorites:
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