You Have a Leaky Gut
November 16, 2014
, digestive enzymes
, gut health
, leaky gut
, small intestine
, stomach acid
What? No, I’m not psychic. I’m not overly judgmental. I’m just honest. Unfortunately, because of our standard American diet, exposure to toxins in our body products, cleaning supplies, and environment, chronic stress and lack of quality sleep, almost no one’s gut has survived unscathed.(1) Below I’m going to give you the low-down on the leakiness: what it is, why you should care, signs and symptoms, as well as how to help heal things up (or at least stop them from getting worse).
What is Leaky Gut?
Before we dig into leaky gut (a.k.a. intestinal hyperpermeability), let me explain why it matters at all. Our immune system is based on the health of our guts. In fact, science has figured out that over 80% of our immunity lies in our gut integrity.(2) So if you are the type of person who has a cold every couple of months, always catches what’s going around the office, has chronic unexplained allergies, or just generally doesn’t feel robustly healthy, I highly recommend you start paying attention to the health of those innards!
When I say “gut,” I’m referring mostly to your small intestine. This is where most of our digested foods get absorbed for use by the body. Picture, if you will, a shag carpet. You have these long shag-carpeted tunnels (your intestines). Within each tiny shag piece are tinier little carpet strands that are tightly wound together. This small intestinal lining is a very well-organized and solid barrier. Teeny tiny digested nutrients that have been properly broken down are grabbed by these shags as they come down the intestine and are then absorbed through the carpet to be released into our blood stream.
Now, what happens when we let an unruly group of teenagers wearing soccer cleats race around those shagged tubes? They tear it up and cause those tightly wound bits of shag to be unwound and wear down to the nubs. If we let’s those ruffians keep running around without some policing, after a while that shag carpet is completely bare.
In this silly analogy, the shags are your intestinal villi, and the littler carpet fibers making up those shags are your epithelium. These are designed to let only well-digested nutrients through the lining of our guts for assimilation. The ruffians here are representing toxins, undigested food particles, etc. Once that shag is run down, larger particles and unwanted/foreign agents are getting into our blood stream un-policed. This is how a cascade of autoimmunity and allergies (often coinciding) starts.(3)
Implications of Leaky Gut
Once particles get through the lining of the gut that shouldn’t be there, they pollute our blood, lymph, and liver.(4) This puts excessive strain on our immune system to fight off these invaders. The immune system ends up mounting a mountainous response if this happens over and over. Instead of just attacking the foreign invaders, the immune system starts sending out the big guns. Why use a scalpel when you can just carpet bomb? Well, this bomb of immune response is called autoimmunity. That means the body starts attacking anything in its way: including itself!
Autoimmune disorders are at the base of a whole host of disease states: chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, food allergies, sinusitis, most skin conditions (psoriasis and eczema for ex.), IBS, SIBO, fibromyalgia, MS, and even rheumatoid arthritis.(5) This is not even an exhaustive list! Now you see why this is so important. How many of you suffer from one of these issues? I certainly have over the years. And pretty much everyone I know has. That’s not to say that leaky gut is the only cause of these issues (and more), but it is a common one.
How Prevalent is Leaky Gut?
This is hard to say for two reasons: 1- Most Western doctors won’t even acknowledge that it’s an issue, and 2- There is no consensus on the right tests to run. Most medical doctors are going to only see the symptom: itchy rash or achy joints, and prescribe a cream or steroid to make that go away. This both ignores the source of the issue and even causes further leakiness!(6) A more integrative practitioner will at least look at healing you from the inside out while trying to ameliorate your symptoms. The issue with the testing is this: no one can decide WHAT is the one marker of this intestinal deterioration. On top of that, some people show more intense responses to leaky gut than others.
Based on the myriad of causes of leaky gut, I recommend that EVERYONE, including myself, treat their guts with the kid gloves it deserves. Assume that you might have a few holes that need patching at all times if you are: ever stressed (decreases stomach acid), underslept (comprises immune system), live anywhere near a city (environmental toxins), have ever used a body product not made by yourself from scratch, drink alcohol, caffeine, eat processed foods, don’t shy away from gluten, and occasionally take an NSAID. Um. That’s pretty much everyone on the planet!
There are a few tests that can suggest you have leaky gut. These include(7):
- Food intolerance tests: show that you are mounting an immune response and have systemic inflammation
- Parasite tests
- Bacterial overgrowth testing: can show that your gut has become a breeding ground for bad bacteria
- Lactulose/mannitol test: these sugars are found in the urine as byproducts of leaky gut
Unless you are working with a skilled functional medicine/integrative practitioner, it would be easiest to assess how many of the below symptoms you suffer from and then start taking care of your gut from there:
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome (8):
- Gas, bloating, and IBS
- Seasonal allergies/asthma
- Issues with PMS/PCOS
- Any autoimmune diseases
- Depression, anxiety, AD(H)D
- Chronic skin issues
- Food allergies/intolerance
How to Start Healing a Leaky Gut
First, let’s start by eliminating (or at least mitigating) some of the causes.
- Stress has been shown to decrease your creation of sufficient HCl in your stomach. When your acid is insufficient, you’ll be letting partially undigested particles into your small intestine that shouldn’t be there. See this post for more info. So find ways to work on bringing your stress responses down: mindfulness, breathing techniques, or even just getting some time to laugh!
- Sleep better! This will bring down your stress response, but also allow your immune system to catch up as well.
- Eat clean. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that eating whole natural foods is always the way to go. Cut the processed junk, get tons of fruits and veggies everyday, dump the vegetable and seed oils, and increase your intake of healthy fats (read: monounsaturated and saturated). Also, watch out for the “dirty dozen” as GMO’s and pesticide-laden foods are known gut destroyers.(1)
- Limit stimulants and alcohol. While this seems basic for overall immunity, many people go nuts on either caffeine or alcohol, or both. In mild moderation they are fine. But if you are having a hard time going to sleep and staying that way, try a caffeine break. If you are exhibiting any of the aforementioned leaky gut symptoms, and drink alcohol often or to excess, see what a month off the stuff can do for you.
- Get clean. No, I’m not talking about the booze anymore, I’m talking about your beauty/body products as well as household cleaners. Chemical cleaning products and personal products are rife with things that rip our intestinal walls apart. Through your skin and breathing in you take in larger doses of these offenders than any of us can wrap our minds around. Want to know how bad your current products are? Download the app SkinDeep by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and scan your items to see how they rank.
- Lay off the drugs. NSAIDS and other over the counter medications can be wreaking havoc on your insides. Take a look at those warning labels. If they tell you to watch out for damage to your stomach or liver, you need to try to avoid overdoing these (or taking them at all if you can). I’m not saying live in pain, but maybe if your gut were in primo shape the pain would go all by itself… Just sayin’.
Now that you’ve taken out the big gut-wrenchers, let’s take some steps to start healing up the gut day-by-day:
Phew! Well, there you go. If you made it to the bottom of this post you get a huge gold star. Honestly, I could continue to go on and on about this. Leaky gut issues have greatly affected me as well as my family. While we work hard to manage it, that work is never done. Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you think you are suffering from issues related to leaky gut? How are you working on it? If you want help, feel free to contact me anytime.
Yours in Health,
*DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS POST IS NOT DESIGNED TO BE USED AS MEDICAL ADVICE. ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT ANY CHANGES TO YOUR MEDICATIONS AND SUPPLEMENTS BEFORE STARTING ANY NEW PROGRAM. DFITLIFE AND DANIELLA DAYOUB ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ADVICE YOU TAKE OR CHANGES YOU MAKE TO YOUR LIFESTYLE OR FOOD CHOICES. *
- Feed your gut flora. There’s a reason probiotics have gotten so popular as of late. We have learned that our guts are the key to our immune system and within those guts we need tons and tons (read: trillions) of healthy bacteria. So eat fermented foods, drink your bone broth, and take a good probiotic to feed those little guys!(9) They will thank you in kind.
- Eat healing foods. We already mentioned the probiotics (yogurt, kefir, etc), but did you know that the medium chain fatty acids in coconut products are easier for you to digest and therefore help manage leaky gut? Drink bone broth and use it for cooking. Here is a whole blog on the benefits of bone broth. Eat soaked and sprouted seeds and legumes instead of their harsher commercial varieties. This will cut down on the abrasiveness and anti-nutrients as well as feed the gut plenty of cleansing natural fiber.
- Supplement wisely. Digestive enzymes are really important for most of us. If you have high stress, are getting on in years, don’t sleep well, or have eaten a less than stellar diet as of late, you would benefit from some digestive enzymes. These will help you to more completely break down your fats and proteins so as not to let those larger particles go undigested. Glutamine: this all around great supplement is found naturally in bone broth and the connective tissues of animal products. Glutamine is essential for healing and soothing the gut lining. Licorice root (DGL) is great for those who suffer from leaky gut related to stress. DGL will help with stomach acid production as well as maintaining the mucosal lining of the gut. Quercetin, which is well-known for managing allergy symptoms, helps by sealing up the tight junctions of the gut lining. (1)