Updated: Apr 18
Leaky gut is a topic that's truly one of the areas of my deep interest- how it can have short and long-term negative effects on our health if we leave it untreated. Though I have written in the past an article about leaky gut, what it is, how to heal it- couple of podcasts I have listened to from doctors this week, pushed me to cover this topic again but maybe in more detail from how it affects our bodies and what's the functional medicine approach treating it.
Photo source: Piqsels
Leaky gut- what is it?
It's when you have larger openings in your intestines lining, so proteins like gluten, parasites or other organisms leak through the gut, get into the bloodstream, start to create inflammation, decrease the function of the immune system in the layers of the digestive tract and increase also levels of some chemical, like zonulin. Pores in your small digestive tract are supposed to be able to let the nutrients from food get into the bloodstream, be transported to the heart and from there to different parts of the body. But the pores should be small enough only to allow that. Having a healthy gut is central to your health- it's connected to everything that's happening in your body.
Symptoms of a leaky gut can include any of the below:
Food sensitivities, food allergies (like dairy, gluten)- if you have had a high starch, high sugar diet, this could have damaged your gut lining and reducing the acid in the stomach. When digestive tract is inflamed, when there is not enough stomach acid to break down the food and when there are openings in the small intestine wall, food particles get into the blood stream. Your body sees these as foreign invaders and will activate and immune-response to fight off the foreign objects.
Gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhoea. When food goes into the small intestine and colon, When you consume highly processed foods, refined sugars and starch, transfats, you feed the wrong bacteria in the gut. Bacteria eat these foods and produce gases. which cause gas, bloating, cramping in the stomach.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis), chronic constipation, chronic diarrhoea, chronic loose stools). The better the structures of the intestinal lining, the better the immune function. If the gut lining is damaged, the immune function is low.
Auto-immune disease. When food particles (like gluten, lactose, casein, transfats, refined sugars) or parasites get through the gut lining into the blood stream, it can cause system-wide inflammation. And if this continues for a while, it can cause auto-immune response in the body and can develop into diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's, Grave's, Type 1 diabetes, lupus etc.
Thyroid disfunction, adrenal issues and reproductive issues
Joint pain- when you have infected blood, your liver is trying to process the infections out from the body. Since your liver is involved in ligaments, tendons, connective tissue building, it's important to keep liver functioning properly. Diseases like Lyme disease like to go to the cartilage as there is glycosamine for it to feed on- and the disease eats away joints (hips, knees, wrists). When I was diagnosed in 2016 with Lyme disease, I experienced debilitating pain in my hips and knees for a few months. I was recommended to gut out gluten from my diet, which I did. It took 3-4 weeks for the pain in the joints to reside and not come back again. I have not put gluten back into my diet since.
Malabsorption issues- you are what you digest not only what you eat. When you have biofilm, plaque in the intestine tract, where infections and bacteria likes to hide- nutrients can't get through into the blood stream. Infections in the biofilm are eating away the nutrients. Also biofilms in the body are said to protect each other, signalling to each other about the anti-bodies. Biofilms need to be cleaned out and slowly to improve the nutrients absorption.
Skin issues- any type of acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, rashes. Your skin is your largest organ pushing out toxins if your digestive tract can't do it. Facial chart and meridians on the body can indicate where is the infection in the body. You can read my post on skin issues and face mapping.
Mood, anxiety, stress, ADHD, OCD, deep depression, brain fog. For example majority of the neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine) are created in the gut. If the gut is leaky, the production of these neurotransmitters is also impaired.
Dr. Josh Axe has a leaky gut quiz that you can take to understand, whether you could have a leaky gut.
How is leaky gut treated?
Functional medicine doctors, practitioners and functional nutritionists typically approach healing the leaky gut using 5R approach. But it depends on the person what stages are required.
Remove. It's important to remove the triggers that negatively affect the environment of the digestive tract. One of the ways to do it is through an elimination diet for 30 days so you get to understand what foods could be a inflammatory for you. If you have parasites, yeast, bad bacteria, mould toxicity, heavy metal toxicity (this all can be found out with lab testing), you will be put together protocols eradicate a particular bug in this phase as well. Here are a list of tests that can be run to determine if your gut is leaky.
Replace. It's important then to replace digestive secretions, by adding in digestive enzymes, bile acids, hydrochloric acid, that are all needed for proper digestion, that could have been compromised by drug usage, unhealthy diet, diseases or other factors.
Reinoculate. Once the gut is cleaned, it's time to start to grow the good bacteria in the gut, by regularly consuming probiotic and prebiotic rich foods. Both are essential to increase the good-bacteria in the gut. Here it's also to consider bio-individuality as people with SIBO, do not do well with prebiotic or probiotic foods.
Repair. It's also important to help the gut lining to repair itself which takes time. Liquorice root, slippery elm, marshmallow root, L-glutamine, zinc carnitine, ginger, aloe vera, good quality fish oil, vitamin A, C, D, E and zinc rich foods all help the gut lining to heal.
Rebalance. As you are working on the above 4 Rs, focus on consuming whole foods, manage your stress levels, get adequate amount of sleep, spend regular time in fresh air in the nature and be physically active. All these help to support a healthy digestive tract.
If you are looking for someone's help who can guide you towards more healthy and balanced diet, that you can sustain and who can help to detect the imbalances in other areas of your life and support you in finding more balance in the areas that effect health (sleep, physical activity, social life, home environment, home cooking, spirituality, joy, relationships, creativity, career, finances), reach out to me at email@example.com.