Leaky gut describes a damaged intestinal lining. It’s a casual term for the scientific phrase “intestinal hyperpermeability”. Millions of people are walking around with leaky guts. You could be one of them. It’s a truly fascinating realization and an eye-opening diagnosis.
Our gut is our digestive tract – the long tube that starts from our mouth and ends at our anus. The intestinal tube’s wall (or lining) is thin and permeable – it’s supposed to be. There are little gaps between the cells of our gut lining called “tight junctions” that open and close in order to allow nutrients from the foods we eat to permeate into our bloodstream and ultimately into our cells.
What happens if our gut lining is damaged? Then those tiny gaps between the cells of the intestinal wall open up more. The normal permeability of the gut lining is now hyper-permeable, or what we call “leaky.” The tiny gaps are now big holes, and things that typically should not permeate through the intestinal wall can now pass through, such as partially digested food particles and bacterial toxins. Once they exit out of a leaky gut, they pass into our bloodstream and tissues where they aren’t welcomed or expected, so our immune system is alerted and begins to launch an inflammatory attack. This inflammatory attack can become chronic, leading to chronic inflammation and oftentimes autoimmune disease. Substances like lipopolysaccharides (LPS) – toxic compounds produced by bacteria – can also pass through a leaky gut and affect the brain. This can result in poor memory, difficulty concentrating, and brain fog.
In Functional Medicine, leaky gut can lead to a whole host of disorders and diseases, including autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Crohn’s, and rheumatoid arthritis. I am vigilant with testing my Functional Medicine patients in Whittier for leaky gut, especially if they have digestive issues, autoimmune disease, or a family history of autoimmune disease.
What Health Problems Can Be Caused by Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut can lead to a wide variety of symptoms and disorders such as:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Skin rashes, eczema, and acne
- Histamine intolerance
- Yeast (candida) overgrowth
- Brain fog / difficulty concentrating
- Digestive upset
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Joint pain
- Nutritional deficiencies
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Possible causes of increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) include:
- Intestinal bacterial infections
- Ingestion of allergenic foods or toxic chemicals
- Deficient secretory IgA, an important immune system antibody found in abundance in the intestinal mucosal lining
- Bacterial endotoxins, such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS’s)
- Mycotoxins – toxic products produced by mold which we inhale or ingest
- NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Advil, Naproxen)
How To Test For Leaky Gut
I commonly run two Functional Medicine labs to test for leaky gut. The first is the GI-MAP gut microbial test. It contains multiple markers for various strains of bacteria, yeasts, and other microbes in the gut, as well as a biomarker for zonulin. Zonulin is a protein that opens up the tight junctions between the cells of the intestinal wall. The more zonulin, the greater the gut permeability. Zonulin release is triggered primarily by gluten and bacteria. Because the GI-MAP offers so much information on gut microbial health, digestive health, inflammation, and zonulin levels, this is a very popular test that I run for the great majority of my Functional Medicine patients.
The second Functional Medicine diagnostic test I run is an Intestinal Permeability test, also known as a leaky gut test. This test directly measures the ability of two non-metabolized sugar molecules, lactulose and mannitol, to permeate the intestinal mucosa. The degree of intestinal permeability or malabsorption is reflected in the levels of the two sugars recovered in a urine sample.
How To Heal A Leaky Gut
1. Eliminate Offending Factors
One of the most common offending factors are hidden food sensitivities. Another common offending factor is inflammatory foods like refined carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol, dairy, and industrial meats. Stress, as always, is an offending factor in a multitude of health disorders including leaky gut.
2. Eradicate Hidden Gut Infections
Bacteria and yeast can overgrow in the gut when we are chronically stressed, when we consume too many processed carbs and sugars, when we don’t get quality sleep, and when we don’t eat enough whole, fibrous plant foods. These hidden gut infections can cause our guts to become leaky. Fortunately, there are effective antimicrobial herbs and supplements that can eradicate these hidden infections, such as MicroDefense by PureEncapsulations. And of course, we want to cut off their food supply, which is sugars and refined carbohydrates.
3. Take Probiotics
Probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi will reinoculate your microbiome with good bacteria. This is especially important if you’ve recently had a round of antibiotics, take ibuprofen or NSAIDs, or have been under a lot of stress. A probiotic supplement can also infuse your gut with a variety of strains of beneficial bacteria.
When treating leaky gut, a particular probiotic I often offer is Ortho Biotic which contains 7 proven bacterial strains including saccharomyces boulardii. This is a yeast-based probiotic that is uniquely effective in increasing SIgA, an antibody found in your mucosal lining that serves as your immune system’s front line soldiers. SIgA is considered your first line of defense against pathogens including viruses like coronavirus. People with leaky gut syndrome often have low levels of SIgA.
4. Drink Bone Broth
Bone broth is rich with collagen and minerals that can soothe and repair a damaged gut. Sip it alone as a warm drink or use it as the base for soups. I grew up on (and still consume) Chinese herbal soups with a bone base, slow-cooked for hours by my mother. It’s crazy nutrient-rich, ultra-comforting, and boasts a deliciously complex flavor profile. You can make bone broth yourself (with or without the Chinese herbs) or buy it online or at your grocery store.
5. Take the Right Supplements
L-glutamine is an amino acid that is essential for maintaining the health and growth of intestinal cells (enterocytes) in your gut. It is literally a building block for your gut lining. Numerous studies have confirmed L-glutamine’s ability to improve intestinal barrier function, to support gut mucosal integrity, and to protect against deterioration in gut permeability. There are many food medicines that contain L-glutamine such as grass-fed beef, bone broth, and red cabbage.
In virtually all my Functional Medicine treatment plans for leaky gut, I include nutritional supplement called GI Fortify, which contains L-glutamine along with several other nutrients and herbs like DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), marshmallow root, slippery elm, and aloe vera, which have all been shown to soothe and heal a damaged gut mucosal and cellular lining. It comes in capsule form or powder form. I prefer the powder form, but I always ask my patients what they prefer.
6. Try Intermittent Fasting
Going on extended periods without eating gives your gut a break from the hard work of digesting and absorbing nutrients so that it can rest and heal. There are many approaches to intermittent fasting, such as fasting every night for at least 12 hours up to 18 hours. Alternatively, you can fast for a full 24 hours once a week. If you are diabetic or have a tendency towards hypoglycemia, or if you have adrenal exhaustion, be very cautious with the blood sugar drop that invariably occurs with fasting. This is desirable for most people as it shifts you into temporary ketosis (fat burning) and increases autophagy (the body’s process of getting rid of senescent cells aka “zombie” cells). But of course, use wisdom when fasting.
7. Manage Your Stress
As I mentioned above in “remove offending factors,” chronic stress ranks high as a factor in leaky gut. Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which is catabolic so it breaks down tissues, including our gut lining. Chronic stress in particular increases inflammatory messengers such as interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha, which damage the gut wall and increase the likelihood of leaky gut. Not only does it impair the immune system and increase inflammation, but stress also decreases blood and oxygen flow to the intestines, weakening the entire GI system. You’ve surely heard of meditation, prayer, deep breathing, exercise, journaling, and getting out in nature as effective ways to manage stress. The question is, are you regularly engaging in these stress-reducing activities?
8. Take Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes help to break down your foods into smaller particles so that the nutrients found in those foods are easier to absorb and assimilate. Digestive enzymes break down proteins into amino acids, carbs into simple sugars, and fats into fatty acids. Cells don’t take in foods in their bigger, undigested forms like proteins or even partially digested proteins. Proteins must first be broken down into amino acids before cells can utilize them. In fact, the immune system will sometimes react and “reject” a partially digested protein, tagging it as a foreign invader and launching an inflammatory immune attack against that partially broken-down protein. Digestive enzymes, especially with hydrochloric acid, are extremely helpful in making sure our foods get completely broken down. Of course, you’ll also want to chew thoroughly and eat slowly and mindfully to support digestion.
9. Eat More Fiber. Way More.
Fiber is absolutely critical for a healthy gut. Fiber feeds your beneficial gut bacteria, which then produce short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate. Butyrate is THE fuel source for intestinal cells to function and heal. Fiber also helps you to have regular, well-formed bowel movements to effectively eliminate waste products. Fiber can be found in vegetables and fruits like broccoli, artichokes, kale, unripe plantains, berries, etc. Kidney beans and lentils are also very high in fiber.
Exercise is great for all areas of your health. Your gut health is no exception. Research has shown that exercise increases the amounts of beneficial bacteria in your gut and improves overall bacterial diversity.
Where can I find the most qualified functional medicine doctors near me in Whittier?
It’s our mission to go beyond treating your symptoms. We’re here to use our extensive diagnostic experience to take care of you, understanding the nuances of your condition so we can treat it effectively.
Count on our knowledgeable staff for help at all times, no matter where you live in Whittier. Don’t hesitate to reach us at (562) 789-1588 to learn more about how we can help you with gut health. Our team will create a highly personalized treatment plan for you along with complementary services to enhance your health and wellbeing. We look forward to speaking with you!