Leaky gut is a rapidly growing condition that millions of Americans are struggling with, and most times, they don’t even know it. You might think, as most people do, that a leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality, it can lead to many other health conditions. Practitioners of functional medicine have been actively diagnosing and treating leaky gut with natural, non-invasive therapies successfully for years. Mainstream conventional medicine, on the other hand, has not embraced leaky gut syndrome as an actual medical condition or diagnosis up until now. According to the research, leaky gut could be the underlying cause of your food allergies, low energy, joint pain, thyroid imbalances, autoimmune conditions, and slow metabolism, just to name a few.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
To best explain the condition called leaky gut syndrome, think of the lining of the digestive tract like a net with tiny holes in it that allow specific substances to pass through. The lining in your gut works like a wall, keeping out larger-sized particles that can damage your digestive tract. When someone suffers from leaky gut (also referred to as increased intestinal permeability), the “net” in your digestive tract gets damaged, which results in micro-tears that grow and allow substances to easily pass through. This includes things like gluten, harmful bacteria, and undigested food particles. Toxic waste can also leak from the inside of your intestinal wall into your bloodstream, causing an immune reaction.
Symptoms To Watch For:
When you suspect you may have leaky gut syndrome after other more routine conditions have been ruled out, the inflammation throughout your system can cause symptoms such as: bloating, food sensitivities or intolerance, thyroid conditions, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, skin issues like rosacea and acne, digestive problems, weight gain or weight loss, and even metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a prevalent condition that encompasses a cluster of different symptoms, including elevated blood pressure, increased cholesterol, increased waist circumference (more than 38” in men or 35” in women), obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
One of the warning signs that you may have a leaky gut is experiencing multiple food sensitivities. Partially digested protein and fat can seep through your intestinal lining, making their way into your bloodstream, which may cause an allergic response. If this leakage is left untreated, it can manifest into other severe health issues like inflammatory bowel disease (chron’s or ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, migraine headaches, muscle pain, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Another real problem with leaky gut syndrome is that it can lead to malabsorption of vital nutrients, including iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
As more studies are coming out regarding the triggers for leaky gut syndrome, it has been shown that there are four primary factors which can cause or manifest into a diagnosis:
- poor diet
- chronic stress
- toxin overload of kidneys and liver
- bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract
The most common components of food that can damage your intestinal lining are wheat, gluten, dairy, sugars, and GMO (genetically modified) foods.
Other Related Factors
When we dig deeper into potential causes which lead to leaky gut in some people and not others, we must also consider each of these three things:
- chronic stress – chronic stress weakens your immune system over time, which impacts your ability to fight off foreign proteins or substances like harmful bacteria and viruses, leading to inflammation and leaky gut
- toxins– we are in contact with chemicals and toxins everywhere but probably the most persistent offenders for causing leaky gut include antibiotics, pesticides, unfiltered tap water, aspirin, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, Aleve, Advil)
- dysbiosis – an imbalance between beneficial and harmful species of bacteria in your gut
Is There A Diet To Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The initial plan when approaching leaky gut is to remove foods that damage the gut. Then, replace the bad foods with healing foods, add some targeted nutritional supplements, and finally rebalance the gastrointestinal tract with probiotics. While there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan to address leaky gut syndrome, experience from functional medicine practitioners indicates that there are some healing foods that should be included along with a common-sense approach to healthy eating. This includes bone broth and raw cultured dairy (contains both probiotics and short-chain-fatty acids that can heal the gut), including kefir, yogurt, and raw cheese. Others on the food list include fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, coconut products, and sprouted seeds like chia, flax, and hemp seeds.
Nutritional Supplements For Healing Leaky Gut
Knowing which nutritional supplements that can support your digestive health can be a challenging task to the average consumer. Working with a healthcare professional knowledgeable in supplements and the condition itself, can be very beneficial and time and money well-spent. Again, because there are no established protocols for what might get the job done for everyone with this condition, it is best to start with a modest protocol of nutrients that we know improve gastrointestinal function. The following are nutritional supplements that have proven through the years to balance the gut and improve digestive function. The shortlist includes the following key supplements from which to build upon:
- Gut Restorative PRP – this supplement is comprised of bovine colostrum for supporting a healthy immune system. Supplementing with bovine colostrum has been shown to bolster the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and fight inflammation by regulating the cytokine response.
- Probiotics– these are known to replenish good bacteria and crowd out the bad bacteria. However, in leaky gut syndrome, the administration of probiotics when the gut is still permeable may create additional problems as the probiotics permeate through the gut wall, and may cause an allergic response. Extensive probiotic supplementation should be withheld until the leaky gut has healed (about 4-6 weeks).
- Digestive Enzymes – these can be either gluten digestive enzymes or regular digestive enzymes used before meals to ensure foods like protein, carbohydrates, and fats are broken down into fine particles for better absorption to maximize the full nutrient value without post-meal side effects like bloating, gas, abdominal pain or heartburn.
- L-Glutamine – this is an essential amino acid that has anti-inflammatory properties and is necessary for the growth and development of the intestinal lining. It also coats your cell walls as a protector.
- Quercetin – this ingredient improves gut barrier function by sealing the gut and supporting the creation of tight junctions. It also highly stabilizes mast cells and decreases the release of histamine, which is common in food intolerance.
- Turmeric – the ancient Indian spice (curry) has many healing properties, including decreasing inflammation, improving micro-circulation in the gut, removing toxins, and supporting healthy digestive function. No leaky gut protocol should be without this vital herb.
- Pyloricil – this is the active ingredient extracted from pistachio nuts that have excellent healing properties for the entire gastrointestinal tract. This product is endorsed by some of the top thought leaders in functional medicine and has many applications for leaky gut syndrome and its associated symptoms.
- CBD oil – this is included in recommended essential products for leaky gut provided it is a high quality third-party validated pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil. Hemp-derived CBD has shown it can modulate the healing process in the digestive tract, calm the nervous system, and reduce inflammation (all part of the symptom cascade seen in leaky gut). Either soft gels or sublingual liquid tinctures can be very effective at reducing symptoms triggered by leaky gut syndrome.
A Path Towards A Healthier Gut
Functional medicine practitioners have worked on gut healing as an initial step to treating chronic diseases for decades. Naturopaths are trained that 70 percent of all inflammation in the body begins in the gut. A typical initial step is to remove foods that can be inflammatory like nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant) and decrease alcohol, processed foods, and excess sugar. Controversy still exists on whether leaky gut causes the development of diseases outside the GI tract in humans. The key is to help rebuild the gut lining, bring more balance to the gut flora, and provide a protective barrier to avoid the leaky gut phenomena in the first place. By implementing these lifestyle changes, especially in your diet, you will not only feel better, but, in some cases, you may ward off a diagnosis of leaky gut syndrome in the future.