I don’t know why, but the term “Leaky Gut” has been coming up a lot in the last week. Do you know what leaky gut is? I’m really starting to get it so I decided I would share.
“Leaky Gut Syndrome: Gastrointestinal tract dysfunction caused by antibiotics, toxins, poor diet, parasites or infections, leading to increased intestinal wall permeability and absorption of toxins, bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc; Leaky Gut Syndrome may be linked to allergy and autoimmunity. (medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/leaky+gut)”
We have been hearing a lot about IBS over the past few years. It’s kind of the go to phrase/diagnosis for intestinal discomfort combined with alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Unfortunately IBS isn’t much of a diagnosis. It’s sort of an “umbrella” diagnosis for most chronic intestinal complaints once intestinal disorders like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have been ruled out (McGuire & Beerman, 2011). Not really very helpful.
Here is a quote from Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals To Food by Michelle McGuire & Kathy Beerman about IBS.
“It is important for people with IBS to identify and avoid foods that trigger IBS episodes and seek out those that bring comfort and relief. IBS is sometimes treated with antispasmodic medication. Fortunately, IBS does not progress to other, more serious illnesses.”
I don’t like the above statement for two reasons. First it’s really not that helpful for people trying to find relief from IBS and second I disagree that “IBS does not progress to other, more serious illnesses.” I believe that IBS is essentially Leaky Gut. Leaky Gut is damaging and can “progress to other, more serious illnesses” if not corrected.
Leaky Gut Syndrome, also known as Intestinal Permeability (damage to the intestinal lining) is not a disease or illness, it is a symptom of inflammation and imbalance of the small intestine (Lipski 2012). I have read that dysbiosis is a precursor to leaky gut in several places.
“Dysbiosis is a condition that occurs when there is an imbalance between good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gut. With today’s Standard American Diet (SAD) full of processed foods and sugar, it is more prevalent than ever. Most people shrug it and it’s symptoms off as nothing serious. If it goes unattended to it can quickly develop into leaky gut syndrome. (source)”
Signs of Dysbiosis (stage 1)
- Belching, Gas and/or Bloating
- Constipation and/or Diarrhea
- Indigestion, Heartburn and GERD
- Undigested Food in Stool
No big deal, right? Everyone has that stuff. Actually, no, everyone does not suffer from those symptoms. I think a lot of people do but not everyone. I’m happy to report that I do not have any of those symptoms. Even though I don’t suffer from the above symptoms family members of mine do. Understanding and treating Dysbiosis and leaky gut is very important to me.
If you choose to ignore the above symptoms you may develop the following unpleasant symptoms:
Stage 2 – Leaky Gut
- Apparent Food Allergies/Intolerances
- Autoimmune Deficiency – early onset
- Chronic Fatique Syndrome
- Dermatitis, Psoriasis and Exzema
- Digestive Problems
- Migraines and other Headaches
- Pain in the joints
So, if you don’t address the early dysbiosis symptoms you will more than likely eventually encounter some of the stage 2, leaky gut symptoms. Unfortunately most of these symptoms are treated with medication which masks the actual problem so the inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining continues. With continued damage you may develop the following conditions:
Stage 3 – Leaky Gut
- Celiac’s Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Severe Skin Conditions
- Systemic Candida, Nail Fungus, Ringworm etc.
- Ulcerative Colitis
YIPES! Did you notice Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis in that list. If you remember, the beginning of my post mentioned that once Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are ruled out the diagnosis is IBS (Leaky Gut). Based on the list of symptoms from stage 1 to stage 3 eliminating Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis to determine a diagnosis of IBS is backwards. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are extreme manifestations of Leaky Gut (IBS).
If leaky gut goes undiagnosed and untreated your immune system will get tired. This is when autoimmune problems begin. If you develop severe autoimmune problems it’s difficult to stop them or reverse them (not impossible but difficult). The sooner you begin to heal your small intestine the better. Here is a link to a paper at PubMed.gov about Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases – basically, if the intestinal barrier function can be re-established the development of autoimmune disease can be stopped. The evidence presented in the paper “supports the idea for innovative approaches to prevent and treat autoimmune diseases.” Cool.
You are probably wondering how inflammation in your small intestine can cause all this trouble. I’ll try to keep this brief.
Our bodies are AMAZING. The small intestine has a very important job.
“It allows only properly digested fats, proteins, and starches to pass through so they can be assimilated, while providing a barrier (called a brush barrier) to keep out bacterial products, foreign substances, and large undigested molecules. (Lipski, 2012)”
When the intestinal lining is damaged, substances larger than particle size – disease-causing bacteria, fungi, potentially toxic molecules, and undigested food particles – pass directly through the weakened cell membranes into the bloodstream, activating antibodies and cytokines (alert white blood cells to attack foreign substances) (Lipski, 2012).
Not good. Leaky gut causes our bodies to work really, really hard fighting toxins in our bloodstream. Toxins that should never be there. Toxins that aren’t really toxins. For example food particles. If undigested food particles slip through the intestinal lining, our body now sees those food particles as toxins and our immune system reacts by making antibodies against that food particle/toxin. Next time you eat the food that your body created antibodies against your immune system will trigger.
“As time goes on, people with leaky gut syndrome tend to become more and more sensitive to a wider variety of foods and environmental contaminants.”
Does that sound like the development of food sensitivities to anyone besides me?
The undigested food particles also put a lot of strain on the liver.
“When the liver is bombarded by inflammatory irritants from incomplete digestion, it has less energy to neutralize chemical substances. When overwhelmed, it stores these toxins in fat cells. These toxins provide a continued source of inflammation to the body. (Lipski, 2012)”
All of that sounds just awful. You can ask your doctor to test for leaky gut. There is a test called the lactulose-mannitol test. It really isn’t necessary to test for leaky gut. Leaky gut is a symptom not a cause. One of the first things you might want to determine is if you have food allergies or more likely food intolerance. Other causes may be parasites, yeast or bacterial infections. High stress or even medications might cause leaky gut.
Some of the most common causes of leaky gut syndrome are (Lipski, 2012):
- Chronic Stress: “prolonged stress changes the immune system’s ability to respond quickly and affects our ability to heal.”
- Dysbiosis: as mentioned above
- Environmental Contaminants: household and environmental chemicals put stress on the bodies immune defenses and weakens the bodies ability to repair itself.
- Overconsumption of Alcohol: puts strain on the liver, which affects digestion and damages the intestinal tract.
- Poor Food Choices: “Processed foods are low in nutrients and fiber, with high levels of food additives, restructured fats, and sugar. These foods promote inflammation of the GI tract.”
- Use of Medication: Advil, aspirin and Motrin damage the barrier of the intestinal lining which allows microbes, partially digested food particles and toxins into the bloodstream.
- Lectins: found primarily in legumes bind to intestinal mucosa, making it more porous and leaky
- Food and Environmental Sensitives (some of which are caused by leaky gut and then continue to exacerbate leaky gut)
Enough about the bad stuff. On to the good stuff. You can repair your gut. As mentioned above, if you are in the Dysbiosis stage you are in a good place to start healing. Depending on your symptoms you may want to find a holistic nutritionist or other health professional to help you determine the underlying factors of your symptoms.
I really didn’t know there was such a thing as food sensitivities. I had heard of food allergies but not sensitivities. My daughters holistic nutritionist explained it to me (after years of no real help from her MDs and finally being told by a specialist that she didn’t have any food “allergies” – turns out she had food sensitivities). Basically you know if you have a food allergy, you usually end up in the hospital. Food sensitives are much more subtle. They make you feel lousy – as listed above in stage 1 symptoms. Stuff you just “live with”. Now you understand the consequences of just “living with it”. Have a blood test done by a nutritionist. You’ll find out some interesting stuff. Your regular MD will do different blood tests than what a nutritionist will do. Really, go to a nutritionist. Preferably a holistic nutritionist or a Naturopathic doctor. Why not give it a try. If you’ve been seeing an MD for years without an relief what do you have to lose?
Other simple things that can help right now are your diet and probiotics. Eliminate processed foods, cut out the added sugar and drop the vegetable oils. If you can only bring yourself to do one thing CUT WHEAT OUT OF YOUR DIET. Start there. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. Eat lots of whole, organic animal proteins, good fats, vegetables and some fruit. There is so much variety and delicious food out there, don’t waste any more time eating junk. Eat the good stuff. Your body will thank you.
I hope all of that information didn’t make things more confusing. Basically, if you feel lousy do something about it. No one should feel lousy. That’s your body trying to tell you something. Listen! Pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. Be your own experiment. It’s empowering.
Eat Well, Feel Good, and most definitely HAVE FUN!
Brimeyer, Karen (n.d.) 5 Tell Tale Signs of Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut. Retrieved from http://www.leakygutcure.com/blog/symptoms/dysbiosis-leaky-gut/
Fasano, A. (2012) Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22109896
Leaky Gut Symptoms (n.d.) Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome – Which Stage Are You In?. Retrieved from http://www.leakygutsymptoms.com/
Lipski, Elizabeth (2012) Digestive Wellness, Fourth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill
McGuire, Michelle & Beerman, Kathy A. (2011) Nutritional Sciences: From Fundementals to Food, Second Edition. Blemont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Murry, Michael (2000) Total Body Tune-Up. New York: Bantam Books.
Segen’s Medical Dictionary. (2011) Leaky Gut Syndrome. Retrieved from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Leaky+gut
Amy White MS HNC
I am a holistic nutrition counselor and believe real food is the true path to wellness. If you are interested in learning more about me and how I can help you, please see my story.
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