What is Leaky Gut? What Causes It and What Can You Do About It?
By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), Naturopathic Doctor
If you’ve been searching for the root of on-going health issues that just won’t go away, the kind where your doctor – and maybe even your second and third doctor – have tried everything in their arsenals but have come up with only prescriptions that ease symptoms but don’t solve the underlying problem, it’s easy to feel discouraged.
However, if you’ve been keeping up with some of our previous blog posts, you’ve started to realize just how important our digestive system and gut health are to our overall health. In fact, you might be wondering if the root cause of the ‘mysterious illnesses’ from which you or your family have been suffering could actually reside in the gut – and you could very well be right.
From hormone regulation to immunity to enzyme production that keeps the rest of our body in tip-top shape, we keep learning more about how critical gut health is to maintaining overall vitality. One condition we are starting to learn more about, and see a prevalence of, is Leaky Gut Syndrome.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky Gut is a condition that is linked to dozens of illnesses. Because Western medicine hasn’t yet learned enough about the gut to fully understand the immense and overarching influence it has on overall health, there are no conventionally recognized methods of diagnosing and treating Leaky Gut syndrome. Understandably, doctors try to resolve the more commonly recognized associated issues a sufferer might be experiencing (see below), without actually addressing Leaky Gut itself. Unfortunately, that often creates a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario, in which doctors treat complaints, but without knowing which illness is the root cause and which is the symptom.
Do you wonder if Leaky Gut might be affecting you? Or whether you should be concerned?
Leaky Gut is often called a ‘phenomenon’ because it covers issues that stem from immunity, gut function, and the effect of modern diets and lifestyles on both of these systems.
In fact, in Canada alone, more than 20 million people suffer from digestive disorders – and that doesn’t cover half of the symptoms associated with Leaky Gut! Because of this, it’s important to understand the broad-reaching effects that the Standard American Diet, chronically high-stress levels, toxin overload, and even bacterial imbalances can have on gut function – and that managing these four elements are the basis of healing your gut.
What symptoms are the symptoms of Leaky Gut?
- Consistent gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, cramps
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- New food sensitivities
- Autoimmune diseases
- Thyroid conditions
- Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
What is going on in a Leaky Gut?
While symptoms of Leaky Gut are broad and varied, they all have a common theme: that they occur from malfunctions of intestinal ‘tight junctions’ (TJs) in the small intestine.
Tight Junctions have one, very important job: to act as a barrier that selectively allows some particles – like vital nutrients – to pass through the intestines to the bloodstream and to make sure that other disease-causing particles – called xenobiotics – do not. Think about TJ’s as preventing holes in the intestine so there is no leaking of bad particles into your bloodstream!
When the TJs are in optimal condition, you and your gut can be in optimal health! When they are malfunctioning, creating intestinal hyperpermeability (holes), your body will respond with acute inflammation. If left untreated, this acute inflammation becomes chronic inflammation – the underlying cause of the majority of disease.
Diseases associated with a Leaky Gut
Diseases that have been associated with intestinal hyperpermeability are many, some of the most recognized include:
- Bowel issues including gastric ulcers, infectious diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and diseases like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease and other allergies
- Acute inflammation conditions
- Arthritis and chronic inflammatory conditions
- Obesity and related metabolic diseases like fatty liver, Type I and Type II diabetes, and heart disease
- Autoimmune disease including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Type I diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
While the concept of ‘intestinal permeability’ has been a conversation in the medical world for over 100 years, the symptoms of Leaky Gut are not unique to the syndrome and are shared with many other possible causes. So, many people’s symptoms go untreated by conventional doctors for months or even years. It’s understandably frustrating and disheartening when doctors are unable to help – both from their perspective as well as from the sufferer!
That’s why working with an integrative health team – one that partners your Western GP or gastroenterologist with naturopathic doctors – can be the most valuable step in taking the time and effort to properly investigate your symptoms.
How Can You Help a Leaky Gut?
Our naturopathic doctors can provide testing for Leaky Gut syndrome (zonulin testing) that can assist your whole health team in creating a holistic plan to get you back to optimal health.
Whether you suffer from Leaky Gut or want to protect yourself and your family from the possibility of it, you can get started by working on the four most important factors that contribute to Leaky Gut:
- Remove inflammatory foods and gut-damaging toxins
Common culprits of inflammation and toxins include grains, gluten, sugar, antibiotics, conventional cow milk or dairy products, GMOs, pesticides, and processed foods. Start by eliminating these from your diet and see how much relief you feel
- Add gut-healing foods
We’ve talked about prebiotics and probiotics before, but adding other nourishing foods like bone broth, simply steamed vegetables, fermented foods, raw cultured dairy, hormone-free and antibiotic-free animal products, and healthy fats
- Reduce stress
We can’t stress this enough! We live with so many competing priorities that we often don’t detect how stress is affecting us until it’s too late. Take time to turn off your brain, and tune into yourself with quiet time, sunny vitamin D filled walks, meditation, or yoga.
- Add gut-supporting supplements
Your naturopathic doctor is the best person to consult on the type and amount of supplements that would be best for you. Book an appointment to ask us about L-glutamine, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and plant-derived mineral supplements, all of which can contribute to establishing and maintaining a happy gut!
Yours in good health,
The Team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic
Li X, Atkinson MA. The role for gut permeability in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes–a solid or leaky concept? Pediatr Diabetes. 2015 Nov;16(7):485-92. doi: 10.1111/pedi.12305. Epub 2015 Aug 13.