Leaky Gut Syndrome
*Disclaimer: In my practice, I believe in humor as a way of coping with any serious problem. I believe in the healing therapy of laughter, especially when dealing with illness, which can be an isolating and dark experience. While writing about serious diseases that might be affecting you or your family member, I add a sprinkle of jokes for you to know that I care and there is hope, and that even the scary things become a bit better when you can laugh about it, or at least smile. That’s what helped me on my own health journey. To quote Uncle Jesse (don’t tell me you’ve never seen “Full House”), “I’m there for you babe.”
“All disease begins in the gut” – Hippocrates
If you are interested in health and wellness (and since you are here, dear friend, I assume that you are very interested indeed), you very likely heard the term “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” Some of you might be freaked out by it, others might be skeptical, while the rest of you might be trying to imagine (with horror) what a leaky gut might look like. Not to worry. Well, maybe a little bit…
In this article, we will explore Leaky Gut Syndrome – what it is, why it is so problematic, and what can be done to heal.
The fancy term for leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability. Doesn’t sound much better, I know. This condition has been linked to food allergies & intolerances, autoimmune diseases, neurological problems, and chronic fatigue (oy vey). Its presence is becoming more and more widespread. If you don’t believe me, just go to PubMed.gov, where you can peruse the numerous studies for your reading pleasure.
How exactly can your gut become “leaky”? This is not a rhetorical question. It is a matter of anatomy and physiology. In some cases, it can be a matter of life and death. Hopefully not, but let’s just say that it’s important. To understand this leaky business, let me introduce you to the oh so amazing “gut” (aka gastrointestinal tract, GI tract, digestive tract, gastrointestinal system). The gut composes part of the digestive system, and it includes the esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. It is in the gut where some major action happens – digestion of food, nutrient absorption, and the elimination of waste. The gut also acts as our most important immune system barrier. In fact, 80 percent of your immune systems are located in your gut.
If all is well, the lining of your GI tract will act as a selective and protective defense barrier, letting nutrients in and keeping harmful substances from entering your bloodstream. Think bad guys like toxins, pathogens, and undigested food particles. However, when there is inflammation happening in your body (more on that below), the lining of your digestive tract becomes damaged, leading to intestinal hyper-permeability (there’s that fancy term again). Basically, the cells that compose the intestinal wall or the bonds between them become compromised, and the gut barrier is no longer able to defend you from the bad guys. Substances that are not meant to pass through enter your bloodstream, initiating an immune response. An immune response can manifest as many symptoms:
- Acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, itchy skin
- Anxiety & depression
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome & Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Joint pain
- Multiple Food Sensitivities
- Weight management problems
- Autoimmune conditions, where your body starts to attack its own tissues and organs
Essentially, Leaky Gut Syndrome affects all body systems and creates a web of health issues, which might seem like random and unrelated problems but are actually interconnected. Furthermore, a leaky gut can result in poor absorption of vital nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B12, creating even more health complications, since these nutrients are needed to help your body curb inflammation and heal the gut. May I hear another round of “oy veys”?
So what can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome? There are many factors that can cause leaky gut, the most common of which include a nutrient-poor Standard American Diet (SAD), inflammatory foods (rich in poorly digestible proteins) such as grains, legumes, & nightshades, low stomach acid due to use of antacid meds, use of medications or chemicals that damage the intestinal lining, parasitic infections, and multiple antibiotics that kill good intestinal bacteria and cause dysbiosis (imbalanced flora). Much like the symptoms of leaky gut, the causes are also linked – leaky gut can cause inflammation and inflammation can cause leaky gut. Remember that our bodies are unique and what causes one person to experience a leaky gut might be different from someone else. Also, our level of tolerance to different stressors depends on our biochemical individuality and epigenetics. Biochemical individuality takes into account your ancestry, constitution, and lifestyle changes, which affect your health. Epigenetics describes how diet & lifestyle impact gene expression. Some people might be prone to experience a leaky gut more than others, and some people might experience a slow onset of symptoms, which will take years to manifest. The degree to which you might experience symptoms will also depend on factors such as stress, sleep quality, your overall health, and the level of inflammation.
More and more patients who come to Dr. Kushnir’s Clinic experience problems like multiple food allergies, skin problems, GI symptoms, fatigue, and a general sense of just not feeling right. In order to help the patient, it is important to address what is causing the problem in the first place. Think back to the quote by Hippocrates (the papa of modern medicine) at the beginning of this article – “All disease begins in the gut.” That is why we work with patients on improving their gut health in order to address their symptoms.
While all factors that can cause leaky gut need to be addressed, diet is a foundational place to start. If your diet consists of inflammatory foods that continuously damage your gut, it will not be possible to heal, no matter how many supplements you take. Simple yet impactful diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way. A good way to think about it is the 4R Protocol:
- Remove: Cleanse, treatment for pathogens (candida overgrowth), toxins, meds, stress
- Replace: Digestive enzymes, nutrients, minerals, meditation
- Re-boot: Probiotics/ prebiotics, cultured foods, healing herbs & acupuncture, supplementation
- Repair: Avoidance of harmful meds and chemicals (SAD foods), balanced diet & exercise, preventive cleanses
REMOVING harmful chemicals from the body is the first place to start. Some chemicals and medications are “sticky” – after they get into the body and if the liver cannot detox them, they deposit in the tissues such as bone marrow, hair, skin or fatty tissue (including the brain, which has a really big fat content). There are certain treatments that can actively “shake” these toxins from the storages and “flush” them out of the body. We REPLACE harmful foods that initially caused toxin accumulation in the body with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods that include clean protein (grass-fed/pastured animal products), healthy fats (like grass-fed ghee, extra virgin olive oil), and fresh, organic vegetables. We also focus on RE-BOOTING the immune system with acupuncture, healing herbs, probiotics and cultured foods such as sauerkraut and lacto-fermented veggies. And last but not least, we also focus long-term on REPAIRING the gut lining, which includes a synergistic supplement protocol, as well as addressing other potential triggers, such as yeast overgrowth, parasites, and additional food allergies. We recommend to avoid foods based on individual (genetic) and common basis. Our essential recommendations include avoidance or reduction of immune system irritants, such as gluten-containing grains, beans & legumes (which contain anti-nutrients and are hard to digest), corn, soy, conventional animal products, sugary foods, artificial sweeteners, food additives, preservatives, and GMOs. Individual diet assessment incudes testing for allergies and re-introduction challenges when we capture foods that genetically are not digested right by the patient.
Healing takes time and patience, and everyone’s health journey is different. It is important to work with a healthcare team who can examine the root cause of your symptoms and work with you to create a customized plan. Each person has a unique health history, and what works for you might not work for someone else. However, starting with the 4R Protocol will provide a template for healing.
So that’s all folks. Take a deep breath. Listen to the wise words of papa Hippocrates. Get rid of the bad foods. Take control of your health, one cup of bone broth at a time. It will be okay <3
*I am Nutrition Consultant who educates about the benefits of nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods for overall health and wellbeing. The above information is meant for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with your physician before trying any regimen or supplement protocol.
Axe, J. (n.d.). Advanced strategies for healing leaky gut and overcoming adrenal and thyroid issues. [Video webinar]. Retrieved from https://live.draxe.com/webinar/hlg?utm_source=organic&utm_medium=Live%20Events&utm_campaign=sidebar&_ga=2.20505215.61646748.1520624833-1072167838.1518050856
Axe, J. (n.d.). 4 steps to heal leaky gut and autoimmune disease. DrAxe.com. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/4-steps-to-heal-leaky-gut-and-autoimmune-disease/
Ballantyne, S. (n.d.). What is a leaky gut? (And how can it cause so many health issues?). Thepaleomom.com. Retrieved from https://www.thepaleomom.com/what-is-leaky-gut-and-how-can-it-cause/
Bauman, E. (2016a). Digestive physiology. Lecture 2. Small intestine & large intestine. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from Bauman College, NC 102, Digestive Physiology. Dashboard: http://dashboard.baumancollege.org
Bauman, E. (2016b). Gastrointestinal health. Lecture 2. Upper GI tract. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from Bauman College, NC 204, Gastrointestinal Health. Dashboard: http://dashboard.baumancollege.org
Lipski, L. (2013). Digestion connection: The simple, natural plan to combat diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, acid reflux – and more! (direct mail edition). Rodale Inc.