LEAKY GUT AFFECTS THE WHOLE BODY
Daily life takes a toll on your gut. Chronic stress, processed foods, bacteria, and other factors can contribute to leaky gut syndrome. Also known as intestinal permeability, the effects of leaky gut can be seen beyond just the GI tract. The health of the gut can affect not only your digestion but your mood, weight, immunity and more.
What is leaky gut?
Intestinal permeability occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. The porous, “leaky” intestines then allow undigested food particles, bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream. This creates an immune response in the body with inflammation and a host of symptoms.
What are signs and symptoms of leaky gut?
A diagnosis of IBS, GERD or “abdominal pain of unknown etiology,” is a clue that intestinal permeability is affecting your health. However, the signs and symptoms of leaky gut span well beyond the GI tract.
With 90% of immune system is in the GI tract, leaky gut wreaks havoc in the body, weakening immunity and causing widespread problems. What happens in the gut doesn’t just stay in the gut.
Infections: Those with leaky gut may experience chronic or recurring infections.
Mood issues: Poor gut health may mean a greater risk for depression and anxiety. Ninety percent of serotonin is found in the gut, not the brain.
Autoimmune disease: Increased intestinal permeability could lead to a higher risk for autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Joint pain, skin rashes/eczema, and inflammatory conditions of colon such as Crohn’s may result. New data has tied diabetes and weight issue to GI disturbances.
Symptoms associated with intestinal permeability include:
- Food allergies and intolerances
- GI symptoms of gas/belching, bloating, nausea/vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, weight gain
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression
- Acne, eczema and other skin issues
- Asthma and seasonal allergies
- Hormonal imbalances
- Autoimmune diseases
What causes leaky gut?
Tights junctions are small gaps in the intestines. These are normal and needed to allow nutrients and water to enter the bloodstream. However, problems occur when the tight junctions become loose, widening these gaps.
Zonulin, a small protein produced in the gut, regulates the opening of tight junctions.
Bacteria and gluten are two major triggers for zonulin, widening the gaps between tight junctions and causing leaky gut. However, there are other triggers, as well. High inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol and processed foods are other factors.
Environmental toxins such as pesticides and some medications, such as those that block acid production, contribute to leaky gut.
Leaky gut and the link to autoimmunity
Once the tight junctions are loose and more and more foreign invaders like undigested food, bacteria, viruses and toxins are in the bloodstream, the immune system begins to send out more and more inflammation to deal with the invaders.
Over time, the overly active immune system can become less accurate, and lead to autoimmunity.
The body can start to mistake its own tissue cells as an enemy. This is called molecular mimicry. Antibodies are then produced and attack the body itself.
The tissue that is attacked determines the autoimmune condition that arises. Thyroid antibodies can result in Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease. Rheumatoid arthritis develop from antibodies to the joints. Any tissue of the body can be affected.
The good news is that working on gut health can have a positive effect on symptoms and disease states.
Five strategies to fix a leaky gut
A combination of strategic supplementation and lifestyles changes can be used to help seal and heal the damaged intestinal lining.
Your functional medicine provider will craft an individualized treatment plan for your specific needs. Generally speaking, you'll need to remove the bad, replace the good, restore helpful bacteria, repair the gut lining and reset your life.
Find out more about these five steps to addressing leaky gut below.
1. Remove the bad
The first step is to remove the factors that are contributing to leaky gut. Reduce or eliminate consumption of the following: gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Your functional medicine practitioner may need to address gut infections such as candida, SIBO and parasites.
2. Replace the good
The second step to repair a leaky gut is to replace the good components that may be lacking. Adding in digestive enzymes might be helpful. Schoenwalder Health and Wellness recommends Digestzymes from Designs for Health.Betaine hydrochloric acid can be used for those with low stomach acid, especially those with a history of PPI use.
3. Restore helpful bacteria
Next, we need to restore the helpful bacteria in your microflora. Probiotics aid in the building of beneficial bacteria in the gut. You may want to consider incorporating more probiotic-rich foods in your diet.
While yogurt makes the top of most people’s list when it comes to probiotic-rich foods, cultured vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi are rich in beneficial bacteria. Coconut water kefir and yogurt offer non-dairy options, as well.
Prebiotic-rich foods including onions, garlic, leeks, apples, asparagus, jicama and Jerusalem artichokes are also beneficial for gut health. Eating these prebiotic-rich foods increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut and help produce short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids strengthen the gut barrier and mucosal lining while positively affecting the immune system.
Supplement with High Quality Probiotics
Utilizing a quality probiotic can be very helpful. Ideally, you might want to use a potent multi-strand probiotic with 50-100 million CFUs to begin. After some time, you can back down to lower potency. Beware, over-the-counter probiotics may have sweeteners and cheap fillers.
Your provider may recommend supplements to mend your leaky gut
You may need to incorporate gut-supporting ingredients to restore mucosal lining. Work with Schoenwalder Health and Wellness for specific supplementation recommendations. In general, the following may help:
- L-glutamine: the glue that reconnects intestinal cells
- Colostrum: provide IgG antibodies to boost immunity
- Gut-healing supplements may also contain: aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, marshmallow root, slippery elm
Schoenwalder Health and Wellness recommends DesBio and Designs for Health products.
Foods that promote gut health
Some people like to incorporate gut-healing foods to build new tissue and repair damaged cells. These include homemade bone broth, gelatin and collagen.
5. Reset your lifestyle
Last, but definitely not least, what you do day in and day out can affect the state of your gut. Managing your stress, sleep and diet are foundational. The significance of these lifestyle factors in connection with your gut health is great.
Chronic stress can contribute to leaky gut by raising the stress hormone cortisol which can break down the gut lining. High levels of emotional or physical stress can weaken the immune system, as well.
Try these helpful ways to combat emotional and physical stress:
Sleep: Create a nighttime routine that encourages restorative sleep to better handle daily stressors. Put away the electronics an hour before bed. Aim for 7-9 hours a night.
Meditation and prayer: Setting aside as little as 5 minutes in the morning or before bed can give you the positive mindset needed to bust the tension that unfolds during working hours.
Nature: Even if you don’t have time for a full on forest-bathing hike, find ways to incorporate more outside time in your daily activities. Eat lunch outside. Take a walk on your break. Do that workout outdoors.
Gratitude: Taking a moment to reflect or journal on the positive can help you reframe stressors.
Inflammatory diets can contribute to leaky gut and inflammation. Adopt a low inflammatory diet to help restore and prevent leaky gut.
Eliminating high inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy can be beneficial.
At Schoenwalder Health and Wellness, we recommend the SHAPE Reclaimed program to assist patients in adopting a low inflammatory eating template.
Optimize gut health together to support you and your health and wellness
Think leaky gut is at the root of your ailments? Work with our Schoenwalder Health and Wellness functional medicine providers to help you achieve gut and whole-body health with a customized plan. Wanting to schedule an appointment? Start here.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12404235 zonulin bacteria
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3637398/ gut bacteria & obesity
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25695388 obesity, systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, pre/probiotic treatment
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3266166/ molecular mimicry
http://www.jimmunol.org/content/198/5/2172 short chain fatty acids