The term ‘leaky gut’ sounds disgusting and weird, yet more people are learning what it is because so many of us have it! It’s highly possible you do, too. I’ve been living pretty primal for about 7 years, and I’ve discovered I have a very leaky gut which is now starting to cause serious problems. Here’s what I’ve learned that you should know.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky Gut is the short name for Gastrointestinal Mucosal Hyperpermeability, or Intestinal Permeability. Permeable means things can pass through, and in this case, we’re referring to things passing through the lining of your small intestine.
This lining has mucosal cells that cover the entire length of the small intestine (gastrointestinal tract). Normally these cells are very tightly ‘knit’ together, forming a sort of screen which nothing can pass through. With a leaky gut, microscopic gaps form between these cells, so that some large molecules can pass or ‘leak’ through the gut lining into the blood stream. Hence the name, leaky gut. Imagine a window screen with small holes in it where bugs can now enter through…
How does a Leaky Gut slowly ruin your health?
These large molecules that are now able to leak through the gut into the blood stream are things like partially digested food particles, bacteria, yeasts, and toxins. Yikes.
When these foreign things enter your blood stream, your body signals that there are invaders in the blood stream and starts fighting! Your liver starts working overtime to filter all the toxins and your immune system starts works tirelessly to quickly eliminate the invaders from the body. However, it’s often too much for them to fight against, and the invaders end up absorbing into different tissues, leading to inflammation throughout the body.
That inflammation leads to more immune response! Soon the immune system is too busy constantly fighting the invaders and responding to inflammation to do its usual jobs. Over time, the body ends up attacking its own tissues, leading to all sorts of autoimmune diseases such as chronic fatigue, chron’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, irritable bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, hashimoto’s disease and more.
Thanks to progressive doctors and health practitioners, we know now that our leaky guts are at the root of so many of our illnesses and disease, both physical AND mental. This includes autoimmune disorders, digestive disorders and mental disorders.
Food intolerances caused by a leaky gut
Another very common consequence of a leaky gut is numerous food intolerances. When partially digested food particles are able to leak through the lining of the small intestine into the blood stream, the body sees those foods as invaders, since they are somewhere in the body where they are not supposed to be. To fight the invaders, the body produces little fighting soldiers called antibodies to fight against those food particles.
The more you eat those foods, the more antibodies your body produces, and the more your immune system reacts when you eat those foods. This is why you may have eaten nuts, milk, wheat, eggs or other foods for many years with no problem, but then you suddenly start to have terrible symptoms when you eat them. Your body has become intolerant of those foods, and responds with diarrhea, rashes, fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, or something else.
What causes Leaky Gut?
The causes of leaky gut are numerous and often debated by experts, but commonly include:
Poor Diet – Regular consumption of refined sugars, flours and other processed foods leads to inflammation and dysbiosis (imbalance of good vs. bad gut bacteria) which leads to leaky gut.
Medications – Prescription drugs, birth control pills, and even over-the-counter pain medications such as tylenol, aspirin and panadol all cause irritation of the intestinal lining. Antibiotics are a huge offender as they kill bad bacteria, but also good bacteria, leading to dysbiosis (imbalance of good vs. bad gut bacteria) which leads to leaky gut.
Chronic Stress – When stress is constant, the immune system gets overworked and cannot keep the digestive system healthy and free from inflammation, which leads to leaky gut.
Yeast – When yeast grows out of control due to a poor diet, medications, stress, etc. it forms fungus (such as candida) that cling to the intestinal lining and create holes, causing leaks in the gut!
Inflammation – Anything that causes inflammation in the gut can cause it to become leaky. Common causes of gut inflammation include environmental toxins, yeast overgrowth, bacterial overgrowth, infections and parasites.
Do you have Leaky Gut?
First, look at the causes above and ask yourself if those things have been a part of your life. Second, here are some common symptoms of leaky gut. How many do you have?
Chronic diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel – These are very common signs of an inflamed gut lining.
Skin rashes – Rashes, including eczema, are the result of your body trying to get rid of excess toxins through your skin.
Nutritional deficiencies – This is from your intestine’s inability to properly breakdown and absorb nutrients from food.
Food sensitivities/intolerances – As I said above, your system develops antibodies to food particles leaking through your gut, creating multiple food intolerances.
Regular sickness/infections – When your immune system is depressed and too busy fighting inflammation, it can’t do its usual job of fending off viruses and bacterias that cause common colds, flu and infections.
Sugar and carb cravings – These cravings are often caused by dysbiosis (bacteria imbalance), parasites and yeast overgrowth.
Headaches, brain fog and/or extreme fatigue – All the result of tissue inflammation and excess toxins.
Also – regular bloating, gas, anxiety, memory loss, depression, stubborn belly fat…
Are you looking at all those causes and/or symptoms and nodding your head, getting concerned that indeed you think you do have leaky gut?
Well, I’m a bit excited for you! Because you are reading this, you may now know the cause of your ill health.
You may now be able to take control of your health and not only gradually eliminate your current symptoms, but prevent future autoimmune disorders, physical dysfunction, and debilitating disease!
What to do if you think you have Leaky Gut
Some of you may be motivated enough to start looking into healing your gut now on your own, using the internet and books as resources. But most of you will need confirmation of your leaky gut and some professional guidance, and I recommend this as the better way to go for complete recovery of your gut health.
Find the right health professional
I highly suggest finding a functional medicine/integrative medicine doctor, and/or a naturopath who has experience in healing gut disorders. The Mindd Foundation is a good place to start, as well as The Institute for Functional Medicine, or simply use google. Read some bios, make some phone calls, and choose a practitioner who knows all about guts and how to heal them.
Even though a gastrointestinal doctor may seem like the person to see, those doctors generally only specialise in diagnosing disease, but not healing it. They also don’t use functional diagnostic tests, which is what we need to discuss next…
Although you may have enough symptoms for you and your chosen doctor to assume you have leaky gut, it may be beneficial for you to do an intestinal permeability test. This will confirm your leaky gut in your mind, and also tell you how bad the damage is. Ask your doctor for the test referral or kit.
The test is done at home. You drink a special sugar substance mixed in water in the morning, then collect your urine for the next 6 hours (in a very big bag!), and send in a small sample of the urine. If you have a leaky gut, the sugar substance you drank will show up in your urine in varying levels, depending on how leaky your gut is.
The next test that is extremely beneficial is a faecal microbial analysis, which is a fancy way to say they can analyse the bacterial content of your poo. This will tell exactly which bacterias and/or yeasts are overgrown or undergrown in your gut, so you know which is the best course of action for getting your bacteria back in balance. Otherwise, you could be taking probiotics for years and not getting any better because it’s the wrong bacteria! This is also a home test, which simply requires one stool sample.
These tests are not cheap, but in comparison to all the money you will save on trying to recover from illness and disease down the track, they are very good value in my opinion.
You can heal your Leaky Gut
I’ve been through all this myself, and am happy to say I am on the path to recovery. It’s a bit of a long path, but I realise that if it took this long to cause the damage, it’s going to take some patience to undo it. I’m looking for long-term results anyway, not a quick fix, as I want to be healthy in the long-term.
You, too, can heal your gut! It takes some dedication and commitment to your health and care of your body, but anyone can do it. Especially with some professional guidance and a positive attitude.
If you’ve been unwell for a long time, or are tired of suffering from symptoms and can’t seem to find the underlying cause, it may be that you have a leaky gut. Just like me, you didn’t know the damage that you were doing to your body, and there’s no point in having regrets. The beauty is that now you can take all of your new knowledge of primal living and heal yourself! And we are here to support you all the way.
Do you think you have leaky gut? Is anything stopping you from taking the next steps toward healing your body?