Once you dive into wellness-based literature, websites, and media, it seems these days that you can’t get around hearing about a condition known as “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” Medically termed, “intestinal permeability,” or just “leaky gut” for short, initially you may shy away because the terms themselves sound serious and pretty gross!
But I encourage you to explore this condition that what hundreds of my patients have been treated for. Now, they are on the other side saying “I never never knew I was walking around with leaky-gut, but it all makes so much sense now.”
All Disease Begins in the Gut
Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut.” This couldn’t be more true than in today’s modern times. More and more Americans are finding out that the combination of the SAD (Standard American Diet), stressful job, and toxic lifestyle can land you in the doctor’s office. What may start out as allergies, sinusitis, or even migraines, can eventually snowball into dozens of gut-related conditions and auto-immune diseases.
At this point you may be reading this thinking ‘I’ve had _____ all my life and just learned to deal with it.” I want to challenge you to honestly assess your symptoms. Bear in mind, given the nature of our fast-paced lifestyle, it’s quite common for folks to struggle with a lower-functioning gut and high levels of inflammation—but that doesn’t mean it needs to be “your normal.”
What is Leaky-gut Syndrome?
Leaky-gut (Intestinal permeability) refers to the layer of cells inside your digestive tract called “epithelial cells.” These cells form “tight junctions” to absorb nutrients and allow for elimination of waste. When they become inflamed, the junctions become loose/leaky, allowing allowing toxins, antigens, and bacteria to enter and circulate in your bloodstream—aka “leaky gut.” (1)
This wreaks havoc on your health and can leave you with any or all of the following: (2):
Irritable bowel syndrome
Inflammatory bowel disease
Chronic inflammation (joint pain, etc.)
While not proven that any of these symptoms directly stem from intestinal permeability, the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology states a causal relationship exists, ‘“compromised intestinal barrier function is associated with an array of clinical conditions, both intestinal and systemic.” (3)
5 Signs of a Leaky-gut
1. Food Sensitivities
Over 70% of your immune system is found in your gut. When you have leaky gut, the loose junctions are allowing toxins to pass directly into the blood stream, creating antibodies to the foreign particles (that should have otherwise been digested and eliminated).
This causes an inflammatory reaction (4) making you more susceptible to dietary allergens I refer to as the Ferocious Five: gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, and soy.
2. Poor Absorption of Nutrients
Through functional lab testing for the past several years, I’ve discovered that in my patients who test positive for intestinal permeability, they almost always also have difficultly absorbing key vitamins and nutrients.
This is why I always recommend a multi-vitamin that is derived from whole foods, in addition to a high-quality pro-biotic to replenish key nutrients and good bacteria.
3. Autoimmune Disease
Parasitic infections, dysbiosis (bacterial overgrowth), SIBO and a diet rich in gluten containing foods (pasta, bread, white flour, etc.) will cause your digestive tract to increase production of a protein called, “zonulin” which is a known regulator of the tight junctions of the intestinal cellular wall.
“Genetic predisposition, exposure to environmental triggers, and loss of intestinal barrier function secondary to the activation of the zonulin pathway by food-derived environmental triggers or changes in gut microbiota, all seem to be key ingredients involved in the pathogenesis of inflammation and autoimmune disease.” (5)
4. Mental Health Issues
I have always stated that gut health determines mental health, and this couldn’t be more true in the case of Leaky Gut Syndrome. First, your inflamed digestive tract cells produce small proteins (cytokines) in response to the inflammation, which are known to trigger mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety and depression.
Second, poor balance of good to bad bacteria within your digestive tract (dysbiosis) prevents proper absorption of nutrients, complicating elimination and increasing toxic build up. This also leads to mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.
Third, a gut that is inflamed and leaky will not allow for proper reuptake of serotonin (the happy chemical!) to your brain. This is so important, since over 90% of your body’s serotonin is made in your gut. (6)
5. Skin Conditions
When you have an inflammatory skin condition like eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis or acne, you probably have tried every topical cream you can to get it under control with little to no success. But have you tried healing your gut? Growing evidence shows that the gut microbiota communicates with the skin as one of the main regulators in the gut-skin axis.(7)
For starters, eliminating foods that contain the Ferocious Five dietary allergens—gluten, dairy, sugar, corn & soy—while reducing or eliminating your alcohol and caffeine intake will assist in lowering intestinal inflammation and begin the healing process.
If you aren’t sure that you’re dealing with Leaky Gut Syndrome, working with a doctor of functional medicine can comes in handy. Going beyond the traditional blood work, or “CBC,” a functional medicine practitioner will zero in on the root cause of your symptoms with lab tests that measure your intestinal permeability.
From the results, they will be able to determine if the symptoms you are experiencing stem from a gut that is leaky and permeable or not, and devise a plan of action incorporating therapeutic nutraceuticals and supplements.
Want to know if you’re experiencing symptoms of a leaky gut?