Leaky Gut, also known as Intestinal Permeability, is what happens when the lining of your gut is inflamed or damaged to the extent that it can no longer prevent undigested food, toxins or microbes from passing through into the blood stream. This article will go into detail about why Leaky Gut occurs, and how to test and treat for it.
What happens when you have leaky gut?
In a healthy person the cells of their intestinal tract selectively transport essential nutrients into the bloodstream for use elsewhere in the body. When you have Leaky Gut, that transport becomes dysregulated:
- Your microvilli, those lovely hair-like extensions at the edge of your intestinal cells, become misshapen; resulting in greater difficulty absorbing nutrients through the cells themselves
- The tight junctions that separate intestinal cells are no longer a reliable barrier. Indigested food particles, microbes and toxins make their way between and through the cells into the blood or lymphatic system.
- Your immune system lives just below the intestinal cells. It detects invaders and is sent into overdrive trying to clean up the mess of foreign particles.
- If the root of the problem is not addressed, the inflammation will persist, products of which can turn up anywhere in the body
- The immune system, which is normally is able to distinguish between “self” and “not-self,” may start to label your own self as an invader
- Longterm, Leaky Gut is a precursor for autoimmune disease and a leaky blood brain barrier.
Symptoms may include:
- Food sensitivities
- Increased allergic response
- Nutrient malabsorption/deficiencies
- Chronic Fatigue
- Chronic pain; joint and muscle
- Headaches and migraines
- Skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis or tinea versicolor
- Diarrhea or Constipation
- Rashes or hives
- Bloating or gas
- Acid Reflux
- Hormone dysfunction
- Bad breath
Beyond learning to read your symptoms you can also test for Leaky Gut.
The two main tests are the:
- Zonulin Test
- Lactulose-Mannitol Test
The Zonulin test is usually done via stool test. In my practice I have not found this test to be very reliable. The Lactulose-Mannitol test, a urine test, measures how much of these molecules end up in the urine after you take them orally.
It is important to understand that Leaky Gut is a downstream symptom of some other form of imbalance and in order to treat it you will need to rule out:
- Infection, Candida overgrowth, Parasites or SIBO
- Unaddressed allergies or sensitivities
- Heavy Metal Toxicity
- Hormone Imbalance
- Blood Sugar Imbalance
- Low stomach acid or bile production
- Trauma or PTSD
- Overuse of antibiotics, NSAIDS, PPI’s or other medications
As you are working to uncover and heal the cause of your Leaky Gut, there are some non-negotiables you’ll need to address in order to reduce the total burden carried by your weakened gut lining.
1. Choose Organic or Chemical Free Foods.
If you shop at the grocery store, choose certified organic and non-GMO food items. Even better would be to shop at farmers markets or through CSA’s and cooperatives where you can purchase locally and lovingly grown food items.
2. Adopt a Whole Foods Diet free of processed, boxed and additive-laden ingredients.
Your gut is a garden, feed it the things it needs to grow: real, unadulterated and prebiotic rich foods.
3. Detoxify your cleaning and body-care products
See the environmental working group for recommendations on truly safe products to use. You’ll be surprised to see which products we’ve been green washed to believe are non-toxic.
In further regards to diet, note that I don’t recommend starting with bone broth, juice cleanses or the GAPS diet. This is because I see far too many clients whose Leaky Gut is paired with Histamine Intolerance or types of microbial overgrowth that would worsen if the above were to be used. Start with testing or a thorough intake with an experienced practitioner before taking on such attempts.
And finally, may find the following nutrients to be helpful as you heal.