What the heck is leaky gut?

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What the heck is leaky gut?

Dr. Doni Wilson
Leaky gut (also known as intestinal permeability) is a major underlying cause of illnesses of all sorts, in every system of the body. Dr. Doni Wilson explains why.

Think, for a moment, of the intestinal lining as a tile floor. For a tile floor to not leak, we put grout between the tiles. When the grout is damaged, the floor leaks.

The same goes for your intestinal lining. The space between the cells (called tight junctions) is like grout, ensuring that undigested food does not make it into your body.

Food must be digested all the way down to the most simple substances (glucose, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and fats) in order to be transported across the cell wall, through the cell, back out the other side, then through the space between the intestinal lining and the blood vessels, and finally into the blood stream.

When the “grout” in the intestinal lining is damaged (due to stress, antibiotics, yeast, gluten, to name the known causes), then partially digested food (stress reduces our ability to digest food) can get between the cells into the area where your immune system is “on guard” waiting to attack “foreign substances.”

This is where IgG and IgA food sensitivities develop.

Once the immune system attacks, it sends inflammatory signals throughout the body (what I refer to as an “inflammatory cloud”), which is why symptoms of food intolerance and leaky gut can appear anywhere, not just in the digestive tract.

Just as a drop of ink discolors an entire gallon of water, one exposure to an intolerant food can cause severe symptoms (usually within 1-4 days) after consumption. But not only that! The exposure becomes an additional stress on the body which perpetuates the susceptibility to illness.

It makes sense that the immune system reacts to the foods that are coming through—the foods that you eat most often.  So an important distinction is that the priority solution is to heal the leaky gut, not just to avoid the foods that are triggering the reaction.

How do you know if you have leaky gut?
There are tests available that specifically measure whether substances that don’t usually traverse the intestinal lining, are getting through.  Another way to identify leaky gut is by doing an IgG and IgA food sensitivity panel which you can order through my website. Based on the number and severity of IgG and IgA reactions, as well as the types of foods that show as reactive (beans for example), we can presume that leaky gut exists.

How do you heal leaky gut?

  1. Avoid the foods that the immune system is attacking is the first step to healing leaky gut because it helps to reduce inflammation and to prevent the perpetuation of leaky gut. Read 5 Success Tips for Avoiding Food Sensitivities here.
  2. Address the underlying cause of the leakiness.
  • The single best thing you could do to address the underlying cause is to avoid gluten because it directly causes leaky gut by disrupting the “grout” (by stimulating a substance called zonulin).
  • Take digestive enzymes (and hydrochloric acid when needed) helps to ensure that all food is fully digested by the time it gets to the intestines.
  • Address intestinal yeast overgrowth, heavy metal toxicity, and infection anywhere in the body (Lyme, Mono, tooth infection, etc) when it is present.
  1. Take nutrients and herbs that have been shown to heal leaky gut.  These include, but are not limited to, L-glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine, zinc, berberine, herbal licorice (Glycyrrhiza), quercetin, and aloe vera leaf extract.  To see products that contain these ingredients, intended to help heal leaky gut, click here.
  2. Take probiotics. The healthy bacteria (microbiome) that live in our intestines actually protect us from leaky gut. The balance of bacteria is easily disrupted by recurrent use of antibiotics, inflammation, and environmental toxins. You can help to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your intestines by taking a high quality probiotic*. I recommend choosing a product that is refrigerated and that does not contain dairy. Check out these examples of products I recommend.

What is the impact of leaky gut?
While leaky gut (also known as intestinal permeability) is established in the medical community, and significant research on the subject is coming out every year, it is not often addressed in conventional medical care.

Meanwhile, it is a major underlying cause of illnesses of all sorts, in every system of the body. From chronic fatigue, sinusitis, and interstitial cystitis—to anxiety, depression, hypothyroidism, autoimmunity (of all types), and cancer, leaky gut is both an originator of illness and a result of illness.

Stress and the adrenal response (cortisol and adrenaline) are both a result of leaky gut and a cause of leaky gut, due to the suppression of digestion, immunity, and hormone function. Supporting and rebalancing adrenal function is an important part of healing leaky gut.

How long does it take to heal?
Putting a stop to the vicious cycle associated with leaky gut is not done overnight. It requires diligence, consistency and changes both in diet and lifestyle over months to years.

The good news is that it is possible to heal.  I’ve seen it in practice. Patients report a gradual decrease in symptoms and tendencies to illness.

Overall, healing leaky gut is a TOP priority for achieving optimal health.

–Dr. Doni

For a more complete view of leaky gut—what is is and what you can do about it, please see Dr. Doni’s Series on Leaky Gut: http://bit.ly/Leaky-Gut-Series.
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.

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  1. Hello Dr. Doni,
    I believe I have leaky gut, and have done an elimination diet many times. I continually become sensitive to foods I eat, and I am now able to eat fish, and four fruits that I know of without a reaction. What do you think a person should do if they do not have enough foods that don’t cause an IgG reaction to form a sustainable, very nutritious diet? Thank you for your time.

    • Hello Anthony,

      I’m so glad you are asking this question. It is a very tricky process – and I’m hoping that others who have been in this same position will also write in with support for you. I would start by doing a new IgG and IgA food panel – so you know exactly what you are reacting to now. Then avoid the most reactive foods while taking supplements (if you are able) that help to heal leaky gut. In the case of *severe* leaky gut, you may have to go through a process of trying various enzyme products, and leaky gut healing products/nutrients to find products that help without aggravating for you – it can be quite individual. Then, as the leaky gut heals, you’ll be able to gradually add in new foods. Other tests that can be helpful in this situation are a stool panel that identifies your ability to digest proteins/carbs/fats, and that identifies dysbiosis; and potentially breath tests for SIBO and/or fructose malabsorption. I definitely recommend that you work with a practitioner who has experience helping to heal leaky gut, because it can be confusing at times, and it really helps to have a practitioner help you navigate the reactions and to recommend higher quality products to support you.

  2. My Endo doesn’t believe in leaky gut nor my gastro. I was diagnosed with gastropereses, barrets disease and a few other things gastro with insufficient adrenals and hashimotos and the stress is so bad I can’t eat solid foods anymore and on Atkins low carb 1 sugar drinks with all of the nutrients in them and at low calorie I have to drink at least 8 a day. Anxiety through the roof and now found swollen lymph nodes under arms very painful.
    There are no doctors of any caliber in the city I live in but tons of them. I have been doing my own try and see and take away. To no avail I just went with Atkins and luckily find them on sale and coupons to afford them.
    Have colostomy on the 27th and was put on keflex for 10 days for lympnodes but no one has tested to see if it is fungal viral or bacterial or lymphoma for that fact but gastro has no idea why My stomach got paralyzed and endo follows while they hand it all to my GP.

    • So sorry for you to be going through all that difficulty with your health. Most MDs are not addressing leaky gut, so it is good that you are starting to do your own research. I think first thing would be to consider avoiding the most likely food sensitivities – gluten and dairy (if you aren’t already) – and maybe that is why the Atkin’s diet is helping.

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