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What the heck is leaky gut?

Dr. Doni Wilson

Dr. Doni Wilson

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.
  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:
*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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