Dr. Doni explains how leaky gut is extensively researched yet under-diagnosed—and could be the underlying cause of any number of chronic health problems.
Considering that chronic diseases such as diabetes, autoimmunity, and liver failure, as well as common symptoms, like eczema, anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, and muscle/joint pain, can all be caused by leaky gut syndrome (otherwise known as LGS or intestinal permeability), it is imperative that you determine whether it may be occurring in your body.
Leaky gut is not well recognized by most practitioners, and is not found with the usual tests, not even with an endoscopy or colonoscopy. Still, there are close to 11,000 research studies about intestinal permeability from the past sixty years that clearly indicate that this is real health issue, including 35 studies released in just the past month.
For many, identifying leaky gut can be life changing because it is a condition that can be addressed with diet changes, nutrients, herbs, enzymes, and probiotics that help the intestinal lining to heal. In a medical system where people often find themselves reliant on medications, it is empowering to discover that there are natural solutions to address not only leaky gut, but challenging health concerns throughout their body.
5 Reasons to Think You Might Have Leaky Gut
I want to help you to know whether leaky gut could be an issue for you, so I’ve sorted through the research and pulled out five reasons to think that you might have leaky gut.
Tired, Achy, Bloated, and/or Anxious
While leaky gut can cause digestive troubles such as IBS, diarrhea, bloating, heartburn and stomach pain, it is quite possible that you won’t experience any digestive distress at all. Instead, it is more more common to feel worn out, in pain (anywhere in your body), and/or full of worry. That’s because when the gut is leaky, it is like having tiny holes in your intestinal lining. Undigested food travels through these holes and into the underlying space where it triggers the immune system to try and protect you by launching an attack on the pieces of food that shouldn’t be there.
This process results in the release of many inflammatory messengers (cytokines and antibodies) that lead to fatigue (even chronic fatigue syndrome), achiness (such as migraines, fibromyalgia and arthritis), allergies (on the skin like eczema, and in the sinuses and lungs, like asthma), and anxiety (which is known to be caused by inflammation in the nervous system), amongst other issues (see below).
Leaky gut also stresses the adrenal glands, making adrenal burnout more likely. It disrupts other hormones in the body as well, leading to PMS, menstrual irregularities, and breast and uterine issues.
Over or under weight, as well as high or low cholesterol, and blood sugar issues
That’s right, leaky gut can cause you to gain weight—for a few possible reasons. It is well cited in recent research that leaky gut increases the likelihood of insulin resistance (when insulin is not able to move sugar into your cells and leaves you with elevated blood sugar levels) and diabetes.
This occurs especially in combination with an imbalance in the healthy bacteria that should be living in our intestines. It appears that having too few healthy bacteria, along with permeability in the intestinal lining—and the inflammation that results—makes it more likely that your carbohydrate metabolism will be overwhelmed due to decreased insulin function, leading to weight gain. Any time carbohydrates are not able to make it into your cells (due to low insulin function), the body puts the excess carbs/sugar into storage as fat in your liver (which can lead to liver failure) or as cholesterol in your blood instead. I’ll be covering this subject in more detail next week, but for now you can read more about it here.
At the same time, an increasing number of fat cells release more of a hormone called leptin, which can lead to a disruption in the signals that you make you feel hungry and full. Before long, it can cause you to feel hungry even when you just ate, leading you to consume more calories than your body can possibly use.
For others, leaky gut results in difficulty gaining weight. That often occurs when there are digestive issues such as nausea, heartburn, and/or diarrhea that lead to a struggle to find foods you can consume without feeling worse. It also occurs because nutrients are not well absorbed when the gut is leaky. It is the job of the cells lining the intestine to digest and absorb nutrients. When these cells are damaged, they are not able to complete this function and nutrient depletion results. For more about how leaky gut is related to weight gain, see Part 7 of my series on Leaky Gut.
If you have been diagnosed with any type of autoimmunity, that is a reason to think that you have may leaky gut. Research has confirmed that leaky gut is involved in the development of autoimmunity. The current theory is that when the spaces between the intestinal cells (called tight junctions) are open—which is the case with leaky gut—then the immune system begins to react to substances that it usually would not attack, including food and healthy cells.
In the case of celiac disease, the immune system begins attacking an enzyme that helps to repair the tight junctions. Other types of autoimmune conditions could result instead, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, MS, and/or rheumatoid arthritis. Genetic research is helping us understand that, while the type of autoimmune condition that develops is genetically determined, it is leaky gut that gets the process started. For more about how leaky gut is related to autoimmune diseases, see Part 9 of my series on Leaky Gut.
Use of antacids, anti-inflammatory drugs and/or antibiotics
Sometimes they are necessary, for a period of time, but overuse or extended use of antacids (for reflux or heartburn), anti-inflammatory drugs (for pain) and/or antibiotics (for infections) is known to cause leaky gut.
Antacids cause leaky gut by suppressing digestion of your food, making it more likely that your immune system will be triggered by the food you eat. Once the immune system starts to react, leaky gut is aggravated each time you eat, even if it is a food that you would think is good for you. The best way to get ahead is to figure out which foods are making things worse, so you can avoid them. How? Start by doing an IgG and IgA food sensitivity panel before you even begin treating the leaky gut itself. Gluten, found in bread, pasta, and pastries, is known to cause leaky gut, and so even if you don’t yet have a food sensitivity panel, you can start by eliminating gluten from your diet.
Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS, Aleve, Advil, and Motrin) directly inflame the intestinal lining which also causes leaky gut. Antibiotics destroy the balance of healthy bacteria, which itself causes leaky gut, but also predispose you to the overgrowth of candida/yeast and unhealthy bacteria, that also lead to leaky gut. Healthy bacteria are important for making nutrients and processing toxins, but in their absence nutrient deficiency and toxicity results, making it more difficult for your colon and liver to stay healthy. Read more about the importance of healthy bacteria here.
All of this leads to a vicious cycle. The more you take these medications, the more leaky gut increases and the more pain, infections, and digestive upset you experience. It can seem like the only solution is to take medication. The real solution is to heal the leaky gut, decrease the pain and inflammation, and help your body fight off infections naturally—preventing the need for the medications that create the vicious cycle.
Stress, in all its forms, has been shown to cause leaky gut. Stress also disrupts the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, which further promotes leaky gut. Toxins in our food, water and environment (such as from pesticides in food, carpets in your home and exhaust fumes on the highway) also put stress on our systems that results in leaky gut. Gluten, as mentioned above, causes leaky gut by increasing levels of a protein called zonulin, which opens up the spaces between the intestinal cells, even if you don’t have gluten sensitivity.
If you have been emotionally stressed on top of being exposed to gluten, pesticides, and/or heavy metals (in water and dental fillings), it is quite likely that you have at least some degree of leaky gut.
How to Find Out For Sure If You Have Leaky Gut
There are several tests that have been developed, and more on the way, that can tell you if you have some degree of leaky gut.
1. There is a urine test that involves first swallowing a carbohydrate that will only make it across your intestinal lining and into your blood and urine if your gut is leaky.
2. It is also possible to identify leaky gut by checking for IgG and IgA antibodies to food in a blood test – and this test is often preferable because it gives us two pieces of information:
- Whether or not there is leaky gut; and
- Which foods you can avoid to help heal the leaky gut (if it’s there).
You can order a food sensitivity test here and complete it at home.
3. A blood test that measures zonulin as well as a substance called actomyosin which is released when intestinal cells are damaged.
4. A breath test which, like the lactulose-mannitol test, involves first swallowing sugar mixed in water, and then breathing into tubes which will identify a gas (carbon dioxide) that is only produced if your gut is healthy.
Note: Leaky gut cannot be found with an endoscopy or colonoscopy, and does not show on standard bloodwork, so it is missed by most practitioners.
What to Do Once You Know You Have Leaky Gut
Avoid the foods most likely to perpetuate leaky gut—gluten and your food sensitivities—while also decreasing your exposure to toxins, as well as to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Instead you’ll choose foods that help your body heal and maybe even add supplements* that have been shown to heal leaky gut.
The top three supplements to consider are pancreatic enzymes to support digestion of food, L-glutamine, an amino acid that is imperative to the health of your small intestinal cells, and a high quality probiotic*, to start optimizing your gut flora. You may find that you’d like to add in herbs such as slippery elm and marshmallow root, as well as quercetin and MSM, all of which have been shown to assist with healing leaky gut.
My book, The Stress Remedy, is a great resource that has a comprehensive plan for helping you heal leaky gut, including supplement recommendations and a diet plan.
You could also choose to start with The Stress Remedy Programs, which are designed to support the healing of leaky gut. When you are on The Stress Remedy Programs, you will avoid the foods most likely to perpetuate leaky gut—gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy—while also decreasing your exposure to toxins such as sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Instead you’ll choose foods that help your body heal and maybe even add supplements that have been shown to heal leaky gut.
It takes time and consistency to heal leaky gut, especially if you have more than one of the five situations described in this article. Be patient, and if you feel overwhelmed, please reach out for support. It is possible to heal leaky gut – to see an article about one of my patients who worked diligently and is now celebrating health, click here.
In Summary, Leaky Gut Is the Root of Many Health Issues
Now that you are familiar with all the health issues associated with leaky gut, including common syndromes like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, and multiple food and chemical sensitivities, as well as asthma, anxiety, autoimmunity, diabetes, and arthritis, you can probably see why I have included it as one of the three problem networks that affect our health and wellbeing.
Once we understand these problem networks and the wide-ranging effects they can have on our health it means that, instead of feeling stuck by a diagnosis, you can actually take action that can help your body heal.
Because this is such an important issue, I devoted an entire series to Leaky Gut. I cover everything from how to test for it, how to treat it, and how it relates to other common conditions such as IBS, heartburn, depression, weight gain, acid reflux, and autoimmune diseases. You can find the entire series here:
Dr. Doni’s Series on Leaky Gut: http://bit.ly/Leaky-Gut-Series.
Please share your thoughts and questions below or on my social media pages. I love to hear from you and how this information benefits your health. And if you’d like to receive my weekly Wellness Wisdom newsletter, with more articles like this, feel free to sign up below.
12th August 2014
*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.