Leaky gut. Yuck. The first time I heard the term, I immediately thought of the scene in the movie “Alien” that scared the bejeezus out of me, when a space alien burst through John Hurt’s midsection.
But for many clients I’ve worked with, leaky gut is a real-life horror show.
In this post, I’ll explain what leaky gut is; the symptoms associated with it; its causes; how it can be fixed, including some of the best foods to treat it; how you can find out if you have it, and if you do have it, the best plan of action for overcoming it and living the pain-free, inflammation-free life you deserve.
So first thing’s first…
What Is Leaky Gut?
Picture a large plastic bottle filled with water. Now imagine small tiny holes poked in the bottle. What happens? Water leaks out. Leaky gut describes a similar scenario, in which the lining of the small intestine weakens over time, allowing undigested food particles and pathogens to travel into the bloodstream.
In a healthy small intestine, the junctions of the cell membranes that form the lining are tight, keeping food within the digestive tract where it can be processed into nutrients. Antigens (molecules that stimulate an immune response) as well as toxic substances are also contained within this mucosal barrier and eventually eliminated from the body.
You’ll probably never hear your doctor talk about leaky gut. In my 19 years of working as a nurse in the ER and in family practice, I never once heard an M.D. talk to their patient about leaky gut.
Why Is The Gut’s Intestinal Barrier Important?
Picture for a moment a 4000-square-foot house. That’s about a 4 or 5 bedroom home. If you can believe it, that’s the same amount of space your intestinal barrier covers. And like the movie Alien, there’s a lot of slime involved; the intestinal barrier is covered with a very thin layer of mucus.
A healthy mucosal barrier protects against an influx of bacteria from entering the small intestine.
Many people have become aware of the concept of “gut health,” which describes having a diverse and adequate amount of healthy bacterial strains in the gut to fight the potentially harmful strains of bacteria.
But relatively few people don’t realize where exactly in the gut your bacteria should be. The answer: not the small intestine. Rather, most of your bacteria should be in your colon (large intestine). If the bacteria leak out from the intestinal barrier, this creates a situation where chronic inflammation is likely to arise.
Your gut barrier also absorbs nutrients and fluids, and also prevents them from escaping. In short, your gut lining serves two critical functions: it serves as a physical barrier, but also plays a critical role in immune system balance.
Despite mainstream medicine not recognizing leaky gut, there is a diagnosis that is very similar called intestinal permeability. This describes the weak junctions of the endothelial cells. These cells form the lining of the mucosal barrier. I mention this because if you want to discuss this with your family physician, he or she may give you a blank stare when you mention “leaky gut.”
What Diseases Are Associated With Leaky Gut?
Pretty much any symptom that’s associated with chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis; inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome; Celiac Disease, which is a severe allergic reaction to gluten, the main protein in wheat; and more recently obesity and other metabolic disorders are thought to be caused at least in part by leaky gut.
What Are Leaky Gut Symptoms?
It’s a very long list. But some of the most common manifestations are acne, eczema and other skin conditions; brain fog (trouble concentrating); digestive problems: constipation (or the opposite, messy problem), gas, bloating; weak, brittle nails and hair (which occurs because of mineral deficiency because the gut lining isn’t properly absorbing nutrients); joint pain and fatigue.
If you have a leaky gut, it’s also very likely you’re experiencing mood imbalances or disorders such as anxiety or depression. Most regular doctors won’t say this but functional medical doctors and functional health professionals (like yours truly) believe that leaky gut is tied to autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease.
One more sign that you may have a leaky gut is if you’re frequently craving empty-calorie foods (read: loads of carbs and sugar). That’s because your gut is literally calling the shots, sending a signal to your brain that says, “Feed me more sugar.” WIthout vitamins and minerals being properly absorbed, the yeast and bad bacteria take over the gut. And boy do they love to feast on sugar!
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Carefully, one day at a time, and with expert guidance from a functional health coach.
If you read other articles about how to fix leaky gut, you’ll get a long laundry list of tips. But when you see all the necessary steps and things required to overcome leaky gut it can be overwhelming. And when you get overwhelmed, you just might be tempted to say “SCREW IT … if I have to do all that, I’ll never fix my gut!”
That’s why it’s critical to work with a partner who will hold your hand (figuratively, or literally once this damned COVID crap is over with!) and is trained in the latest research-backed, cutting-edge advances in genetic testing.
Why is Genetic Testing Important For Leaky Gut?
In order to overcome leaky gut, it helps to know what foods you may be allergic or sensitive to. I myself was having a tough time losing those last stubborn 10-15 pounds. But thanks to my food sensitivity test that checks for intolerances to 208 foods, I learned which foods are best for me and the ones that don’t love my body back. This revealed to me that I have an allergy to gluten and dairy, which are pretty much two of the food groups here in Nebraska.
One test that I won’t be there literally to hold your hand is a stool analysis. But if you want to heal your leaky gut, you’ve got to get this lab test performed to analyze your digestive enzymes, gut bacteria profile, and to see if you have an infection or parasites in your gut. It’s not a day at the spa. But these lab tests are the first critical steps in overcoming leaky gut.
Remember, every long journey starts with the first step!
What Foods Can Help Leaky Gut?
When you work with me, I’ll interpret your lab results and prepare a list of the best foods for your own unique biochemistry. But in general, the overwhelming majority of people do well with a specific type of food your grandparents likely ate: bone broth. Bone broth contains collagen, which contains a few specific amino acids that are hard to come by from common foods. These amino acids help physically repair the gut’s mucosal barrier.
How Do I Get Tested For Leaky Gut?
In a mainstream medical setting, to get tested for intestinal permeability, you’ve got to give a little bit of yourself, literally. To be diagnosed with the medical equivalent of intestinal permeability, you need to have a biopsy performed.
A stool analysis doesn’t sound so bad no, does it?
But a far easier way to get assessed for leaky gut is to schedule a call with me. That’s that first small step we’ll take together.
I look forward to helping you overcome leaky gut—and helping you rediscover the joy of the pain-free, highly-energetic life you deserve.
Or even check out our newest product to heal you! www.revitalizeyourhealthnow.com
Jenna L. Witt, APRN
Family Medicine/Functional Medicine
Certified Health Coach