What is Leaky Gut? : Leaky Gut and Autoimmune : 12 Symptoms of Leaky Gut
The term “Leaky Gut” is all the rage right now, and you may already know a bit about it and how it might be affecting your health. But because the conventional medical community is only just starting to recognize this condition, and how it might be affecting symptoms far removed from the digestive system, there is still a lot of confusion. Most of the people I work with only have a fuzzy idea about how leaky gut may be at the root of many of their chronic health issues, triggering autoimmune conditions, eczema, food sensitivities, allergies, and much more.
(Let’s not even get into Blunted Brush Border here, cause that’s a whole other post.)
So let’s clear up any ‘holes’ you may have in your leaky gut knowledge.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is the hip term for an increase in intestinal permeability in the small intestine (the part between the stomach and the large intestine). This is where 90% of our digestion and nutrient absorption occurs.
The small intestine is supposed to have a level of permeability, but it is really specific. There is a single layer of cells called enterosites, that are held together by really tight junctions that line your entire intestinal tract. They act as the gate-keepers between your intestine and your bloodstream. The space in between the enterosites are just big enough to let the nutritive part of food that has been broken down like vitamins, minerals, and nutrients pass through, but they keep out bigger things, like pathogens, parasites, toxins, viruses, and larger bits of food that haven’t been broken down properly. It is incredibly important to our health and our bodies function to have well formed tight junctions, otherwise there are lots of dangerous bits making their way into our bloodstream.
Leaky gut syndrome is when the intestine becomes inflamed and the tight junctions have either degenerated or have begun to malfunction.
Once the tight junctions have degenerated, anything and everything begins to leak into the blood. That is when the immune system starts to fire an attack on what it perceives to be dangerous invaders. Some of these ARE dangerous, like pathogens, and toxins, but some of the things making their way through are proteins from good healthy food (like eggs, or avocados, or cheese) that haven’t been broken down properly.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmune
So the immune system is doing exactly what it has been designed to do, and attacking all of those invaders. Think of the immune system as warriors protecting their land. If there is a small invasion, the warriors can see each invader clearly, attack, and then go back to resting. But if there is a constant stream of incoming invasions, the warriors go on high alert. They just start swinging. And in the midst of trying to protect their land, they may even end up taking down some of their own people. After a war, the battlefield is a mess. The land is decimated. This is the same thing that happens to your body. If the influx of foreign things coming into the bloodstream is ongoing the body becomes inflamed. The immune system gets really sensitive and starts firing at everything. After a while, it may start mistaking the tissue in your organs for some of the proteins it was fighting in the first place. This is called molecular mimicry (scholarly article) and many researchers believe this is how autoimmune conditions start. For example, the protein in gluten mimics the protein in your thyroid tissue. The immune system can be so pumped up that once it’s attacked all the gluten, it starts attacking the thyroid, and that can, over time, lead to Hasthimoto’s. It is the same with casein from dairy, which mimics joint tissue, and can lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
But other issues can stem from Leaky Gut as well. Inflammation is part of the root cause of every single chronic condition, from illness to pain. Inflammation can be beneficial in acute situations, but when it becomes chronic in the gut, it can lead to inflammation in other areas of your body, manifesting in symptoms like acne, eczema, bloating, water retention, headaches, fatigue, and it can can interfere with your hormone receptor sites, contributing to hypothalamus pituitary adrenal dysfunction (chronic fatigue).
What are 12 symptoms of Leaky Gut?
- Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia celiac disease or Crohn’s
- Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas
- Increased food sensitivities
- Nutritional deficiencies (anemia, low vit d, low vit b, etc)
- Fatigue or brain fog
- Hormone imbalances
- Cravings for sugar or carbs
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD
- Difficulty building muscle tone
- Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
- Heart failure
But if you think of it, we are really just a walking talking digestive system with arms and legs, and so if something has gone funky in our guts, you can expect the symptoms to stem into every part of the body. It breaks my heart to know how many people I love struggle with mental illness like anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, depression, and much more, and are told by their doctors that it is just a chemical imbalance and there is nothing they can do. No one asks; How did that chemical imbalance start? That is what I am here to do. Let’s find out WHY some of your systems might be acting they way they are.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
So, what then causes Leaky Gut? As this is still cutting edge research, there are many theories, but the four I have consistently come across are;
Stress: mental, emotional, biochemical and physical
Parasitic infestations: (which came first, the parasite or the leaky gut?)
Toxins: including pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and over the counter drugs
Food intolerances: (this includes all the big ones like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar and booze)
Consuming toxins like pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics is the quickest way to wipe out the good bugs in your gut and create inflammation. There is of course a place for antibiotics. They save lives. But the overprescription of antibiotics is through the roof, and so is the increase in gut permeability.
Gluten is by and far one of the main contributors to starting the chain of leaky gut. The tight junctions we talked about earlier can be loosened by the protein zonulin. Research has shown that gluten stimulates the production of zonulin. This occurs in all people, even those who are not ‘technically’ gluten intolerant.
Four Steps to a Healthy Gut
- Diet and eliminating the foods that your body reacts to as toxic. I heartily suggest to eliminate gluten, dairy, corn, soy, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. If you have autoimmune conditions already, you should add in seeds, legumes, nuts, and nightshades. Give yourself at least six weeks to see if you start feeling better. You should see an increase in energy, clearing of symptoms, your bloating should subside, cravings should start fading away, and you should sleep a hell of a lot better.
2. Eat organic. Or know the farmers you shop from. It’s that simple.
3. Stress reduction is a massive component of healing leaky gut. And stress can come mentally emotionally, physically, or biochemically. That is why I suggest working with a practitioner to test for biochemical stressors. I run a gut panel with all of my clients that includes testing for dysbiosis (an imbalance of your gut bacteria), infestations of parasites, bacteria, fungus, or yeast, immune function, inflammation, food sensitivity, and much more. After that, we work together on reducing mental emotional stress.
4. Once you have removed the interference and causes, you can start to add in foods and nutrients to heal.
Foods and Nutritives to Heal Your Gut
- Grass Fed Bone broth
- Healthy fats like coconut, avocado, olive
- Organic Meats and Vegetables
- Slippery Elm, Aloe, Licorice & Marshmallow Root
- Appropriate Probiotics (it is not one size fits all)
- Non-Dairy Fermented Foods (be wary if you have SIBO, Candida, or Fungal overgrowths)
Healing your gut can take time. You MUST remove the contributing factors, otherwise all of the L-Glutamine and bone broth in the world won’t heal your gut. Research shows that eating gluten can cause an inflammatory and immune response that lasts up to 6 months. So deep tissue health isn’t the work of a part time health ninja. And as always, I recommend working with a practitioner to make sure you are digging deep enough to get to the root causes, instead of masking symptoms with supplements.
But I can attest, from my own healing and the countless people I’ve worked with, healing your gut is one of the most important parts of reducing and reversing any chronic condition you may be struggling with.
To your health!