Is an autoimmune condition, chronic inflammation, or nagging symptoms, like exhaustion and daily headaches, holding you back from living each day to the fullest? What if I told you a leaky gut could be to blame!
But you first may be wondering, “What is leaky gut exactly?”
In this article, I’m sharing how this often overlooked gut issue can contribute to numerous health issues that the majority of our population is facing today.
The Role of a Healthy Gut
While your digestive system is designed to break down and absorb nutrients, it also functions as a barrier to invaders that could cause us harm.
The front line of this barrier consists of a single layer of specialized intestinal cells that are linked together by tight junction proteins. These tight junctions allow water and nutrients to pass through but block the passage of harmful substances.
What is Leaky Gut?
In “leaky gut” syndrome, also called increased intestinal permeability, these tight junctions become damaged and separate, creating larger “holes” in your gut lining. The gut then becomes ‘leaky’ and allows bacteria, fungi, undigested foods, and toxic waste into the bloodstream. So, yes, leaky gut is a real and serious syndrome
When this occurs, it causes inflammation and can trigger a reaction from your immune system. This inflammation can become chronic and lead to the development of food allergies and autoimmune disorders.
When the intestinal wall becomes leaky, even previously well-tolerated foods may be targeted as invaders by the immune system. Your body is now generating antibodies daily to otherwise harmless food particles that are now “leaking” through the intestinal wall, then each time that food is ingested, antibodies are produced.
This overabundance of antibodies may attack other tissues in your body. If these targets of attack are the joints or the thyroid gland, it can result in rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What are the symptoms and signs of leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut can first cause daily annoyances of symptoms that range in severity like:
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Skin issues
- And headaches
Unfortunately, leaky gut can then manifest into more serious health issues if left unaddressed, like:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Depression and other mood disorders
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Metabolic Conditions
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Neuroinflammatory diseases
- And multiple sclerosis
Common Causes of Leaky Gut
A multitude of factors can cause leaky gut. The blame can mostly be pointed at our daily lifestyle behaviors, like consuming excess sugary foods, living busy and stressful lives, and taking medications to quickly treat any ailment we may face (proton pump inhibitors, steroids). But even underlying gut infections that you are unaware of could be damaging the lining of your gut.
- Infections: fungal overgrowth (like Candida), bacterial or parasitic infections cause an imbalance in your gut microbiome. This altered composition of the gut microbiota can impact your intestinal permeability.
- Medications: Taking NSAIDS, proton pump inhibitors, and birth control pills on a daily basis
- Eating gluten: Gluten is misinterpreted as a potentially harmful component of a microorganism, allowing your gut’s tight junctions to expands (making bigger “holes” in your gut lining)
- Repeated use of antibiotics can wipe out your gut bacteria (good and bad kinds)
- Food Sensitivities (you may or may not know about your specific food sensitivities. This is why food sensitivity tests are a must)
- Consuming excess sugar (mostly coming from processed foods)
- Chronic stress stemming from emotional or financial stress, toxic relationships, and even physical stress (like over-exercising)
- Nutrient deficiencies
Leaky Gut Also Causes Nutritional Deficiencies
Leaky gut can lead to mineral and nutrient deficiencies. Common deficiencies are iron deficiency, magnesium deficiency and vitamin B-12, and other B vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to fatigue, muscle pain, or neuropathies. Other nutrients that can become deficient are zinc, copper, calcium, selenium, and manganese, to name a few.
Leaky Gut Elevates Inflammation
The biggest issue with leaky gut is that it causes inflammation all throughout your body. Most chronic diseases occur because inflammation brews for years in the body. They first show up as “annoying symptoms,” but it’s just a matter of time before they turn into full-blown health conditions like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
If you fix your gut now, you can avoid numerous health issues in the future. If you already have a health condition that you are struggling with, healing the gut can give you more relief than any medication. Plus, when you heal your leaky gut, you’re addressing the root cause of your symptoms…not just covering it up with a “bandaid.”
How to Heal a Leaky Gut
You may be wondering, “what do you do for leaky gut to heal it?” Well, healing your gut requires you to adopt new healthy lifestyle behaviors first and foremost. You don’t want to continue doing the same things that got your gut in a poor state in the first place
At first, it takes conscious effort to implement the following tips, but as you continue to incorporate them into your daily routine, they become unconscious healthy habits that lead to optimal health.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Make your plate as bright and diverse as possible with whole foods.
- Limit simple carbohydrates and sugars (white flour, processed foods)
- Choose organic foods free of pesticides. Especially eat organic foods on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list.
- Treat any intestinal pathogens – special testing may be needed by a Functional Medicine provider
- Identify and remove any foods causing inflammation or allergies. If you notice a certain food causes you to get a headache, avoid that food for 3-6 months to let your gut heal.
- Reconsider medications that harm the gut (Please talk to your doctor before stopping any medications)
- Manage stress by practicing deep breathing throughout the day, journaling in the morning or before bed, and practicing meditation or yoga
- Add fermented foods to your diet – kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi
- Take a high quality probiotic to recolonize your gut
How do you know if you have leaky gut?
To be honest, a large portion of the population has some level of leaky gut in the United States. However, the good news is that lifestyle medicine and lifestyle changes like these listed above can dramatically help get your body back into balance, preventing future issues and even addressing your current conditions.
Dr. Dersam uses integrative and functional approaches, including high-quality food sensitivity testing and stool testing, to investigate whether or not leaky gut is the root cause of your symptoms.
Book your consultation today, or contact our office at 480-621-8638 to schedule your first consultation with Dr. Dersam to finally get true solutions to overcome your symptoms and feel like yourself again!
Dr. Cheri Dersam
Dr. Dersam is board certified in both Integrative and Emergency Medicine and fellowship trained in Functional Medicine. Dr. Dersam focuses on a personalized approach that empowers each patient to achieve optimal health in mind, body and spirit.