Why Does Every Nutrition Pro Tell Me To “Heal My Leaky Gut” – How Can It Be Leaking?!
There’s a LOT of talk in the health world about gut health these days. You’ve probably even heard that the key to reversing a whole host of health issues, ranging from skin issues to serious autoimmune conditions, starts with healing your so-called leaky gut.
Afterall, Hippocrates is famously credited with stating that “all disease begins in the gut.”
But what the heck is a “leaky gut” – and how do I know if mine is actually leaking?
This refers to damage and/or thinning of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (AKA your gut). Your gastrointestinal tract acts as the barrier between the outside world and the rest of your body – a pretty important job!
The gastrointestinal tract is sealed off from the rest of your body by a gut lining that only allows fully digested nutrients into the bloodstream. During the normal digestion process, the tight junctions (think of them as protective gates) in this lining stay closed, forcing all molecules to effectively be screened and only pass into the bloodstream through the mucosal cells when appropriate for nutrient absorption.
However, the integrity of this lining may become compromised due to inflammation, which could be caused by many different things: a poor diet, stress, medications, bacterial or viral infections, autoimmune disease, and more. When the lining becomes more permeable than it should, these tight junctions can “open,” allowing bacteria, toxins, incompletely digested proteins, fats, and waste into the bloodstream.
Once these toxins are in the blood, they flow throughout the body. The immune system then kicks into action, reacting to these foreign substances that have crossed the intestine as dangerous intruders.
This can trigger an autoimmune reaction as the body over-responds to these “invaders.” It’s a serious (although common) problem, and it can compromise health in many different ways, triggering, contributing to, or worsening a wide range of chronic diseases, including…
- autoimmune conditions
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- type I diabetes
- type II diabetes
- skin disorders
- thyroid problems
- weight loss resistance
Every one of these conditions has been linked to gut health issues in some way.
Several factors are thought to disrupt the normal intestinal environment and contribute to a leaking gut.
Contributors to leaky gut include:
- Excessive intake of calories, unhealthy fats, refined grains, sugars, and alcohol, which promote inflammation and digestive trouble.
- The use of antibiotics and NSAIDs (i.e. ibuprofen). These can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and cause damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal system, respectively, if used frequently.
- Disturbances in the gut microbiome. Overgrowth of bad bacteria in the small intestine in relation to the good, healthy bacteria (your gut flora) that help digest your food.
- Chronic stress, which can also cause inflammation throughout the body, including your gut.
Most healthcare professionals don’t recognize leaky gut as a real diagnosis and there isn’t a standard test to determine if you are suffering from it. But whether the claims about leaky gut are true or not, gut health is definitely something to consider when it comes to your overall health.
If you’re experiencing digestive woes, like bloating and irregularity, it’s possible your gut health and digestion may be impaired and that your gut is, in fact, in need of healing.
Good habits to support a healthy intestinal environment and properly functioning gut include:
- Eat whole, minimally processed foods with a focus on fiber-rich plant foods.
- Include fermented foods, like raw sauerkraut or kimchi, naturally cultured yogurt & kefir (unsweetened), or kombucha, which contain good-for-your-gut bacteria.
- Sip bone broth or take a collagen supplement. Collagen is thought to help rebuild and restore the gut lining.
- Take an omega-3 supplement or include 2-3 servings of fatty fish each week to help combat inflammation.
- Take a daily probiotic supplement to support your gut microbiome.
- Find natural alternatives to pain relief, like essential oils or meditation, instead of relying on over-the-counter NSAID’s which are known to damage the lining of the gut and cause digestive issues.
Now the question is: Do you have a leaky gut? If you do, as you can see, it could become a factor in whatever chronic health issues you may be experiencing. That is why it is important to determine whether or not you actually have a leaky gut. If you discover that you do, you can take steps to heal it, which can help the rest of your body to heal, too.
Here are four tests that can give you a definitive answer:
- Food intolerance test
When the immune system is in hyper-reactive mode, your body may see almost everything as a threat. It may start producing antibodies to foods you eat all the time, resulting in a food intolerance. Sometimes the intolerance to certain foods creates obvious symptoms, but more often it creates low-grade systemic inflammation over time. Testing to determine these intolerances can guide your dietary choices towards anti-inflammatory rather than inflammatory foods and help your whole system calm down.
- Parasite test
Leaky gut and an imbalanced microbiome can become a breeding ground for parasites. While parasitic infections are often associated with visits to tropical or developing countries, I see them frequently in Western patients with chronic conditions, even when they have not visited locations where parasites are more common. Any compromised immunity can give opportunistic parasites a foothold. If you identify them, you can take steps to get rid of them.
- Bacterial dysbiosis test
Just as with chronic parasitic infections, a weakened GI system can also cause an imbalance of bacterial life or dysbiosis. When there’s a pH change in the GI system, conditions like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) can arise. This change in your body’s pH can also cause higher levels of opportunistic bacteria such as H. pylori and E. coli. This test will help you determine what bacteria might be out of balance so you can target the problem.
- Lactulose/Mannitol test
This highly specific test analyzes urine for the clearance of two sugars, lactulose and mannitol, which are byproducts of leaky gut syndrome.
The best way to order these tests and to have guidance in interpreting their results is to consult with a functional medicine practitioner, who can order the tests and provide a comprehensive diagnosis with personalized solutions for those suffering with chronic health conditions. If mainstream medicine hasn’t provided you with answers to your symptoms, consider this path. I consult people all over in dealing with underlying issues such as gut health.
I understand testing is usually not covered by insurance usually and you probably don’t like the idea of spending the money to test this. Another more affordable course of action is to contact a qualified health care practitioner and ask for a 90-day leaky gut ‘elimination diet’ paired with smart gut-supporting supplements like L-Glutamine, digestive enzymes and probiotics.
I also offer a free 7-day gut health program at https://thomunderwood.net/gut-health/. Now I realize you can’t heal a leaky gut in 7 days, but this program is designed to help you make long term changes and begin the process of healing your gut. But this will give you a 20 minute complimentary consultation with me to discuss my gut healing protocol moving forward.
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2009: Intestinal Barrier Function: Molecular Regulation and Disease Pathogenesis
- BMC Gastroenterology 2014: Intestinal Permeability – A New Target For Disease Prevention & Therapy
- Is Leaky Gut Syndrome a Real Condition? (An Unbiased Look)
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Disclaimer: The activities and research discussed in these podcasts are suggestions only and are only advised to be undertaken following prior consultation with a health or medical professional. Fitness training, nutrition, and other physical pursuits should be tailored to the individual based upon an assessment of their personal needs.