Have you ever heard of leaky gut? Prior to this year, I had never heard of it. Nor did I know that having a leaky gut had such a profound impact on my overall health. Before I start to talk about leaky gut, I feel compelled to tell you a little bit about how I got here.
A couple of years ago I decided to make a commitment to myself. This commitment focused on a lot of things, but one of the key areas was weight loss. I have always struggled with food. I’ve struggled with sticking to eating properly and taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Weight loss was temporary, only to come back with a vengeance- and the sugar beast would win again. Old habits would reemerge and the feelings of being an utter failure would be soothed with assorted snickers bars, bottle caps, and sandwiches. Fruits and Vegetables were a rarity and not a staple in my life. I never craved those foods- even when I was cleaning up my eating habits.
As I began to integrate regular exercise and proper nutrition into my lifestyle, it was a struggle. I lacked sustained energy to get through the day. Even with cleaning up my eating habits, I struggled with fatigue, colds, allergies, and headaches- not to mention stress induced eczema and other mysterious rashes. My ankles were non-existent, and I would cover them up whenever possible with boots and socks. I always wondered why losing weight was so difficult. What I have learned is that it wasn’t in my head, it was in my gut.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is a real syndrome. Basically, the root of all health is located in the small intestine. This vital vessel transports nutrients from food to the bloodstream and to other areas of the body. Typically, the small intestine will block undigested food particles and toxins. When the small intestine’s vessels of transporting nutrients are widened, which creates a perfect storm of undigested food and toxins to enter the bloodstream and other areas of the body. What then happens is the immune system goes into fight mode and identifies these undigested food particles and toxins as invaders. What’s worse is tha the immune system kind of freaks out. It doesn’t just build up the antibodies to the food particles or toxins- your healthy cells are attacked. According to Dr. Yuri Elkaim, this is one common way that food allergies and autoimmune disorders develop.
But that’s just one cause of leaky gut. Another is based on the balance of good gut (intestinal) flora to bad bacteria In its optimum state, our intestines are yin and yang- perfectly balanced. When there is more bad bacteria to good, irritation and inflammation happen which causes the same freak-out of your immune system. This imbalance can cause a litany of health issues.
Another cause of leaky gut is inflammatory foods, with the main culprit being gluten. Today’s gluten is not your parent’s gluten and comes hybridized. The processing of grain to become everything resistant can lead to an inflammatory response for individuals after ingestion. Other suspected inflammatory foods are certain dairy products, the ingredient carragenan, and alcohol.
Other causes can stem from an overgrowth of candidayeast, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and intestinal parasites. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Who knew there were so many causes of leaky gut? Who knew that this yin yang environment gets pretty nasty when it’s off-kilter.
Signs of Leaky Gut
So, how do you know you have leaky gut? Dr. Amy Myers identifies the 9 signs you may have a leaky gut. They are:
1. Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
2. Seasonal allergies or asthma.
3. Hormonal imbalances such as PMS or PCOS.
4. Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease.
5. Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.
6. Mood and mind issues such as depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD.
7. Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema.
8. Diagnosis of candida overgrowth.
9. Food allergies or food intolerances.
How to heal a leaky gut
I never knew that the root of my health issues lied in the lining of my small intestine, and could be what was causing my weight gain, mood issues, skin issues, and the inexplicable sugar cravings I was experiencing. While I am certainly not a medical doctor, my experience and research have led me to some very cool places. There are some ways that you can work to heal a leaky gut. You can start by cleaning up your diet-by staying away from or eliminating processed food, foods that contribute to the inflammatory response, and sticking to organic, whole foods. Falling in love with your kitchen is a term that Dr. Christine Kaczmar often refers to in her practice, and it’s something to really remember in today’s convenience food lifestyle. The most important investment in health care is the food we eat.
Many holistic practitioners also recommend adding a high quality probiotic and omega-3 supplement to control inflammation and repopulate the intestines with beneficial bacteria. When inflammation is controlled and the small intestine has an opportunity to return to that yin yang status, you may notice relief from your symptoms. You may even experience weight loss. For those that have sought out solutions from conventional methods with no success, or have taken prescription medications that have led to some negative side effects, it may be wise to consider holistic alternatives to health and wellness. It may be time to get back into balance.