Two thousand years ago, Hippocrates spoke very wisely when he said, “All disease begins in the gut.” This is something that the medical community is finally realizing as a fact.
Table of content:
- What is Leaky Gut?
- What are the Symptoms?
- What are the Causes?
- How is it Diagnosed?
- Treatment Through Diet
- How can you Prevent it from Occurring?
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is a common term that is used in place of a fancier medical term, called hyperpermeable intestines. While much of the medical community has yet to embrace leaky gut syndrome as a definitive diagnosis, mounting evidence suggests that this condition is real and more and more medical professionals are realizing that it is, in fact, a true medical problem. Though much is still not understood about the gut and how it affects the body, more is being learned about the true necessity of having a healthy gut. Without the gut working properly, the body is more open to the dangers of illness and disease.
Leaky gut is a condition that causes the tight junctions that are in the gut to no longer work as they are supposed to. These junctions become widened due to different causes and allow molecules to pass through the intestinal lining and straight into the bloodstream.
The intestinal lining is the first defense line in the body. When it is working properly, the junctions remain tightly closed, to prevent molecules from the food being digested from freely passing into the blood. The lining acts as a screening system and only allows certain molecules to pass through.
When the lining becomes damaged, the junctions develop gaps in them. The condition allows molecules to freely flow into the blood before they are screened. This means that many foreign objects are released into the blood and they then enter the cells, causing massive problems in the body.
The condition of leaky gut causes toxins, bacteria, yeast, and undigested proteins and fats to be released into the blood and then into the cells. Once these foreign bodies have been released into the blood and reach the cells, they cause massive inflammation. This inflammation causes further stress on the body, triggering autoimmune reactions.
The liver begins to work overtime, trying to filter the foreign bodies. Once the liver is overworked, the immune system is compromised and cannot keep up with all of the needs in the body. Eventually, the body begins attacking its own cells. As the body begins to fight against itself, many different autoimmune conditions can manifest.
What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome can cause many different conditions to occur in the body. The beginning symptoms are normally mild and can include gas, bloating, cramps, and some food sensitivities. As the condition progresses, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmune diseases begin to occur.
Chronic diarrhea and/or constipation- While this can occur with other gastrointestinal conditions, it is almost always found in leaky gut patients. People may suffer exclusively from one or the other, or they may suffer from both, with some days having diarrhea and some days being constipated.
Headaches- Chronic headaches are often a major sign of intestinal distress. As toxins and bacteria are released into the blood stream, they can cause headaches that range from mild to severe. Those who suffer from these headaches may notice that certain foods may cause the headaches to become worse.
Brain fog- Cognitive dysfunction, commonly known as brain fog, is defined as having poor mental functioning that is often accompanied by confusion, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness.
Memory Loss- Many people who suffer from leaky gut syndrome have a terrible time with their short-term memory. They forget easily and have trouble remembering certain facts.
Excess fatigue- In today’s busy world, most everyone becomes fatigued at some point. Excess fatigue means that you are tired more often than not. The symptoms of this degree of fatigue often interfere with day-to-day activities, causing a drop in activity.
Tissue inflammation- In this condition, inflammation can occur throughout the body. With inflammation comes swelling. The body may become more bloated, and there may be mild to severe swelling in the limbs.
Toxin buildup- The signs of toxic buildup can be fatigue, headaches, body odor, insomnia, and food and chemical sensitivity. As the toxins begin to flood the body through the widened junctions, these symptoms increase in severity.
Candida- A person who suffers from chronic candida infections normally has an overgrowth of yeast in the body. The symptoms of yeast overgrowth can cause vast cravings for breads and sugars, as this is what the yeast feeds on.
Anxiety- Feelings of anxiousness can occur at any time in a person’s life and do not always indicate that there is an underlying problem. In leaky gut syndrome, anxiety is greatly pronounced and can often become severe.
Eczema- Also called ectopic dermatitis, this skin condition causes an inflammation of the outer layers of the skin. Symptoms include dryness, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing skin, and sometimes bleeding. It has been found that eczema occurs three times more often in people who suffer from gastrointestinal conditions.
Psoriasis- This skin condition is characterized by skin redness and irritation. The main sign of psoriasis is the thick and scaly patches that occur on the skin. This skin condition is normally more severe in people who have compromised immune systems.
Thyroid conditions, such as the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system. It can cause bouts of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Mental Illness- Mental illness comes in many forms and the range is too broad to even list the various possibilities. While mental illness is not always a sign of intestinal issues, when accompanied by other symptoms, can be a warning sign.
Depression- Depression normally has a variety of causes. It can range from mild to severe and results in a feeling of having the blues or feeling down.
Heart Failure- This is the most serious sign of leaky gut syndrome, and often occurs after the gut has been leaking for years, with no treatment. Heart failure symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, edema, mental confusion, cough and wheezing, and a lack of appetite.
Leaky gut syndrome can also affect other gastrointestinal conditions. Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease can both be worsened or triggered by leaky gut. Rheumatoid arthritis and asthma can also be triggered or worsened by the condition. It has also been found that many autistic children suffer from leaky gut syndrome. Researchers are searching to make the connection and understand the implications of what this might mean. Through this research, it is hoped that a greater understanding will take place in what this means for autism treatment and prevention.
Most health professionals who work with leaky gut patients advise that food sensitivities are a big warning sign. When a person suffers from more than twelve food sensitivities, this normally means that leaky gut is an implication.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Diet plays a critical role in the development of leaky gut syndrome. The perfect recipe for leaky gut involves a diet that is high in sugars, processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, milk products, cereals, and potatoes. Since much of the world’s diet is now high in these foods, leaky gut is on the rise.
Those who drink large amounts of alcohol are at a greater risk for seeing the symptoms of leaky gut. Processed and preserved foods also play a large role in the syndrome’s development. Flavorings that are put into foods are wreaking havoc on the intestinal linings of the body, creating problematic issues very quickly.
Other causes of the malfunction of the gut include, taking NSAIDS in high doses, radiation treatments, antibiotic use, parasites, and infections. Many different substances, foods, and illnesses can cause the reaction of inflammation in the body. As inflammation occurs, the lining becomes damaged and the junctions begin to gap and widen further, resulting in the leaking disorder.
Chronic stress can also be a big factor in the development of the condition. With most people living busy and stressful lives, the incidence of leaky gut syndrome is growing. Stress causes many problems in the body, especially inflammation and a lack of immune response. As the body becomes more and more inflamed, the gut is damaged and symptoms begin.
Those who suffer with low levels of stomach acid are also at a greater risk for leaky gut. This causes inflammation in the intestinal tract and leads to irritation. As the intestines and bowel sustain more wear and tear, the syndrome continues to worsen.
Yet another cause of leaky gut is candida. Yeast is normally present in the body and on the surface of the skin. It is also found in the gut. The yeast levels are normally kept under control by the good bacteria in the body. As the body systems become compromised due to illnesses, medications, or disease, the levels of good bacteria are lessened, allowing the overgrowth of yeast to take place. As this occurs, the yeast take over the gut and begin to invade every part of it, causing damage to the lining of the intestinal tract.
A high grain consumption has also been linked to the syndrome. Grains contain gliadin, which is a glycoprotein that is found in wheat. Gliadin increases the production of the intestinal protein zonulin. This increase causes the gaps to widen, and increase in prevalence.
Along with these other causes, a lowered zinc level in the body can cause this syndrome to occur. Zinc is a critical micronutrient in the maintenance of the intestinal lining. Zinc helps to stabilize the cells that form the protective lining in the gut. A zinc deficiency can cause vast inflammation in the lining. It has been found that the more severe the inflammation, the greater the deficiency of zinc.
How is Leaky Gut Diagnosed?
Since many physicians, especially in the Western world, do not recognize leaky gut as a true condition, it can be difficult finding a doctor who can diagnose the syndrome. There are tests that can effectively measure the permeability of the intestinal lining, but these tests are not often used to check for the condition. Most physicians make a leaky gut diagnosis based on the symptoms of the patient.
Many people who are diagnosed with the condition end up seeing a holistic physician to get their diagnosis. A full history is taken from the patient to find out what could be causing the symptoms that are being experienced. The physician works from this history base and is able to make a diagnosis based on the symptoms that are being experienced.
Most of the time, a diagnosis will only be made after a person insists that something is wrong. For people who have several of the symptoms of the condition, it is vital to communicate with doctors and insist that testing be done.
The testing that can be carried out for leaky gut syndrome includes checking for high levels of antibodies to some of the common food proteins. High levels of antibodies to normal intestinal bacteria can also be a great indicator. Recently, health professionals have begun using a type of challenge test that involves the use of a special solution that is created from two types of sugars. The two sugar levels are measured through a urine sample. Healthcare professionals almost always test for Celiac disease as well, since these two often accompany one another.
How Can Leaky Gut Be Treated?
There are a variety of theories on what the best course of treatment is for leaky gut syndrome. While some believe that diet alone can help to heal the problem, most believe in more of a combination treatment that not only allows the gut to heal, but combats the symptoms that are caused by the syndrome. In most studies, it has been shown that combination therapy is more effective against the condition. Though it can take time, healing from the syndrome is possible.
Changing your diet can greatly decrease the symptoms of leaky gut. By eliminating the triggers of the condition, many people are finding both relief and healing. It is important to remove sugars, processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, milk products, cereals, and potatoes from the diet.
The Paleo Diet
When removing these items from the diet, many people are trying to go back to simpler days and embracing a Paleo-type of diet. By consuming whole, unprocessed foods, vegetables, and organic meats, leaky gut sufferers are achieving great results.
This type of diet starves excess yeast in the body and reduces inflammation, allowing the damage to begin healing. It also eliminates many of the irritating foods, leading to fewer immune reactions. By keeping the diet simple, healing begins to occur over time, and the toxins and inflammation in the body are reduced.
The SCD Diet
Many people are also finding luck in using the SCD diet or Specific Carb Diet. On this diet, only monosaccharide carbohydrates can be consumed. Unlike the other forms of carbohydrates, this carb does not require an extra step for digestion. This diet helps to break the cycle of excess yeast and bacteria in the body. It also helps to fix the good flora numbers in the body, allowing the damaged areas of the gut to heal.
Along with the different diet options and eliminations, there are some food items that can be added to the diet to help the leaky gut heal. Adding fermented fiber, such as yams, sweet potatoes, and yucca, can help to bring healing and balance the bacterial levels in the body. Kefir, yogurt, and kimchi can also be consumed with promising results.
Nutritional support is also important for the healing of leaky gut syndrome. Since this condition often causes the body to experience malabsorption issues, it often means that the body is severely lacking in key vitamins and minerals. It is important for sufferers of the condition to take a good multivitamin to help replace what has been depleted and aid in the healing of the body.
Other supplements should be taken as well. Vitamin D has been shown to aid in the healing process and should be taken on a daily basis. Zinc supplements are also a must for rebuilding the intestinal lining and keeping it strong. Along with these supplements, it can also help to take essential fish oils, like Omega 3 supplements.
Probiotic supplements are also vital to help in the healing process. It is important to understand that not all probiotics are the same. If possible, the non-dairy source of probiotics should be used. This will offer the best benefit, without the risk of inflammation and reaction due to the milk product it was produced from. The most important probiotic to choose is lactobacillus acidophilus. Probiotics help the natural flora, or good bacteria, to be replaced so that the bad bacteria can be removed.
Digestive enzymes are also used in the treatment of leaky gut syndrome. These enzymes help to aid in the digestion of foods that pass through the body. They are naturally found in raw fruits and vegetables, but in the beginning stages of healing, it can be difficult for the leaky gut sufferer to consume foods in raw form. Until further healing takes place, it can help to take digestive enzymes in capsule form. Though they are not as effective as gaining them from raw foods, they can still be of great help.
How can you Prevent Leaky Gut from Occurring?
While it is not possible to fully eliminate the dangers of leaky gut, there are ways to help remove much of the risk and keep the intestines healthy. By keeping the diet healthy and taking vitamins and supplements, many people are able to avoid the condition.
It is important to understand that medications can cause the condition. NSAIDS should be avoided as much as possible. Antibiotics should be taken only when absolutely necessary. When it is necessary to take them, probiotics should be used to reverse their effects of destroying the natural flora of the body.
Avoiding alcohol can also help to prevent the condition from occurring. By avoiding any known triggers, the chance of having to deal with the syndrome becomes lessened. It takes a balancing act to make it happen, but avoiding this condition is possible.
If you believe you are suffering from this condition, it is important to get a proper diagnosis. You are your best advocate when it comes to your health. If your doctor will not address your concerns, you need to find one that will. There are many different types of physicians and holistic medicine practitioners. Instead of dealing with the symptoms alone, you can receive the help that you need to recover.
Complete healing will not happen overnight, but with the right diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes, you can see improvements begin to take place in your health very quickly.