Do you have leaky gut?
A better question may be…do you experience symptoms like bloating, constipation, difficulty losing weight, skin breakouts, allergies, autoimmunity?…Then you might have it.
Leaky gut more common than you may think, and is an underlying component of a variety of ill health conditions we experience today.
That’s because the gut is the gateway to health!
Cool Gut Facts
It’s the place where 70-80% of your immune system is housed in the gut.
The majority of your hormones are created and balanced in the gut.
Your gut is called your 2nd brain!
95% of your serotonin – your “feel good” brain chemicals– are produced there and you have 500+ million neurons in there too.
Basically, the healthier your gut, the healthier you!
However, if you have imbalances like a leaky gut, then Houston, we have a problem…
Leaky Gut 101
When I first heard about leaky gut – an inflamed and imbalanced gut, it was like I discovered the cure to cancer. It finally explained ALL of the gut-related issues I’d had since I was a kid.
In this article, let’s discuss 3 things:
- What leaky gut is in the first place–the symptoms
- How you get leaky gut & how to know if you have it
- My top 10 hacks to heal leaky gut (so you can start today).
What is Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is basically what it sounds like – a gut that is leaky… sort of like a tire that gets a nail in it…it doesn’t work efficiently for very long.
Technically leaky gut is called “intestinal permeability” – this is because in an ideal state, your gut lining is “selectively permeable”, meaning it decides what stays inside the gut (like toxins to be sent to the liver to be detoxed) and what gets let out into the bloodstream (like nutrients to various cells and organs)…
However, when leaky gut happens, the gut loses its ability to decide what to keep in and keep out, so we can end up with undigested foods and toxins circulating inside the bloodstream and all sorts of inflammation!
Translation: Your gut is not able to work at its peak performance.
Leaky gut is characterized by a variety of signs and symptoms – which is actually why it goes easily undiagnosed for years, if not a life time! It includes BOTH overt gut symptoms and gut-related symptoms like:
- IBS, gas, bloating & constipation
- Brain-gut issues like anxiety, depression and ADD/ADHD
- Blood sugar and malabsorption issues that cause food cravings, feeling hangry, shaky or lightheaded between meals
- Immune issues like seasonal allergies, autoimmunity and food intolerances.
- Inflammatory conditions like high cholesterol and acne.
All of these are signs of an imbalanced and inflamed gut.
HOW DOES LEAKY GUT HAPPEN?
So how does leaky gut happen? One word: Stress.
Contrary to popular belief, stress includes both mental and physical stress. Common culprits of poor gut health include:
Food can either fuel health or it can fuel disease. If it fuels disease, it most likely does this by damaging a once healthy gut. Processed, greasy and sugary foods are the most obvious culprits, but underlying food sensitivities to even so-called healthy foods can lead to inflammation that can damage your gut. Even gluten-free grains contain sugars and gluten-cross contaminating grains that contribute to inflammation. Many coffee varieties are also cross contaminated with gluten, and most people eat 3 to 10 time less fiber than we need for a healthy gut.
Most medications have side effects, and many people continue to take them without educating themselves on the possible side effects—one of them being compromised gut permeability. And while many antibiotics can be lifesaving, frequent use and overuse of these drugs kill the bacteria in your gut regardless of whether they are actually harmful or not. This can allow for pathogenic bacteria to take over, especially if you are not making efforts to restore the balance through probiotic supplements or fermented foods.
Even certain over-the-counter medications such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen can affect your gut health. These drugs work to relieve pain by blocking the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase, which also inhibits it from doing its important job of protecting your stomach from the corrosive effects of its acid, causing an increase in intestinal inflammation and permeability. This permeability can trigger an autoimmune response, and research estimates that 65 percent of people who consistently use NSAIDs have intestinal inflammation and 30 percent have ulcers.
A glass of alcohol every once in a while may not do much to your gut in the grand scheme of things. However, consistent alcohol consumption—or even occasional for those dealing with a severe gut dysfunction—can irritate your intestines and suppress the hormones that protect against inflammation and gut permeability..
Since the majority of your immune system is located in your gut, leaky gut syndrome is both a cause and an effect of autoimmune problems. Autoimmune disease increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines that destroy your gut lining.
Neurological and mental health imbalances.
Your gut and brain were formed from the same fetal tissue while you were growing in your mother’s womb. They continue this special bond throughout your whole life through what is known as the gut-brain connection. Because of this connection, brain problems can lead to leaky gut syndrome and vice versa.
Super restrictive diets or high sugar and carb diets
Which can be linked to blood sugar imbalances like hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. When blood sugar skyrockets, compounds known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, become elevated as well and can increase the permeability of your gut. When blood sugar is too low, this can lead to hormone imbalances.
Especially cortisol. If estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormones, or cortisol are out of balance, this can explain why you may not be able to heal despite your best efforts. For example, xenoestrogens in mold and plastic water bottles can lead to high circulating estrogens in your body – voila leaky gut. And you’ve probably heard of cortisol. Over time, high levels of your primary stress hormone cortisol and decreased oxygen to your gut are two ways that chronic stress can play a role in damaging your gut.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE LEAKY GUT?
A few leaky gut tests can tell you!
Intestinal Permeability Blood Test
For one, you can do an intestinal permeability blood test for Zonulin protein levels in your bloodstream and occluding antibodies. These two proteins control gut permeability, and the presence of antibodies can indicate damage to your intestinal tight junctions. In addition, I test for actomyosin antibodies, which can show if there was destruction of your gut lining, and lipopolysaccharides (LPS) antibodies, which can indicate leaky gut syndrome.
Comprehensive Stool Analysis
A comprehensive stool analysis also can be helpful. This test will uncover everything from the presence of parasites to bacterial imbalances to conditions like candida overgrowth or SIBO—any of which can affect your gut health.
Go with Your Gut
Quite honestly though, in clinical practice, I really do a lot less testing nowadays and often can tell based on symptoms – especially if you have any immune related symptoms like skin, autoimmune, allergy or food intolerance issues… digestive issues… brain related issues like anxiety or depression….or a history of processed foods and stress. Translation: Like everyone in the Western world.
The good news is: when given the right tools, the body innately wants to heal itself.
HOW TO HEAL YOUR GUT: 10 TIPS
So you have a leaky gut…how do you heal it?
First, I am going to assume you already know eating real unprocessed foods is good for you. Gluten, conventional dairy, sugar and seed oils are not a healthy gut’s best friends so let’s go a little bit deeper here.
Hack #1. Eat real (anti-inflammatory) food
My 28 Day Gut Kickstart nutrition plan is my gold standard for helping my clients see if they have any food intolerances. See how you feel when you take a break from some of the most inflammatory foods that can further exacerbate a leaky gut until you fix the gut first. This includes egg whites, nuts and seeds, grains, beans and nightshade spices–all of which can be higher in lectins, sticky proteins that are tough for the gut to break down until its strong again. By removing foods for a certain amount of time and slowly reintroducing them, you’ll be able to see which foods your body loves and which foods your body hates.
Hack #2: Rotate your food
Eating many types of foods will not only give you a wide variety of much-needed nutrients, which will help you heal, but it will also keep your immune system balanced.
Hack #3: Fiber up
Fiber–particularly from vegetables– boosts short chain fatty acids in your gut. Short chain fatty acids are the healthy byproducts that probiotics (good bacteria) create when merged with pre-biotic fibers. It keeps the gut less inflamed and more hospitable. You also produce SCFA’s when you eat fiber (ie. veggies–especially cooked veggies) in the diet. If you don’t tolerate veggies very well, that is definitely a sign of dysbiosis. Ditch the salads. Opt for cooked over raw–since cooked foods are easier on digestion over all– and consider using a butyrate supplement as you heal…Specifically tributyrin is a post-biotic or “short chain fatty acid” supplement that decreases inflammation in the gut.
Hack #4: Drink bone broth
Bone broth is rich in amino acids that heal and repair the gut lining. I also use a bone broth & collagen protein powder in my Gut Love Shakes every day that I absolutely love. Protein is the building block of all tissues in the body. Without enough of it, it will be tough to repair. If bone broth makes you feel bad, this is a sign of a histamine reaction, and you may do better with chicken or beef stock cooked in 1-2 hours on the stove and you definitely need leaky gut healing!
Hack #5: Consume high quality probiotics
Probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi will reinoculate your microbiome with good bacteria. A probiotic supplement will also give your gut a much-needed boost of essential bacteria. However, be warned: NOT all probiotics are created equal. You want a high quality probiotic from a reputable company with at least 50 billion CFU. I’ll link my faves in the show notes.
Hack #6: Add Minerals
Humic and fulvic minerals are like amino acids for tissues–they help repair. Trace mineral drops added to water and sea salt added to food to taste both allow nutrients to be absorbed more easily by tissues and cells.
Hack #7: Sea Moss
Speaking of minerals, have you heard of sea moss before? If not, you’ve got to try it! It’s an algae that contain 92 of the total 104 minerals our body needs–almost a perfect food. You can consume it in a gel or capsule, but I prefer the gel; it’s more like a food that soothes the gut and decreases inflammation.
Hack #8: Colostrum
Another perfect food–the milk protein found in your mom’s breast milk as a baby that is rich in immunoglobulins to support your immune system and strengthen the gut lining too.
Hack #9: Eat 3 balanced meals and do a 12 hour overnight fast.
Food is fuel, and by drawing out meal timing, we allow appropriate time for digestion and blood sugar balance to occur as well, promoting less inflammation over all. No you don’t have to fast for 16-20 hours to see benefits. Simple 12-14 hour intermittent fasts (like dinner to breakfast) and 3 balanced meals each day every 4-6 hours allows the body to rest and digest.
Hack #10: Sleep and move like ‘goldilocks’–just right.
Under sleeping and overtraining or sedentary living are gut stressors.
There you go. All you need to know about leaky gut and 10 hacks to heal.
HEAL YOUR LEAKY GUT
So…Do you have a healthy gut? Start with 1 of these 10 hacks, and build as you go along. If you find yourself running into roadblocks, then reach out.
Functional medicine is built on helping you solve your mystery health problems so you can heal–not just manage symptoms.
if you run into roadblocks, reach out to a functional medicine health detective like myself to help you problem solve what else could be going on “under the hood” – like SIBO, candida and beyond.