Leaky Gut (medical term: Increased Intestinal Permeability) occurs when the lining of the small intestine allows material from what we eat through the lining into the body that it shouldn't. A healthy small intestine (or gut) lining knows its job. It keeps antigens (chemicals our body doesn't recognize and will attack) from getting into our bloodstream and allows the good stuff (like water and electrolytes) to pass. But a leaky gut has been damaged and is unable to do regulate what gets out of the intestine.
An easier way to think of this - imagine a pair of opaque tights as the healthy gut. You can't see through them but they stretch just enough to let you move around and allow air to pass through. Now the leaky gut, that is going to look more like a pair of fish nets. Full of holes that are unable prevent what gets through.
So why is this important? More and more research is being done on the importance of our gut health, and I've heard it said several times now that this research believes we have a "second brain" in our digestive system. Our guts are able to regulate the workings of our bodies including our hormone production, mood, sleep, memory, respiration, and immunity response against bacteria and viruses. And what drives healthy function and feeds our second brain are the trillions of healthy "gut bacteria" that live down there. But when these little critters decrease in number and/or our gut gets "leaky", our second brain starts to make unhealthy choices and our bodies rebel. Toxins and larger particles of food are allowed to pass through the gut lining instead of getting pushed through the intestines to be safely excreted. Our body recognizes those particles as foreign bodies and attacks them. This creates inflammation in the body - all over. Meaning, we don't feel well. And this can happen every time you eat, creating constant systemic inflammation.
So what are some symptoms of Leaky Gut and chronic systemic inflammation? Aside from just not feeling well, there are a number of symptoms we can have from a messed-up digestive system:
- weight gain
- frequent illness
- inability to fight an illness like a common cold
- joint pain
- constipation or diarrhea
- pre-diabetes or diabetes type 2
- hunger and cravings
- irritability or depression
Why is this happening? In short, the past 30 years have shown an increase in processed food, genetic modification of food, sugar intake, stress, pesticides, hormones/antibiotics in farm animals, and use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. The quick list:
- sugar/yeast overgrowth
- conventional dairy
- modern gluten
How do I know if I have this going on? A lot of doctors aren't recognizing leaky gut as a disease at this time. The best way to figure this out is to go off of the symptoms and start treating yourself. Because the treatment for this is something we should all be doing anyways! Simply cleaning up our diet and our lifestyle. But there are a few tests we can do:
- C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation, and plasma viscosity blood-work testing will look for inflammation
- Gut Microbiome Flora testing is another great option to get a picture of what is going on in there! I've used the company uBiome
So what now? What can we do to fix this? An in-depth answer belongs to a whole other blog post. But for now, the basics:
- Decrease stress. Download a free app for breathing or meditation.
- Cut out sugar and decrease alcohol to 1-2 glasses per week.
- Go organic with produce where you eat the skin.
- Choose grass-fed, no hormone, no antibiotic meats and add a few "meatless meals" per week. Look for organic, pasture-raised eggs.
- Consider going dairy-free or only organic yogurts, butter, and kefir. Try some sheep and goat milk as well!
- Be picky about your gluten. Choose sprouted grains and sourdough breads.
- Add fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and pickled veggies.
- Eat high fiber foods - they feed your happy gut bacteria!
- Limit the use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen
- Add coconut into your diet.
- Cook veggies. Helps with digestion.
- Start learning about supplementation. Probiotics, Prebiotics, Bone Broth, digestive herbs, L-Glutamine, and Restore
So what do you think? What questions come to your mind when you read this? If you're hearing about it for the first time, did this make sense? Do you feel this might be something you're dealing with? Comment and let me know!