The idea of having a "leaky gut" sounds rather strange and if you go to your GP suspecting that you may have such a thing they will raise their eyebrows and say that they don't believe in leaky gut. I have a chuckle about this because they make it sound like it's a religion that you may believe in or not believe in. If on the other hand you mention poor gut permeability they do seem to accept this term. So leaky gut is simply a term for a permeable gut lining associated with inflammation.
The name maybe simple enough but this condition can be a major contributing factor to many chronic gut problems as well as general health issues, that can go undetected due to main stream medicine not recognizing it and not testing for it. In my clinic this is by far one of the most important areas for improving health and vitality and I spend considerable time in identifying it and then treating it.
What is Leaky Gut
To understand the issue of leaky gut, it's important to know the physiological processes of your body. In a healthy digestive track, the cell lining the intestines are plumped up and closely packed together, carefully controlling the absorption of nutrients from food. If you have leaky gut i.e. semi permeable gut lining, the cells become inflamed and gaps appear between the cells, large enough for food particles and other toxins to enter into the bloodstream. Even small amounts of inflammation in the intestines can create this problem. When food particles, that are not meant to pass into the bloodstream do, the immune system will react to this causing potential food allergies but also contributing to more inflammation which is now more widespread, causing an ongoing, chronic issue that often goes undetected for many years and can be a significant contributing factor to many symptoms and chronic disease.
How Do I Know If This Is My Problem
If you suspect that leaky gut maybe a source of your problems, you can have specific tests to identify if this exists. These are functional tests. A digestive stool analysis can reveal specific antibody activity in the gut as well as looking for undigested food and mucous in the stools, which are all indicators of inflammation as well as poor digestion. The gut permeability test will actually measure how permeable the intestinal lining is and give a very accurate indication of the severity of leaky Gut
Live blood analysis is another test done in clinic which allows me to identify specific markers of inflammation in your blood that can be linked with leaky gut.
These tests can be expensive for many people, and I will often assess on your specific symptoms which can be very much associated with intolerances. If you have intolerances to a food or several foods you almost certainly have leaky gut Bloating, gut cramps, diarrhoea or constipation or a feeling of a sensitivity to certain foods e.g. bread or milk are classic signs. Other symptoms of food intolerances are very broad but can include classic gut problems as well as sinusitis, headaches and migraines, joint pain, fatigue, eczema. Any food intolerance results in an immune reaction causing inflammation throughout the body and is often associated with some degree of pain.
Other more significant health issues associated with leaky gut are:
Mal absorption syndromes.
Allergies and asthma
Depression and anxiety.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and other auto immune diseases.
IBS, and other inflammatory bowel disorders.
Behavioural issues in children.
Guess what else is affected?
The brain- The brain and the gut are very closely connected, so any gut issues will greatly affect brain function and vice versa. In fact the gut is often called the gut-brain connection. A large amount of our neurotransmitters or feel good hormones are actually produced in the gut not the brain, and depend on a healthy gut for their production.
The immune system - The gut represents at least 70% of our immune system so with a unhealthy gut our immunity is very vulnerable, which will impact on our overall health. To improve immunity the gut is the first place I will treat.
The Liver- All foods pass via the liver once they are absorbed from the gut, if leaky gut is present incomplete digested food particles can overwhelm the liver creating further inflammation and immune responses, compounding the problem.
What Causes Leaky Gut
There is no one simple cause of leaky gut, a combination of chronic inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, improper digestion and a high intake of aggravating foods are big contributing factors. Often these factor are long standing and can begin at a very early age and go undetected for years until a major health concerns forces you to seek help. Here are a list of a some of the factors that I consider to be important.
1. Poor digestion, resulting for low stomach acid and poor production of pancreatic enzymes causing slow digestion of food passing through the digestive track. This often results in symptoms of acid reflux, bloating , and pain. This adds to the inflammation and contributes to leaky gut.
2. Poor food choices over time this can be a major contributing factor. An average Australian diet is often high in processed foods, grains,saturated and hydrogenated fats, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. We generally don't eat enough veggies and good quality protein and healthy fats, to help balance this. Depending how early you were introduced to these foods and how long you have been eating this type of diet, will depend on how much this is a factor. The average Australian diet is, in its self very inflammatory and this causes the development of leaky gut and the beginnings of food intolerances. As mentioned earlier when the immune system is responding to food particles that are being absorbed into the blood over time your body starts to identify that particular food as being harmful to your health, this is how intolerances develop. For example if you develop leaky gut whilst drinking a lot of milk your body may decide to react to this milk causing you to feel unwell when you drink it. All of a sudden you have an intolerance to milk when previously its been fine. Unlike allergies, intolerances can come and go, so the key is to not simply avoid foods you are intolerant to, but to heal leaky gut and prevent undigested food particles getting through in the first place.
3. The use of certain drugs, oral contraceptive pill, antibiotics and anti inflammatories will greatly disrupt the fine balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria causing dysbiosis. These drugs also cause irritation of the gut lining contributing to inflammation and leaky gut.
4. Gut Dysbiosis. Did you know that we have 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies and only 10 trillion cells, we are more bacteria than human. There are at least 1.6kgs of bacteria in our gut alone which is a fine balance of the healthy and the unhealthy. Maintaining this balance is critical to gut health and our overall health in general. If the unhealthy bacteria over ride the healthy we have dysbiosis. Diet, drugs, stress, and illness are a few factors that influence this balance. The exposure of parasites, yeast infections and other bacteria are more prevalent with dysbiosis and contribute to leaky gut. This is a major area of my practice, improving gut flora balance.
5. Other causes include, early antibiotic use in children, non breast fed children and C Section babies can be more susceptible. High stress over a long period of time. Severe trauma or illness, excessive sports like running a marathon and exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins.
How Do I Heal My Leaky Gut.
Just as developing leaky gut can takes years, treating this can also take time, at least six months but sometimes years, it really depends on the contributing factors. The following are some suggestions but seeking advice from professionals who understand this problem is highly recommended.
- First you need to identify any irritating foods and eliminate these from your diet. Gluten is the most common culprit, although many other foods have been identified. Sugars, dairy, yeast, alcohol and coffee are other irritating foods. A food intolerance test or elimination diet maybe useful in identifying your individual culprits. Eating a clean unprocessed diet that is more anti-inflammatory
- Improve your digestion, chew your food well and completely to aid the digestive process. Adding digestive enzymes can also support the digestive process whilst the gut is healing. They have multi-faceted skills to help alleviate leaky gut. First, plant based enzymes will break down food into very small particles before it leaves the stomach, preventing large undigested molecules from irritating the intestinal lining and increasing nutritional uptake. They also work through your intestines acting as garbage collectors by removing toxins, bacteria, and damaged cells of the mucosal lining. The bromelain and papain enzymes are shown to reduce inflammation in the gut lining and throughout other tissues in the body, allowing the immune system and the liver some reprieve
- Adding probiotics to your program is critical, this will improve the balance of good bacteria in the gut which aids in reducing inflammation, and restore the balance of good and bad bacteria. Adding prebiotics in the form of foods to your diet such as high fibre veggies and fermented foods help maintain the healthy bacteria survive.
- Nutritional Supplementing: The conditions that lead to leaky gut can also cause mal-absorption and improper digestion, both of which are going to leave you with nutritional deficiencies. First and foremost: supplementing with a good multi-vitamin, large amounts of vitamin D, and Zinc will help the intestinal lining return to normal (assuming the irritants from the diet are removed from your diet). Fish oils have also been shown to really help improve the condition of the intestinal mucosal lining (omega-3’s greatly reduce inflammation among a host of other benefits).
-Specific Supplements that have been used successfully to help heal a leaky gut include Slippery Elm, Liquorice, Glutamine, Quercetin, Ginger, Turmeric, Marshmallow Root and Aloe Vera.
Finally Leaky Gut doesn't need to be a long time problem, with attention to diet, stress and with correct support and nutrients you can heal your gut.
For more information, or if you feel leaky gut maybe contributing to your current health issues please contact the clinic for an appointment on 0260210557