There’s been an exciting collection of new digestion-related terms in the health media these days, like leaky gut, intestinal permeability, SIBO, dysbiosis, etc. This growing awareness of the importance of gut health to overall health is clear evidence of progress towards true health care! Hippocrates, the Father of modern medicine, said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Functional Medicine, a discipline that focuses on addressing the root causes of disease (instead of treating symptoms), recognizes the gut as the starting point of so much dis-ease that we experience today, including food allergies, joint pain, autoimmunity, fatigue, inflammation, and more. These seemingly unrelated conditions can all have the same root cause – a leaky gut.
What is a Leaky Gut?
It is a state of enhanced (and not in a good way) intestinal permeability. The intestine, the barrier between the outside world and our inner body, is only one cell thick. The cells are glued together by “tight junctions”, which prevent large, undigested food particles from entering the blood stream. Ideally, everything is broken down into very small components before being safely absorbed into the body.
But sometimes the tight junctions get a little more permeable and allow food particles that haven’t been fully broken down to enter the blood. Not recognizing these particles, the immune system mounts a defensive reaction. Going forward, the immune system gets activated every time you eat that food. This is a very common cause of food allergies/sensitivities. This constant immune activation causes increased systemic inflammation, which can show up in the joints (causing arthritic symptoms), the skin (causing eczema, acne, psoriasis…), the brain (resulting in mental fog), metabolism (causing weight gain and low energy). It can even progress to an autoimmune dynamic, where the immune system starts attacking the body’s own tissues like the thyroid. This is just a short list! Since everything in the body is interconnected, the potential effects of a leaky gut are endless.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
- Medications including NSAIDs, birth control pills, antibiotics, SSRIs, and acid reflux medications (in a more indirect way)
- Gluten, by causing the body to secrete a substance called zonulin, which opens up the tight junctions
- Low vitamin D
- Disruptions in the precious gut microbiome (as in dysbiosis, SIBO, Candida overgrowth, etc)
- Toxins and chemicals
Can you Fix it?
Yes! Follow the 5 R’s of gut healing. This is an order of operations that have been found to be most effective for healing. The order is important, but oftentimes the stages will overlap. The timing and exact approach will vary depending on individual circumstances.
- Remove what’s causing the issue – for example; foods you’re allergic or sensitive to such as gluten and dairy (this may only be necessary for a few months), toxins, stress, foods that feed undesired microbes like excess sugar, unnecessary medications.
- Replace what’s missing – for example; digestive enzymes, stomach acid, bile acids, adrenal/thyroid/immune support.
- Reinoculate – with probiotics, prebiotics, cultured foods, dietary fiber.
- Repair any damage to the intestinal lining – with mucilaginous herbs that soothe the digestive tract (such as slippery elm, marshmallow, and licorice) and zinc carnosine, vitamin D, potentially L-glutamine (if tolerated), and foods like okra, chia, flaxseed, artichoke, legumes, and warm vegetable broth on an empty stomach.
- Rebalance – long term dietary changes, stress reduction, and eating hygiene.
Once you heal intestinal permeability and food intolerances, many seemingly unrelated symptoms can resolve. It’s so worth the effort! Please contact us if you would like individual guidance.
Image credit: Leanna Rosser