If you’ve spent any amount of time in a conversation with me about nutrition, chances are you’ve heard me refer to something called ‘Leaky Gut’. I remember when I was interviewing nutrition schools/programs a few years ago, and one of the admissions counselors brought it up and the term just sounded so elementary to me. ‘Leaky Gut’- boy, that’s scientific, seems legit.
What IS leaky gut?
Frankly, leaky gut is simply another name for intestinal permeability. It’s a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, allowing undigested food particles, toxic waste, and bacteria to literally leak through the lining of your gut and in to your blood stream. When these foreign substances enter your blood, it causes an autoimmune response in your body including inflammation and allergic reactions like migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, and a ton of autoimmune issues like psoriasis and arthritis. What’s more is that it’s estimated that 80% of us have leaky gut, which is a HUGE issue when you (and you may not know this) between 70-80% of our immune system tissue is located in your gut… let that sink in. 8 out of 10 people have leaky gut, and about ¾ of our entire immune system is located in our gut. It is the year 2019, we are more technologically advanced than ever before, and as a society we are more sick than we’ve ever been. Given these facts, it’s my personal opinion that leaky gut is the root cause for the majority of the illnesses we face (including depression) AND the top reason I will always recommend that you start following an anti-inflammatory diet as your first step to improved health. You cannot make significant improvements to your health until to you fix the foundation for it, and to do that you must heal your gut.
What causes Leaky Gut?
In most cases, leaky gut is caused by a poor diet. Common food ingredients like soy, dairy, SUGAR, gluten- largely found in highly processed foods, play a factor in developing leaky gut. Additionally, if you’ve taken antibiotics, steroids, over-the-counter pain medications like aspirin or acetaminophen, you’re a high risk too! All of these can cause irritation in your gut that upset the balance of healthy bacteria, eroding the safe mucous layers and eventually causing intestinal permeability. And before I forget, STRESS is a contributing factor as well. Stress is by far the single biggest toxin to our bodies, even more than sugar, and it causes our bodies to elicit such a strong inflammatory response that over time, we just simply break down. We’re tired all the time, we’re sick all the time, and it just seems like we can’t dig ourselves out of that cycle. Our medications only treat the symptom, not the root cause.
How do I know if I have Leaky Gut?
Well, for starters, if you’re breathing right now there’s a high likelihood that you have it. ☺ All jokes aside though, here are 10 common signs that you have leaky gut:
1. Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, or bloating
2. Nutritional deficiencies
3. Poor immune system
4. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
5. Excessive fatigue
6. Skid rashes and problems like acne, rosacea, or eczema
7. Cravings for sugar or carbs
8. Arthritis or joint pain
9. Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
10. Autoimmune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, celiac or Crohn’s Disease
Read this list and really think about how any of these symptoms may apply to you. Being sick all the time (toddler in daycare or not) is NOT normal. Being excessively tired (OK- having a toddler might be a pass on this one) is NOT normal. Irregular bowel movements and gas are NOT normal. I’m not highlighting any of these as a way to shame anyone if you do suffer from any of these, but I do want you to know that these are NOT normal and they shouldn’t be things that you’ve just come to live with and accept as symptoms of getting older or being an adult. You deserve to feel good and you absolutely can take control of your health by paying attention to the food you eat, managing your stress levels, and paying close attention to the medications your doctor prescribes you.
OK- I think I have leaky gut, now what can I do to heal it?
If you believe you have leaky gut and let’s be honest, the odds are ever in your favor that you do, you absolutely can support healing through a series of lifestyle changes. NOTE: I’m not saying a diet, I’m saying lifestyle. BIG difference. A lifestyle is designed to set you up for long-term success, long-term health.
To start, I highly recommend eliminating gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Now, I know that most of you will read this list and say ‘I’m out’ and not consider going any further than reading this blog. But hear me out. You’re an adult and you’ve likely spent a good amount of your adult years feeling like crap. Give your body time to heal, and give this a try for 4 weeks and see how you feel. Brain fog lifted? Bloating reduced? Give yourself 4 weeks of just that and see how you feel. I’m definitely not saying that you can’t ever eat a donut or that you can’t enjoy your favorite cocktail, I’m saying it takes time for your body to heal. You’ve eaten and lived a certain way for years, and it will take time to reverse the damage and get you feeling whole again. You can do this.
If you suffer from a number of the symptoms on the list above, I highly recommend at a minimum that you eliminate the ingredients above in addition to adding supportive foods and supplements to your diet such as: healthy fats (coconut, avocado, and fish oils), a good probiotic to restore gut balance, and L-Glutamine to support intestinal wall repair.
If you lead a super stressful life, learn to devote some time to de-stressing… whether that be weekly massages, meditation, acupuncture, long hot baths, or hiking in the outdoors- do the things that help you calm your mind, calm your body, and feed your soul. Whatever that is, do more of it.
As always, I am more than happy to help answer any questions you may have about leaky gut. This blog post just scratches the surface, but I’m always here to support and empower you to improved health, one better bite at a time.