The term “leaky gut” encompasses a wide range of symptoms running the gamut from embarrassing to debilitating. Millions of people suffer from heartburn, indigestion, nausea, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea and recurring yeast infections.
As you can see by the diagram below, the Intestinal Mucosal Cells on the left are healthy, connected by tight junctions to keep undigested food and toxins within the intestinal walls. The image on the right are leaky and inflamed and the junctions between the cells are damaged, allowing incompletely digested particles of food, toxins and bacteria to enter “leak” into the bloodstream.
The body does not recognize these large undigested food particles that are leaking out of the gut and alerts the immune system of invaders. The immune system goes into overdrive to eliminate the threat. The result of this immune response can cause serious inflammation. This inflammation can begin to affect any tissue of the body such as the joints, thyroid, brain, skin and even cause greater damage to the gut lining. If this persists it can result in all different forms of chronic disease and autoimmunity.
What Causes Leaky Gut
There are no absolute causes of leaky gut, there are however some major culprits that can be linked to damaging the intestinal lining.
- Chronic Stress, including excessive exercise
- Infections in the gastrointestinal system
- Alcohol over consumption
- An inflammatory Diet (Standard American Diet)
- Environmental toxins like heavy metals
- Medications (specifically, antibiotics and NSAIDS)
- Nutritional deficiencies from poor diet that prevent gut healing
Two Primary Interrelated Causes
There are two primary interrelated issues when it comes to digestive irregularities. The first is related to the foods that you may be consuming. Many people are sensitive to specific foods. Typical food sensitivities include gluten, soy, corn or dairy. These sensitivities may be causing symptoms distant from the digestive tract and therefore you might not even be aware of the effect of these foods on your health. Also, many choose a diet full of processed foods as well as ingredients that are high in toxins. Typically, these foods cause increased inflammation throughout the body and are lacking in fresh, raw fruits and veggies – therefore virtually ensuring that we are deficient in fiber to feed our beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes to help us break down the food we eat.
Gut Dysbiosis and Hidden Infections:
The second problem is related to a condition that doctors call “dysbiosis”. Simply stated, dysbiosis is an imbalance in the microorganisms that reside in the digestive tract. Poor diet, antibiotic use, hormonal birth control and many medications can cause a loss of the beneficial colonies of bacteria that are essential to our overall health. When these beneficial populations decrease, it can easily lead to an overgrowth of parasites, yeast, fungal organisms, and disease-causing bacteria, as described below.
SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
One of the most prevalent infections that triggers leaky gut is something called SIBO. The small intestine is supposed to be relatively sterile in comparison to the large intestine. If we have too little acid in the stomach, some of the bacteria that we ingest may survive the stomach and take up residence in the small intestine. In addition, when the valve between the small and large intestine doesn’t close and stay closed properly it is like leaving the gate to the barn door open and bacteria from the large intestine can escape and migrate into the small bowel.
Each of these scenarios can lead to a situation where our partially digested foods are being exposed to bacteria long before they should be. These bacteria then begin to digest and ferment these foods and they give off gas. This is one of the primary causes of bloating and that heavy feeling after you eat.
Candida or Yeast Overgrowth
Similar to the mechanisms described above, when the upper digestive organs aren’t adequately breaking down foods and creating the right environment for healthy bacteria to grow, populations of unfriendly bacteria and yeast can really explode. One of the most well-known yeasts is called candida albicans. It is often associated with vaginal yeast infections but it is most abundantly found in the lower intestine. When the immune system is compromised and the gut is irritated, candida can become more aggressive and trigger a host of symptoms like skin rashes, fatigue, brain fog, oral and vaginal thrush and many others.
While industrialized societies have less widespread levels of parasitic infections, we do still get exposed. Some parasites are “normal” for humans to host but in the presence of an already impaired immune system, they too can increase their numbers and begin to have significant negative effects on our health.
Testing for Hidden Infections:
Many of the top functional medicine specialty labs have developed tests for these hidden pathogens. Most of these labs are not yet directly available to patients without a doctor’s order so working with a functional medicine provider, like Dr. Jerry Duggar, is your best bet to really uncover the functional status of the entire gut.
Who is Most Susceptible to Developing Leaky Gut?
Most people are susceptible, considering the list of causes above but people that have had a past gastrointestinal infection, food sensitivities, any autoimmune condition or digestive disorder (IBS, SIBO, Crohn’s disease are at increased risk. Even people with conditions like asthma, cancer, Type 1 diabetes show an increased risk of leaky gut.
What are the Symptoms?
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability syndrome can often times be hard to diagnose because symptoms can be within the gut as well as outside of the gut.
These symptoms can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Discomfort in the abdominal area
- Changes in bowel habits (usually from one extreme to the other)
- Joint pain
- Skin issues
- Autoimmune symptoms
- Weight changes
- Depression and anxiety
- Adrenal problems
- Symptoms related to inflammation
- Brain fog
- Inability to concentrate or process thoughts clearly
How is it Diagnosed?
Diagnosis is difficult because leaky gut is not recognized by most conventional health care professionals. The best alternative at this time is a test offered by Cyrex Labs called Array #2: Intestinal Antigenic Permeability Screen. This test checks for specific antigens, which are a measure of the immune response from the gut. Dr. Jerry Duggar would be happy to help you order this test along with an interpretation and recommendations of your results. Please schedule a free discovery call to determine if this would be a good course of action for you.
How Can it Be Corrected?
We must begin by identifying the lifestyle factors that may be contributing to a leaky gut condition. Many of these symptoms are directly related to lifestyle habits and choices that we make every day. Stress levels, exercise levels, medication use, and dietary choices are among those that we can correct based on making alterations to our daily habits. You can begin by monitoring the 7 Pillars Lifestyle Habits and making improvements to your everyday habits.
We also may need to correct any nutritional deficiencies, reduce inflammation caused by our diet and support the digestion of food, which will increase our nutrient absorption. In most cases of gut dysbiosis we need to address bacterial overgrowth with specific supplements that target harmful bacteria as well as those that nurture beneficial bacteria. It is also imperative to including a nutrient dense anti-inflammatory diet to assist the body in healing. Diet is the foundational step to correcting leaky gut.
We offer personalized care plans to help you determine if you have leaky gut and help you correct it if necessary. You can also follow our “do-it-yourself” programs. The Gut Restore in Four Program is designed to address specific gut dysfunction through dietary changes and supplement protocols. If you have already been diagnosed with am autoimmune condition then our Autoimmune Support Protocol would be the best option for you. Personalized care plans include both of these programs along with personalized coaching and recommendations.
To discuss these options and determine what would be the best option for you, please schedule a free discovery call.