You won’t find leaky gut as a diagnosis in the medical school textbooks. For a long time, Western Medicine didn’t really even acknowledge that it exists, except in cases of Celiac or Crohn’s disease.
But unfortunately, the number of patients with similar health complaints – the kind that used to be associated only with Crohn’s or Celiac – has been increasing exponentially.
What is Leaky Gut?
The official short answer is increased intestinal permeability. Some pretty fancy words meaning that things are getting through the wall of the small intestine that aren’t supposed to be allowed.
But let’s back up for a minute…
Your digestive tract begins in your mouth and ends at your bottom. It’s like a long, squiggly tube, sometimes wide, other times narrow. This tube is a mucous membrane, like your skin, but contained within your body instead of covering the outside of your body.
And like your skin, it acts as a protective barrier. In this case, it separates your body from whatever it is that you’re eating or drinking, and also from “post-digestive” material (fecal matter). Besides this, each section of this tube has its own special job to do.
Technically, what’s inside the tube, is outside your body, even though we don’t usually think about it that way. Because your digestive tract is somewhat like interior skin.
Starting to get the picture now?
One of the big jobs of your small intestine is to finish the digestive process by continuing to break down the food you have eaten into smaller and smaller particles. And then, it absorbs the nutrients from that food.
And it has another big job, too. It’s supposed to keep harmful stuff inside the tube, where it can’t cause too much trouble for your immune system. Things like bad germs, toxins, and food particles that are still too big for your body to use.
To do this, your small intestine has to be permeable to some extent. It needs to be able to allow the nutrients you need, including water, to get into your blood stream so they can be used for energy production, cell repair, and other needed functions. You could say it’s programmed to open the gates when the correct password is given. And only the good guys – the nutrients – have the password.
But sometimes, the lining of the small intestine gets damaged. Its communication pathways can fail and the passwords get garbled. The gates can get jammed open, or even jammed shut.
And that can turn into even bigger problems.
What Does Leaky Gut Look Like?
“Leaky gut syndrome is said to have symptoms including bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches and pains. But it’s something of a medical mystery,” says gastroenterologist Donald Kirby, MD.
And really, you can’t blame the doctors for being confused.
Leaky gut can look like so many illnesses. Most of them, you wouldn’t even normally associate with digestion.
We can add chronic itchiness, rashes, problems with metabolism, mood issues, chronic stuffy head, belly bloat, and allergies of all sorts to this list of symptoms. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A Clinical Condition with Many Diagnoses
It’s not hard to imagine that digestive disorders might be caused by a leaky gut. Diarrhea, constipation, GERD, gas and bloating, food sensitivities, gastritis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac, IBS, gluten intolerance, pancreatitis, hepatitis… These are all associated with the digestive tract. So it’s not a big mental leap to make the connection.
But as hard as it may be to believe, leaky gut can also show up in a lot of other ways.
- Skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, teenage acne and cystic acne.
- Musculo-skeletal disorders, including joint pain, muscle pain and weakness, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
- Auto-immune disorders such as allergies, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, hyper-sensitivities, Lupus, frequent infections or low grade fevers.
- Cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.
- Neurological disorders like headache, migraine, poor cognition, “brain fog,” autism, depression, anxiety, ADD, OCD, MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and RSD/CRPS.
We’re not done yet.
- Hormonal imbalances including PMS, ovarian cysts, excessive facial hair in women, events leading to hysterectomy, thyroid disorders, and adrenal fatigue.
- Respiratory ailments like asthma, hay fever, sinus problems, chronic nasal congestion or runny nose.
And possibly the most widespread leaky gut issue? Obesity. It’s rampant in our society. And ironically, chronic underweight is linked to gut problems as well.
What causes this damage? How do you get a leaky gut in the first place?
If your diet is filled with processed foods, sugar, chemicals, and trans fats, and is low in fiber and actual nutrients, you are a victim of the Standard American Diet (SAD).”
Even the medical community agrees that leaky gut appears to be associated with your diet.
And as corporations get better at making foods more convenient, nutrition seems to go by the wayside in order to make more room for profits.
I mean, just look at the acronym: Standard American Diet.
If your diet is filled with processed foods, sugar, chemicals, and trans fats, and is low in fiber and actual nutrients, then yes. Less-than-ideal nutrition is likely to be a culprit.
Chronic stress has also been implicated as a possible cause of gut dysfunction. This seems like a biggie to me, because those leaky gut symptoms we talked about already look to be pretty stressful themselves. When there are also outside pressures from jobs, school, relationships, finances, and it’s all feeding back into itself… Wow, that’s a merry-go-round I don’t want to ride.
There can also be a problem with medical intervention that was meant to fix another health issue.
Acid reflux medicines (PPIs) and antacids reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. But you need acid to digest protein. Ironically, much of the time in cases of heartburn, stomach acid levels are actually too low, and not too high, as you would naturally think.
The proper amount of hydrochloric acid needs to be present so that the rest of your digestion can work the way it’s supposed to. Plus, that protein needs to get broken down so your body can utilize it. And oddly, stomach acid is your body’s first line of defense against viruses, harmful bacteria, and parasites.
The overuse of antibiotics are another cause of gut problems. They are sometimes necessary, but they end up killing off beneficial bacteria along with the harmful ones. Which can cause your microbial balance to get way out of whack. This is known as dysbiosis (another fancy word to add to your vocabulary).
Radiation, chemotherapy, and other drugs can cause “hyper-permeability” of the small intestine. But even ordinary over-the-counter meds such as aspirin and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) damage the gut lining. Recall that these drugs have long been associated with ulcerations in the digestive tract.
Treatment for Leaky Gut
There’s not a standard medical treatment for leaky gut. Because, hey, if it doesn’t exist, how can you design a treatment for it, right?
If you’ve read this far, I’m pretty sure you’d agree that leaky gut does exist. And that it has so many components, there are multiple issues that need to be addressed in order to heal it.
There is no standard alternative treatment, either, though, because every case is a bit different. We’re all unique beings with unique needs. But it’s pretty safe to say treating leaky gut requires adopting a clean diet, free of inflammatory foods, artificial sweeteners, and other toxins.
Reducing your stress level is crucial, especially while you’re trying to heal. This could mean changing your workload, removing yourself from a strained living situation, asking for help with your daily tasks. Exercise and meditation can help with this. Some people are also helped by counseling or psychotherapy.
Getting off the destructive medications can be pretty tricky. You’ll need to get your doctor’s help with this. DO NOT try to do it on your own. Going “cold turkey” from these powerful drugs can have really dangerous consequences.
Taking the appropriate nutritional supplements for your particular circumstances can make healing your gut go much faster than without them. Your holistic doctor or health care practitioner can help you with that.
Now It’s Up to You
Because leaky gut shares symptoms with so many other disorders, it can be difficult for your doctor to discern exactly what tests to run. Or even what specialist to refer you to. So some people never even get a diagnosis, and nothing gets done to give them some relief.
And others get a diagnosis that calls for serious pharmaceutical intervention. Which is fine if that’s what you need to get well. Certainly, you should listen to what your doctor has to say.
Do you have some (or many) of the above symptoms?
If you do, then it’s very likely that yes, you do have a leaky gut. You may also have one or more accompanying disorders.
But what if healing your leaky gut could also reverse, or at least, improve that other diagnosis? What if you don’t actually need to risk experiencing all the side effects that come with pharmaceutical treatments?
Maybe you should consider fixing that leak first.
Do you think your health challenges may involve some gut issues?
If you’d like to examine these possibilities and learn what you can do to really heal them, quickly and for good, then schedule a complimentary phone consultation below.
Together, we can discover how extensive the damage might be, or if you even have a leaky gut to begin with. 🙂
It’s always good to know your options…