What Exactly is Leaky Gut?

Headache?  Foggy brain?  Low energy?  Chronic Pain?  Autoimmune disease?

It all goes back to the gut.

You may have heard this term and glossed over it, thinking that since you have no apparent digestive issues it doesn’t apply to you.   

Before you make that judgment, read on to learn more about what it exactly is and what do to address it.

While an estimate 60 Million people in Western countries such as the US and Canada are now struggling with digestive problems like IBS, Crohn’s, and Ulcerative Colitis, a sense of not having any tummy troubles does not mean you’re in the clear.

For some, leaky gut manifests in mysterious joint pain, chronic fatigue or exacerbation of autoimmune symptoms.  For others, it creates migraine headaches, PCOS or anxiety.

And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

The expression “leaky gut” is getting a lot of attention in medical blogs and social media lately, but don’t be surprised if your doctor does not recognize this term (1). 

Don’t forget, only 20% of universities in the US offer an optional nutrition class as part of their curriculum. (2)

As a result, many doctors don’t even acknowledge leaky gut as being the root cause of many illnesses and dis eases that are all too common these days.

Leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is a relatively new phenomenon with a strong correlation to the “food” being consumed as part of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and most of the research occurs in basic sciences. However, there is growing interest to develop medications that may be used in patients to combat the effects of this problem.

Inside our guts, we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond. The research world is booming today with studies showing that modifications in the intestinal bacteria and inflammation may play a role in the development of several common chronic diseases.

So what makes the gut lining unhealthy?

Consuming foods (if we can even call them food any more) which are unnatural, which our bodies do not recognize as building blocks of growth and often, which we simply cannot assimilate and process properly.

It won’t surprise you to read some of the culprits on the list of foods to avoid in order to avoid causing, or worsening inflammation (3): corn syrup, trans fats, vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol and poorly sourced, processed meats.

However, there are some others on the list which are likely going to cause you to raise an eyebrow, especially since they’re actually recommended by the USDA for us to us to eat with regularity.

In particular, the famous ‘Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta Group” from which are told to consumer 6-11 SERVINGS per day (which is 2 – 3 times the recommended servings from the vegetable group (4)).

Grains (even gluten-free grains) as well as legumes (these are beans, and include soy and peanuts) contain anti-nutrients, gliadins and lectins that can damage your gut, and humans did not consume them until relatively recently in biological time

There is a sizeable body of scientific evidence showing that grains and legumes, contain anti-nutrients that increase intestinal permeability and cause leaky gut and associated symptoms.

Eliminating grains, beans (and sugars) from your diet, while introducing traditionally fermented foods, can help prevent leaky gut as well as other chronic health conditions (5).

Remember, we do not ‘need’ grains; in the words of Loren Cordain, “There’s no human requirement for grains. That’s the problem with the USDA recommendations. They think we’re hardwired as a species to eat grains. You can get by just fine and meet every single nutrient requirement that humans have without eating grains. And grains are absolutely poor sources of vitamins and minerals compared to fruits and vegetables and meat and fish.”(6)

So how does one know if they have leaky gut?

While there is a test (The Intestinal Permeability Test, which measures the ability of lactulose and mannitol (two non-digestible sugars) to pass through the intestinal (gut), due to the fact that it’s unlikely for most physicians to support the gut-brain axis and significance of the gut biome as it relates to all health conditions, step number one can be as simple as doing a self analysis about what you’re eating and how you’re feeling, before you go online and dig yourself into what can result in a scary rat-hole of an internet chase.

If you’re feeling like your head’s spinning and you’re unsure whose advice to heed, one easy thing to do is to simply think back a couple of generations.   

Our grandparents weren’t wondering which energy bar to choose, how much cereal to eat with how low-fat of a milk option (or nut mylk, for that matter), trying to figure out the fastest, cheapest way to have food delivered to their doorstep or mulling over which fish to buy based on how it was raised, when it was caught and how far it traveled to  get to their plate.

They just ate food.

What grew where they lived, at the appropriate time of year, what ran across the land or swam in their waters that they hunted or caught, and that’s that; no ifs, ands or buts.

And they didn’t have leaky gut, sky-high rates of diabetes and obesity, children being medicated up to the eyeballs for ADHD and every fifth person (7) being diagnosed with a new iteration of an autoimmune disease.

So what to do if you suspect gut dysfunction?

Start with what you’re eating; where’s it coming from, how many steps did it take to get from how and where it grew, swam or ran to your plate?   How many colors of the rainbow grace your plate each and every day?

See how far you get with that and then reach out to reliable resources for more help, guidance and testing, if appropriate.

Remove the potential inflammatory foods, and incorporate the healing foods and make that the foundation for your path toward optimal health.

In particular, copious amounts of local, in season, organic plants (mostly leafy veggies), moderate amounts of mindfully sourced proteins, ample natural fats.

In addition, bone broth is key to healing a leaky gut due to its  high collagen content, which nourishes the intestinal lining, reduces inflammation and is easy for an already damaged gut to digest.

Whether you chose to incorporate an Ayurvedic approach, homeopathy, a naturopath or functional medicine practitioner (8),  make sure the whole picture of wellness is being assessed.

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK216788/

(3) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-foods-that-cause-inflammation#section5

(4) https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/archived_projects/FGPScalableImageHighResEPS.ps

(5) https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/01/21/grains-causing-gut-leaks.aspx

(6) https://www.thepaleodiet.com

(7) https://www.aarda.org/knowledge-base/many-americans-autoimmune-disease/

(8) https://www.ifm.org