It sounds like I have an internal plumbing problem. In a way, I do. Leaky gut syndrome is responsible for my numerous food sensitivities. I react to more than 20 foods! I also believe leaky gut is related to my autoimmune thyroid (Hashimoto’s) condition, digestive problems, skin rashes, and eczema.
Wait! Don’t stop reading! I can hear you saying, “This doesn’t apply to me.” OK, I admit that learning about leaky gut may not be as fun as scanning Facebook updates or reading the latest thriller. But I’m not the only one with this condition. Leaky gut syndrome affects thousands of unsuspecting people, possibly even you. You can even have leaky gut without presenting any traditional gut symptoms, like bloating, cramping, or irritable bowel.
Leaky gut syndrome has been recognized by the alternative medical community for quite some time. But this condition, also known as intestinal permeability, is becoming more accepted by allopathic medicine as well.
So what is leaky gut syndrome?
I’m glad you asked! A healthy gut means a healthy body, since 70 percent of your immune system resides in your digestive tract. In a normal healthy gut, the lining of the small intestine maintains tight junctions that protect your body from foreign molecules. When damaged by inflammation, these tight junctions break down and allow larger particles, such as undigested proteins and toxins to pass through the intestinal barrier into the bloodstream. In this leaky environment, the immune system recognizes these molecules as foreign invaders that must be destroyed. These “immune battles” can lead to multiple food intolerances and other debilitating health conditions.
In the chapter on Leaky Gut Syndrome, The Food Intolerance Bible states,
“The absorption of antigenic (allergy or intolerance-provoking) molecules along with unwanted bacteria or yeast from the intestines to other parts of the body can cause problems in every system of the body, from fatigue to brain fog to arthritis and skin conditions…Antigens can get into various tissues and trigger an inflammatory reaction whenever you eat the culprit food. If this inflammation occurs in a joint, rheumatoid arthritis develops. If it occurs in the brain, chronic fatigue syndrome may be the result. Practically any organ or body tissue can be become affected.”
Leaky gut plays a major role in the development of auto-immune conditions, like lupus, multiple sclerosis, and celiac disease. In his excellent book, Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, Dr. Datis Kharrazian describes how leaky gut invokes auto-immune thyroid.
“Unfortunately for many people, especially those with insulin resistance who are most prone to having leaky gut, this response happens almost every time they eat, resulting in chronic inflammation and an immune system that never gets a break. This sets the stage for the development of an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s.”
With leaky gut syndrome, the villi of the intestinal lining also become damaged. These finger-like projections (I’ve heard some practitioners liken villi to shag carpet) absorb nutrients from your food. The shag carpet flattens because of inflammation and food malabsorption occurs, like in celiac disease.
What causes leaky gut?
Factors contributing to leaky gut syndrome may include:
- food intolerances
- over-consumption of alcohol, refined sugar or starches in the diet
- dysbiosis (overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract)
- insufficient stomach acid (HCl) or enzymes
- over-use of antibiotics
- chronic stress
The taste or effects of alcohol appealed little to me, but all of the other factors contributed to my leaky gut condition! Read My Health Story. The good news is that leaky gut is largely preventable, since these causes are mostly lifestyle choices.
Good question! Some doctors believe there is no cure for leaky gut. However, I believe reversal is possible! In searching for a solution for food intolerances, I’ve spent hours researching dietary interventions for leaky gut syndrome. I discovered there is hope!
1) First things first! Get rid of gluten!
In this video, Dr. Tom O’Bryan, a leading researcher and author on celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity, shows gluten to be major cause of leaky gut.
A gluten-free diet is absolutely necessary if you have auto-immune thyroid. Dr. Kharrazian’s research has demonstrated that 90 percent of low thyroid conditions are auto-immune originated. In his book, he says,
“…the beleaguered immune system confuses the thyroid gland with gluten, which was allowed in through the leaky gut…because of the resemblance of the gluten molecules to thyroid tissue, I always have my patients with Hashimoto’s immediately remove gluten from their diets.”
2) Avoid immune reactions by eliminating other foods you are sensitive to.
Besides gluten, my major food intolerances include dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, sugar, beans, canola and vegetable oils, nightshades, and hot spices. I react to other foods as well, but to a lesser degree. In an effort to help you realize what your reactions to suspect foods may be, I will share mine.
- Instant reactions – burping, acid reflux, trouble breathing (due to stomach acid reaction), foggy brain.
- Delayed reactions (one to two days later) – bloating, constipation, congestion and itchy skin.
3) Follow a gut healing diet, such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) or the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) program.
The goal is to “heal and seal” the gut lining. These healing diets eliminate all grains, sugar, and starches. Pathogenic bacteria feed on polysaccharides (sugar and starches), which damage the gut lining and perpetuate leaky gut syndrome. Dr. Natasha Campell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, states how healing takes place.
“To allow the enterocytes (small intestine cells which absorb nutrients) to recover and to stop feeding the abnormal gut flora, starch has to be out of the diet for GAPS children and adults. It means no grains or anything made out of them and no starchy vegetables. Clinical practice shows that when the gut has been given a long enough period without double sugars and starch, it has a good chance of recovery. Once this recovery takes, place, the person can start having grains and starchy vegetables again without any ill effects.”
SCD and GAPS include an introduction diet of simple healing foods such bone broth, meat stock, fermented dairy (yogurt and kefir), and cultured vegetables (sauerkraut) and introduce other foods over time.
4) Take a multi-strain probiotic supplement.
These beneficial bacteria help restore healthy gut flora and heal the damaged gut lining. I take Bio-Kult – Advanced Probiotic Formula, but there are other good brands, like Prescript-Assist. Introduce probiotics slowly to prevent strong die-off reactions, and increase over time. Take a therapeutic dose, until leaky gut symptoms subside.
These healing protocols are natural and take time. Some recover in a few months to a year. For others, it’s takes longer. I’ve been on the GAPS diet for 18 months as I write this post. I have a feeling it’s going to take me several years to heal and seal my gut. But I’m making slow and steady progress in my health! My former gut problems are practically non-existent, as long as I stay away from offending foods. My hypoglycemia symptoms are few and far between. My brain is rarely foggy, like it once was. My energy level and skin conditions are still challenging at times, especially when I’m stressed. It took years for my gut to display upsetting symptoms. It’s going to take years for me to heal the damage. With these reminders and continual improvement, I will persevere! And even if every aspect of my health does not heal completely, I feel the GAPS program is helping me overall. I certainly feel better than I did last year at this time.
Is your gut leaking too? I encourage you to take charge of your dysfunctional gut. Don’t let it rule the day. Google leaky gut and GAPS stories online and you’ll find a wealth of resources and support. Who knows, maybe learning about leaky gut today is just what you needed to begin healing. Now you can check your Facebook news feed!