Bowel Problems? Food Sensitivities? Maybe You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome

Pamela searched online and finally found some information that sounded like her condition: a “leaky gut”. So she followed the article’s advice, which worked for a while. But she knew she hadn’t gotten to the bottom of it yet because she was still experiencing food allergies, bloating, low energy, and joint pain.

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Lynn had been diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and had other symptoms that pointed to an autoimmune problem - asthma, an increasing number of food and environmental sensitivities and problems with her thyroid. Her friend shared she might have a leaky gut problem caused by her IBS and suggested if she could get her digestive system in order some of her other health problems might get resolved.

Mason went through a series of tests to figure out why he was having debilitating migraine headaches, unexplained skin irritations and a change in bowel habits. His job was stressful but his job was always stressful. That had not changed. He wasn’t sure what why the change in his health until he received the results of an intestinal permeability test: He had developed a leaky gut.

What do these three folks have in common?

Symptoms associated with a leaky gut.

What is Leaky Gut?

What happens when we eat? If all goes well, the miracle of digestion. When our guts are working well, healthy intestines sort out the bad substances from the good allowing us to be nourished while also eliminating harmful microorganisms and toxins.

This is due in large to a single layer of epithelial cells that form a protective mucosal lining. The microscopic cells of this barrier play an essential ‘gatekeeper’ role, only allowing fully digested food nutrients into the bloodstream.

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When digestion gets compromised, these cells become weakened and break down. The spaces between the cells become enlarged, which allows incompletely digested food particles to escape into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. That means that whatever is in your gut starts to creep out. (See illustration: “The Secret Paradox of Our Gut”). A constant influx of undigested food, toxins, and bad bacteria leaking into our bloodstream is known as “intestinal permeability” or “a leaky gut”.

The Systemic Nature of a Leaky Gut

Did you know that 70% of the immune system is found in and around the intestinal walls? So when food particles escape from a gut that is leaking, they come into contact with large numbers of immune cells.

The immune system is designed to trigger a friend or foe reaction. Food particles that are undigested are tagged as “foe” and treated as a foreign invader. An immune attack begins which sets off a course of inflammation that moves throughout the body via the bloodstream. (Properly digested food is tagged as a “friend” and become nutrients to our cells.)

Over time the immune system becomes overworked, weakened, and exhausted. Resistance to viruses and bacteria may develop because our body looses its capacity to fight off infections. This systemic problem explains why a leaky gut leads to a vague set of ailments and to a host of autoimmune conditions that can be difficult to pinpoint. Traditional medicine often overlooks a leaky gut because it is not a disease or illness but a collection of symptoms that can have many causes. For a list of symptoms associated with leaky gut, look below.

How Do I Know if I have a Leaky Gut?

Unresolved Leaky Gut is progressive due to its systemic nature. As food escapes, the allergens spread via the bloodstream affecting other parts of the body, not just our digestive system. From reading this, it’s easy to think that leaky gut affects only the digestive system, but in truth it is an equal opportunity condition. Warning signs usually start in the stomach and bowel, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea. You may find you are becoming sensitive to more and more foods or intolerant of an entire food group. If a leaky gut goes unrepaired, malabsorption and vitamin and mineral deficiencies may also occur. 

Because leaky gut is systemic by nature, it also has no single cause. Some of the most common causes however are prolonged use of medications, pathogenic presence of excess toxins, yeasts such as candida, parasites and/or a bacterial imbalances, food choices, alcohol abuse, chronic stress, environmental toxins, immune system overload, and gastrointestinal issues. Of course leaky gut can be caused by a combination of these factors as well.

If I Think I have a Leaky Gut, Then What?

First, it’s best to find out if you have leaky gut. If you are a person who needs positive proof you can order a lactulose-mannitol test to see if intestinal permeability is causing your issue.

Of course, you can try to fix it on your own by changing some habits. In the case of leaky gut consider the guideline: You are what you don’t eat! Experiment with avoiding gluten and other grains, or avoiding milk or other diary sources. Once you remove the offending foods (if you know what they are), repair with herbs and supplements, (if you know the right ones in the correct doses). Digestive enzymes, probiotics, L-glutamine and quercetin are just a few of the supplements that have been used to heal a leaky gut.

While these steps may be helpful to your healing, to find the long-term cure you must get to the cause. If the DIY approach proves too difficult, it may be time to seek professional help.  Give Dr. Patrick a call at 530-899-8741 to find out how you can be one of the thousands of patients that we have helped in the Chico-Redding area and Northern California.

 Q- How could so many ailments be related to poor digestion? 

A- When the digestive system develops a leaky gut, it can wreak systemic havoic with all the other body’s systems.    

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First published in the Lotus Guide For Healthy Living, Fall 2014


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