Have you ever taken antibiotics for a cold? Do you eat a lot of conventionally raised beef, chicken, pork, etc? Do you give into temptation for those MUST have comfort foods? Is your mind a little fuzzy? Are you inflamed? Is stress an issue? Do you have health issues that just won’t seem to go away? Maybe, it all has to do with your gut…..
One of the issues we are facing today is being “leaky”; gut, brain, lungs, etc. According to Dr. Dan, MD, usually if one barrier is affected, so are the others. Possibly up to 90% of the American population has some degree of “leakiness”. This may be due to the foods we consume on a daily basis causing gut inflammation combined with the fact that we may be overexposed to antibiotics (both prescribed and the ones that we ingest everyday due to livestock rearing practices).
What do you mean being “leaky”?
Our gut is supposed to be well encapsulated so that toxins and partially processed foods stay put and do not enter the bloodstream. But if there compromises to the integrity of the gut lining, unintended items may “leak” through.
We normally have a ratio of 80/20 percent of good to bad bacteria in our body. When antibiotics are used, they end up killing the beneficial bacteria responsible for aiding in the digestion and protection of the intestinal tract. This causes an increase in the ratio of pathogenic bacteria to beneficial bacteria by virtue of the fact that the bad bacteria produce chemicals that further inhibit the re-colonization of good bacteria. Eventually, the toxic material produced by these bacteria cause inflammation that form holes in the walls of the bowel allowing larger food particles and toxins to enter into the bloodstream.
Keep in mind, in addition to compromising our gut lining, these harmful bacteria stay busy by stealing the nutrients we consume, causing fermentation of proteins during digestion, and secreting acid that causes the heartburn and reflux our society is experiencing.
Other causes of leaky gut may include the consuming foods that we might have unknown sensitivity or intolerance to. This can lead to inflammation which affects the integrity of our intestinal lining. Stress (in any of its 12 forms-see article on adrenals/stress) may also lead to breakdown of our gut lining. Medications, alcohol, hormone deficiency, increased body mass index, brain injury, chemicals such as bisphenol a or cigarettes, over exercise, and other metabolic conditions have also been found to create leaky barriers.
What happens with leaky gut?
Since the body is not used to seeing the large particles of unprocessed food allowed through these unnatural openings, they are assumed to be “foreign” and the immune system mounts an attack. This causes allergies to form against that food. More and more sensitivities to foods and chemicals may develop over time as the “leakiness” continues. Worst case, autoimmunity may develop since many of these protein fragments look like various organs in our body. The body becomes unable to differentiate the food from the organ and attacks the organ instead. For example, gluten and Hashimoto’s thyroid are highly associated in the medical literature.
With permeability, endotoxemia becomes an issue. Endotoxemia occurs with high levels of endotoxins, or LPS, in the blood. In metabolic endotoxemia, a person’s microbiome in the gut fails to protect the body from absorbing toxins during the digestion. LPS fragments have been found to:
- Overwhelm liver
- Cause chronic fatigue
- Create systemic inflammation
- Cause neuroinflammation
- Lead to Insulin resistance
- Form the foundation for autoimmunity
What are the symptoms with a leaky gut?
- Increased frequency of food reactions
- Unpredictable food reactions
- Aches, pains, and swelling throughout body
- Unpredictable abdominal swelling
- Frequent bloating and distension after eating
- Depression, fatigue
Do you always have symptoms with a leaky gut?
Unfortunately not. There are really two ways leaky gut can occur. The first is paracellular, which allows things to “leak” in-between the cells. Symptoms with this type may be “silent” while causing systemic inflammation. The second type is transcellular, which is due to cell destruction and often leads to overt symptoms.
Either type can cause issues if they leak LPS from bacterial endotoxins into circulation.
How do you avoid a leaky gut?
Determining underlying food intolerances and sensitivities, hidden infections, and toxic exposures will help avoid gut inflammation. Reduction of stress is critical.
Histamine may also contribute to leaky gut. Histamine is produced by the body in response to inflammatory triggers such as allergies, infections, insect bites, etc. The resulting redness and swelling are a beneficial reaction—it brings blood flow and white blood cells to the site to make repairs. Unfortunately, histamines can become an issue if their production is excessive, uncontrolled, or inappropriate. Over time, elevated histamine levels may contribute to the creation of zonulin, an inflammatory molecule that contributes to leaky gut by creating gaps between cells. To modulate the histamine response, there are enzymes called DAO and HMNT that help break it down. If a person has genetic issues with these enzymes, that individual may exhibit allergic symptoms such as hives, rashes, insomnia, and sensitivity to some foods and airborne allergens.
How do you test for a leaky gut?
There are advanced functional medicine tests to determine if your gut is leaky. Cyrex Laboratories has Intestinal Antigenic Permeability Screen that is especially good.
We can also test for histamine response and and gut inflammation including zonulin and calprotectin. Many times we directly initiate the 4R protocol below in lieu of testing.
How do you heal a leaky gut?
It is best to avoid antibiotics in food by eating organically or buying foods from individuals that don’t use antibiotic feeds. If an antibiotic is taken for an infection, recolonize the body with probiotics while on the antibiotic and for several weeks/months after it is finished or the leaky gut may return. Eating a diet high in fiber generates butyrate and lots of polyphenols helps heal the gut. There are also many other supplements that be helpful depending on specific cause.
When it comes to folks who have histamine issues, it’s beneficial to eliminate foods that stimulate histamine release or that contain high amounts of histamine, such as alcohol and fermented foods. It’s also important to provide supplementation to support histamine removal.
Depending on the location and severity of the inflammation, leaky gut can be repaired with supplementation. Common supplements include glutamine (although that’s a possible no-no for folks with an issue with the GAD SNP), short-chain fatty acids like butyrate from butter, aloe (although aloe may not be a good choice for those with autoimmune issues), marshmallow root, and others. Kombucha and bone broth (not for glutamate sensitive folks) may also help with leaky gut.
Some folks with extreme gut inflammation or autoimmune issues might require Rx prescriptions. As always, discuss your options with your licensed MD.
We use a “4R” protocol to help alleviate GI problems. This includes removing offending foods/environmental factors and detecting/eradicating infections, replacing whatever the body temporarily needs to help breakdown and digest food, repairing an inflamed gut, and then reinoculating the GI system with diet and possibly temporarily offering friendly bacteria probiotics. We sometimes utilize very beneficial yeast to improve the efficacy of these beneficial bacteria as well as improve the gut’s immune system.