What Leaky Gut Is and Steps Toward Healing It
What Is Leaky Gut and What Can I Do to Heal It?
By: Tracy L. Hackett, DAOM
Food sensitivities are an increasingly prevalent problem over the last twenty years as food producers take more license adding chemical additives and non-nutritive ingredients into processed foods. Singling out processed foods is relevant because our bodies have evolved to recognize certain molecules as nutrients and to absorb that ‘bio-information’ through our intestinal lining then to excrete those that are not as waste. However, if the gut lining becomes too permeable, undigested food particles, microbes, wastes, and toxins can enter the blood stream. Since these particles are haven’t been digested properly, even though something may be a nutrient source, the immune system is triggered to fight against the ‘intruder’. If this occurs over time, voila, you develop food allergies with the accompanying symptoms. The symptoms can intensify and become more complex.
How does Leaky Gut Syndrome get started in your GI tract and what are the symptoms?
The lining of your gut is a dynamic, tight mesh-like structure made of proteins has a bacteria and yeast (“flora”) lining it that adapts to the contents it’s exposed to. The normal positive flora in your intestines adapt to the types of foods you consume. If your gut microbiome or a molecule integral to the lining, zonulin, is compromised by inflammation or food additive chemicals and over processed food ingredients, a disruption of normal cell function can occur in the ability of intestinal wall to maintain tight permeability. If the disruption becomes severe or the inflammation persistent enough dysfunction and disease like colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis or worse can be the result.
If the toxic additives or improperly digested food particles pass through the lining, your immune system is further triggered leading to body and joint pain, fatigue, headaches, skin problems, sleep and mood disruption. As toxins accumulate in the tissues and joints, aggravating inflammation further to the sensitive internal tissues of the gut, the body is bombarded with ingested “information” that can trigger the immune system. Stress can also wear down the body’s defenses and normal filtration processes of waste and non-nutritive molecules. All of this combined can lead to what is called a “leaky gut”. You may infer from the previous description that your gut is leaking the wrong kinds of molecules or larger food particles into the blood stream that are not broken down to the right degree so trigger the immune system. Fissures and inflamed areas can open to allow larger particles to pass through.
Symptoms of food sensitivities show up quickly after irritants are ingested, but can gradually worsen and intensify with repeated exposure over time. Typical symptoms that can start as intermittent then become constant include:
- sneezing and runny nose
- stomach pain after eating certain foods
- gastritis, reflux, diarrhea, cramping, gas, abdominal pain
- sudden onset of patches of very itchy skin and/or hives
- sudden onset acne
- recurrent mouth sores
- genital/anal itching or irritation
- headache or migraine
- unusual or intense food cravings
- fatigue, malaise, foggy headedness
- strong body and waste odors
Other symptoms may occur as well that are not listed here. This list of symptoms may also indicate presence of or beginnings of illnesses other than food sensitivities. Oftentimes food sensitivities are precursors to severe food allergies, which can be life-threatening.
So what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you haven’t really developed a serious allergy but feel anxious over some of the nagging symptoms that things may not be going so well with your digestion?
- Clean up your diet. Cut out the usual suspects* for a couple of weeks and see how your symptoms change. Journal any symptoms that crop up after eating to track any possible patterns of food sensitivities.
- Drink a large glass of water in the morning that has raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in it. This will help clear your stomach and gently encourage your liver’s to detoxification process.
- Get appropriate testing done. There are some great tests available to assess allergies, nutrient absorption, GI dysfunction, and gut flora composition. Set up an appointment with a qualified healthcare provider, like myself, to help you get the right tests. But more importantly understand what the tests results mean and get a practical treatment plan to help your heal. This type of healthcare and many tests are not covered by insurance, so make sure you know about costs so you can budget accordingly.
- If going through extra testing doesn’t appeal to you, clinical assessment may be enough to yield the answers you need. An Acupuncture Physician or Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, can help you with the time-tested acupuncture and herbal medicine or supplementation solutions to encourage healing and better digestive regulation.
- East-West Functional Medicine is available at my clinic, where I can help you with a complete holistic method. I create treatment plans that combine the best of contemporary holistic medicine and only the supplements and/or herbal formulas you absolutely need. The protocol is tailored specifically to you and your particular digestive concerns.
If you have any questions about this topic or how holistic medicine may help you, contact me directly by phone or email.
*Start with the 6 Whites: refined flour/gluten, refined sugar, sodium, dairy, alcohol, and low quality fats.