leaky gut pic

During the late fall of 2011, I found myself in a German hospital sharing a “private” room with two German women in their ’80’s.

Neither spoke English.

The “private” room had NO privacy besides the 4′ mobile curtain that I requested, and I got fed jello, white rice, overcooked broccoli, and a measly piece of poultry for meals (BLAH!).

One of the ladies even made loud burping noises in the night like a beer-drinking sailor… no joke!

Like I should talk, though…

This was exactly one of my symptoms that I developed post-Honeymoon a few months prior, along with other strange symptoms (acid reflux, fatigue, etc.).

After three days of testing that included a lovely colonoscopy and gastroscopy, my doctor gave me the results. {Side note: When you have to do your colonoscopy, I highly suggest you do shots of the drink every 4 minutes, and chase it with herbal tea!}

It was gastritis, a.k.a. inflammation of the stomach lining.

Source: www.curezone.com

Source: www.curezone.com

The cause? Stress, he said.

The treatment? A Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) drug, which cuts off all acid production, renders one vulnerable to infection, and decreases the ability to break down and absorb food, among other side effects.

“Take it for 4 to 5 months, and eat whatever you want.”

Said my well-respected internist doctor in his German accent.

And I did. For one month.

My symptoms *partially* subsided, but I had burning questions.

  • How could this possibly fix everything, I wondered?
  • How could eating anything heal me??

I knew better from my beginning exploration into the world of holistic nutrition.

I got off the drug.

And I sought help from a functional medicine nutritionist, knowledge from my Master’s of Science in Holistic Nutrition program (still ongoing!), books and blogs, and ultimately, a functional medicine doctor’s expertise (including a stool test, blood work, etc.!).

What I’ve learned and continue to learn has profoundly shaped the way I view the interconnectedness of the body’s systems, our current food system, and the power of using food and nutrients as medicine.

The things is, the root cause of my symptoms was leaky gut, which I started developing symptoms of in middle school (unbenownst to me), continued to compound in college, and ultimately culminated in this diagnosis of gastritis in my mid-20’s.

This information HAS to be shared, because way too many people that have leaky gut go undiagnosed.

As Elizabeth Lipski, a nutrition expert and author of Digestive Wellness, states:

“Leaky gut syndrome underlies many chronic health problems, but you won’t find it unless you’re looking for it… And most physicians aren’t looking.” (Scholey, 2004).

Many of us just blame how we’re feeling on aging or general malaise; or we turn to the Western medicine model, treating our symptoms with a “magic” pill… that often ends up making the issues worse.

Here goes a quick ‘n dirty on this sneaky cause of so many problems, so that you and/or someone you know can find long-term relief and healing (and bypass the never-ending search for truth that I went through)!!

Leaky Gut Defined 

What is “leaky gut?”

It’s basically how it sounds and I promise I’m not crazy; it’s gone mainstream!

It occurs when the normally tight junctions that make up the gut wall become loose, allowing undigested particles, larger substances, and disease-causing bacteria into the bloodstream.

Source: www.leakygutcure.com

Source: www.leakygutcure.com

When this happens, it activates antibodies and ignites an immune response from the body, causing lovely (er – unpleasant) problems such as (Lipski, 2012):

  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Depression
  • Eczema, acne, psoriasis, and skin irritations
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases
  • IBS, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease
  • Chronic inflammation

Guess what else is affected?

  • The brain: The brain and gut are connected, so gut problems affect the brain and vice versa. (Side note: The gut is sometimes called the “second brain” and has more neurotransmitters than the brain!)
  • The immune system: The gut represents 70% of the immune system, so when it isn’t functioning optimally, it renders our immune system vulnerable.
  • The liver: All foods pass directly from the bloodstream through the liver for filtration. When leaky gut is prevalent, the liver can become bombarded by irritants from incomplete digestion. It becomes overwhelmed and ends up storing toxins that it can’t break down in our fat cells… which creates more inflammation (Lipski, 2012).
Source: www.gabrielweinberg.com

Source: www.gabrielweinberg.com

Causes of Leaky Gut 

What are the causes of leaky gut?

  • Use of NSAIDs, Birth Control and Other Medications: Check! Totally guilty, especially with abusing ibuprofen as an athlete.
  • C-Section Baby, Early Ear Infections, Lack of Breast Feeding, Etc.: Our guts are formed within the first year of life. When babies are birthed via C-section (me) and/or not breastfed (me), they miss out on their guts being populated with their mother’s flora, along with valuable nutrients and antibodies from the breast milk. In addition, babies given antibiotics due to ear infections at an early age (me!) have a hefty amount of gut disruption at a young age, laying a poor foundation for years (or life) to come. Finally, too early of an introduction to foods – especially grains – can wreak havoc on your child’s intestinal lining and throw off the balance of bacteria in their gut leading to later complications.
  • Gut Dysbiosis: We have 10 trillion cells in our body, and 100 TRILLION bacteria (we’re more bacteria than we are human!). It’s so common in our everyday diets to deplete the good gut bacteria and encourage growth of the BAD bacteria – via too much alcohol, sugar, processed foods, and/or bacteria. Check! I totally had this as well. 
  • Chronic Stress: “Prolonged stress changes the immune system’s ability to respond quickly and affects our ability to heal… and [it slows] down digestion and peristalsis, reducing blood flow to digestive organs, and producing toxic metabolites” (Lipski, 45). Yup, guilty of this, too.
  • Poor Food: Processed food, the chemicals, additives and bad oils in it irritate the gut lining. Food sensitivities or allergies (like eggs, almonds, and dairy for me) are also culprits.
  • Environmental Toxins: We are bombarded by 70,000+ chemicals in our household cleaners, pesticides and antibiotics in our food, plastics, etc. This overburdens our digestive tract and liver, depletes minerals, and causes inflammation. Guilty.

 Treating Leaky Gut Naturally 

Note: Just as leaky gut can take months or years to develop, treating leaky gut can vary from 6 months to years. I’m not a doctor, but these suggestions are certain things that I’ve researched, learned, tried, and benefitted from!

  • Meditate: Learn to slow down, relax, and BREATHE to improve blood flow and digestion. (A work in progress for myself!)
  • Chew Your Food: … Because of these reasons.
  • Digestive Enzymes: When the gut is compromised, so is the ability to break down and absorb the nutrients. Taking 1 – 2 digestive enzymes like these with meals to ensure these processes occur (Lipski, 2012).
  • L-Glutamine: Glutamine is an important amino acid that the cells of the small intestine and your body uses it to to produce glutathione, an important compound for detoxification (Murray, 2000). Liz Lipski, Ph.D., says that dosages can range from 1 – 30 grams daily, depending on needs, but begin with 1 – 3 grams daily (2012). This is a good brand.
  • Deglycyrrhized licorcie (DGL): I love taking these and find them super helpful! Deglycerrhized licorice promotes healing of the mucous membranes and has antibiotic and antioxidant properties. Take 2 tablets between meals as needed up to four times daily (Lipski, 2012).
  • Stop Taking NSAIDs & Drinking Alcohol: Enough said.
  • Eat a Mediterranean Diet: Eating loads of colorful, anti-inflammtory veggies, especially greens; great fats, plenty of wild-caught seafood, and dark-colored fruits will help to deliver fiber and chlorophyll, which help heal the intestines. These foods will also supply antioxidants C, E, beta-carotene, zinc, and selenium to help repair damage (Murray, 2000).
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are crucial to ward off the bad bugs, protect against evil invaders, and even produce vitamins! Repopulate your gut with a good multi-strand probiotic (such as L. acidophilus, B. Bifidobacterium, S. boulardii, L. plantarum) of at least 1 billion total organisms. Depending on the severity of your gut problems, you may want to take one in the morning and one before bed – both on an empty stomach – like this one. Do you know what else delivers probiotics? Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha… eat (or drink) these, too!
  • Ginger: Fresh and dried ginger are antibacterial, help to calm the esophageal and stomach lining, and decrease inflammation. I consumed ginger liberally when I was feeling my worst; sometimes by sucking on a hunk of it (it’s spicy – watch out!) or blending it and drinking it with water, or by drinking ginger tea.
  • Multi-Vitamin: Though eating real food is best, when digestion and absorption are altered, you may not be absorbing all the nutrients you need. Taking a good, high quality multi-vitamin like this with meals can help fill in the blanks.

By removing toxic foods, drugs, and environmental chemicals; repairing with natural supplements and an anti-inflammatory diet; and repopulating with good bugs and real foods, gut and HEALTH restoration can occur.

In my case, I’ve seen MUCH less leakage in my gut in the past 1.5 years, and look forward to continuing on my healing journey. 🙂

One thing is certain: I’d be much worse off had I gone the “magic pill” and “eat whatever you want” route!

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Your turn! Have you or anyone you know dealt with “leaky gut,” and what did you do about it?

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This post was shared on Thank Your Body Thursday, Party Wave WednesdaySimple Lives Thursdays, and Real Food Wednesdays.

References

Lipski, Liz. Digestive Wellness 4th Edition. McGraw Hill: New York, New York, 2012.

Murray, Michael. Total Body Tune-Up. Bantom Books: New York, New York. 2000.

Peter, Scholey. Leaky Gut Syndrome. Alternative Medicine. March 2004.