Is “Leaky Gut” Actually the Root Cause of Your Health Problems?!
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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

 The 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!

:::

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

:::

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.

Note: Jules’ Fuel uses affiliate links in some blog posts. If you make a purchase using one of these links, which costs the same either way, it’s a very, very small way to help me cover the cost of running this website. So, thanks!

44 responses on “Is “Leaky Gut” Actually the Root Cause of Your Health Problems?!

  1. BONE BROTH!!!!! Bone broth was my savior in helping me heal my gut. Also, adding in organ meats a few times a week really helped. I also used a lot of your suggestions above as well. Fermented and Cultured foods really helped a lot as well.

    • Yes, bone broth helped me too. I included yoghurt, flax seeds, ginger and turmeric in my diet, avoided foods that irritated or worsened by condition and started leading a more relaxed lifestyle about 6 months ago. Today, I feel much better. Thanks for the above post.

      • Thanks for sharing that mini-recipe, Mischa. I tried it today and it’s both delicious and calms down the bowel. I’m sure stress plays a major role in my own symptoms. Your broth suggestion helped.

  2. This is the first time I have not seen someone suggest the GAPS diet. Which is kind of nice, because that diet seems soo difficult, especially while breastfeeding!

  3. I was diagnosed with wheat and dairy intolerances that led to my leaky gut but I, like you, am also guilty of the other causes you mentioned. I have long stretches where I feel great and then out of no where I get a very bad bout. I am breastfeeding my 4 1/2 month old and she too is bothered by whatever it is that’s bothering me-exact same symptoms. I’m thinking I may have a sensitivity to Soy as well.

  4. Great article but I’m surprised you missed out Bone Broth because Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride says that it’s one of the key ingredients (as well as probiotics) in healing a leaky gut.

    The GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet is THE best protocol there is for healing a leaky gut.

    I suggest anyone who suspects they have one do it, even if they don’t think they have a psychology problem.

    • Very good point! I love bone broth and try to make/drink it regularly. It has definitely helped me and I always feel well drinking it! Thanks!

  5. I just wanted to add that it seems, according to research that’s been coming out, that GMO foods can also damage the gut lining. Probably best to avoid all GMO’s when on a healing quest. Thanks for sharing your story! Very helpful. (And nice to know others are on the same journey :-)

  6. I’m so happy I found this post! I have a 6 year old with eczema. He has had it since he was two weeks old. After an allergy test he came back with allergies to wheat, egg white, milk, peanuts, corn, soy, shellfish, and a few others, plus every tree, grass and mold he was tested for. Doctor said we only needed to take out milk and peanuts. It finally hit me that something needs to change. This week we have given up everything on that list to see if we can give him any relief. I hadn’t thought about bone broth, but I’m going to learn how to make some!

  7. I was diagnosed with RA 13 years ago. Of course, the doctors will never mention leaky gut because they want you to take their $500 injections. I am glad to see that you didn’t mention a GF diet! I have a very hard time not eating bread and pasta, I have no problem going GMO free and Organic.

    Nazneen

    • Nazneen, unfortunately gluten is the single most irritant thing a person with LG (and the resultant auto-immune issues like RA) can consume. It is followed closely by cassein. This is why the first thing you usually do for leaky gut, is remove the irritants – grains and dairy…

    • I also have RA and removing gluten,dairy and the nightshades have been strongly suggested over and over again. I finally did it and feel amazingly better!!! It is tough,but feeling better is so worth it! Plus weight started falling off as soon as I cut gluten!!

  8. This is a great article. And very on-target with supplement recommendations (lots of them things we should be taking anyway).

    Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Love all of these suggestions! I am at the very beginning of my LG journey,diagnosed with RA 2 years ago. Taking the poisonous meds,wouldn’t be able to move without them,but also taking the holistic route,acupuncture,elimination diet and (trying to) meditate!
    Simmering some grass-fed beef bone broth as I type this!!!! Also been taking a good probiotic!
    Love to hear that it sounds like I’m heading in the right direction! Hooray!

  11. Is there any way to get the benefits of the bone broth w/o actually drinking it? I’m a vegetarian, but for the sake of healing my guts, I could ignore what I’m putting in there for a little bit-but I definitely could not drink it w/o gagging. Is there some sort of supplement that I could take instead?

  12. Thanks so much for this post, and the other comments are very useful. I have been diagnosed with leaky gut with sensitivities to eggs (boo…they are my fave) as well as whey, cashews and vanilla. Have been on a strict Paleo diet for a few months now but its very hard to read that this might take years to heal. Bone broth is a new staple for me but I really miss sweet things and lapse every now and again! does anyone know how long it will take until I can risk trying eggs again? last time I had a little hollandaise sauce I was sick for 2 days :(

    • Hi there! Thanks for reading! It sounds like you’re on a great healing journey. Every one is different for healing, really… it may take you much shorter! I had a severe case, so I’m on the other spectrum. :) Meanwhile, as far as your question… it’s hard to tell. I know my functional medicine doc wanted me to stay strictly egg-free for at least 3 months, and then only include them in moderation in my diet. If you notice your symptoms improving after 3 – 6 months, perhaps you try slowly adding them in? It’s best to check with your doctor, though. As far as the sweet things… that is tough. Have you tried my fudge recipe with coconut oil, dark chocolate, sea salt, and almonds? It does the trick for me when I have a craving! Here’s to quick healing. :)

  13. Such a great post! I’ve had issues that i thought was lactose intolerance for at least 17 years. In the last 3 months I’ve had , sometimes severe, abdominal pains with anything I had to eat and sometimes drink. I had tests upon tests and everything came out normal. The GI specialist that I ended up going to says he thinks it’s IBS. From reading up on Leaky Gut, it sounds more like that. Also, since February I’ve been taking an anti-depressent for depression and have been taking birth control for a year and a half. So many of the triggers you stated are me as well! I also think my 3 1/2 year old may have the beginning of this issue as well. I’m so so so glad I found you and this post. We were already working on cleaning up our diet and this will help even more!

    • Thank you so much! I’m so sorry about your diagnosis… the good news is, the body heals!! The ironic thing with anti-depressants, is they can often cause more depression. They harm the gut lining, which affects the brain, because of the gut-brain axis.

      I am so glad that you are taking steps to heal the root cause! You’re already on the right track… keep making baby steps and you will get there!

  14. Today’s to do list now includes making bone broth. :)
    FYI, the link for L Glutamine is no longer working on amazon’s end. I’m running low & wondered which brand you recommend.

    • Love it! I updated it – thanks for the correction! Designs for Health, Pure Encapsulations, and Metagenics are all great brands!

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  17. Hello Jules! Stumbled upon your website while looking up portable foods for work. I was introduced to raw “clean” eating to heal health issues back in 2006/07 when it was still considered “crock” science by the mainstream media. I have found that eating a diet low in processed foods, avoiding sugar as much as possible, plenty of sleep, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and many of the supplements you named have helped me to reign in my immune system’s over-reactive response to what it perceives to be allergens (everything). I bake professionally, both gluten free and gluten-full as well as vegan and paleo treats, which means that sometimes I am tasting and eating foods that aren’t best-fit for me. The world’s an imperfect place. I love your site and am full of gratitude about the additional information I can learn from you!

    • Hi there! Congrats on your healing journey! Thanks for the kind words and yes, I agree that there is most definitely room for enjoying life’s pleasures. I’m sure your treats are absolutely delicious – I’m jealous!

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  19. Good to see bone broth is so awesome for you, I’ve done it for years because it makes the best soup …. : )

    I wanted to pass on what I know about leaky gut and a gene mutation called Methylenetetrahyrafolate reductase. Simply put this gene variations interferes with the production of the enzyme that converts folate into its absorbable form. People with this this gene variation are deficient in folate. Not a good thing at all being an essential vitamin. Effects everything including digestion. It’s hard to find a doctor that knows about it, mostly the knowledge is held by geneticists and naturopaths, although I did notice on my pathology results that they were aware of the indications with this condition. The list reads like this … IBS, leaky gut, allergies, depression, mood disorders, arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS, Autism, migraines, cancers, strokes, heart disease, addictions, OCD and so on.

    If you are found to be have this variant (conclusive by blood test), which is so common it is probably likely and if you were lucky enough to find someone to treat you would receive – methylfolate (active form of folate/doesn’t need conversion) zinc, magnesium and other vitamins. Look up Dr Ben Lynch’s work, Amy Yasko and Dr Rawlins. My tips – Always have niacin on hand you may detox on methylfolate and look at doing a gentle clean up detox or chelation before you start the protocol TAKE MSM !! a must <<<<

    It is not a miracle and will not clear up everything. There is a lot of talk about candida and gut health and that will need to be addressed. MTHFR population do not tolerate modern gluten and cows milk although some do very well on A2, buffalo etc as it is a different protein structure.

    Look at fermented vegetables, probiotics and miso. Eat lots of raw foods, seed, nuts and as berries are a natural form of methylfolate, every day would be best.. This variant can be treated with food only, no supplements.

  20. Opps that read wrong. You can treat this variant with food on its own. Most use supplements .

    All the best

  21. Great article!

    I’m currently healing my gut, I have very poor digestion and candida, gluten, dairy, egg, nut intolerances. Aches in joints, brain fog etc.

    I find drinking 2 tablespoons ACV of every morning and night have kick started my digestion more than 6 tablets of Betaine HCL did! Proper stomach acid will help get rid of the candida and SIBO in the gut :)
    Here’s to wellness :)

  22. Help.. I am in the beginning stages of correcting my leaky gut & have heard conflicting things about fermented foods eat or don’t eat??. I have allergies to wheat, dairy, beef, & I think maybe fish. Any diet advice would be greatly appreciated. . Thank you.. love this site.

    • Thank you so much! Everything I’ve experienced and read about leaky gut includes populating the gut with beneficial bacteria through fermented foods and through probiotics and prebiotics. But, if you have issues with dairy, then I’d recommend you stay away from fermented dairy foods, like kefir and yogurt (and all dairy, obviously). Stick to sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and take a good multi strand probiotic with at least 10 billion organisms. I’m not a doctor but can only recommend… I hope this helps. Good luck on your healing journey!

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