“All disease begins in the gut.” –Hippocrates
I believe that is a true statement. Health begins with a balanced gut. And, the science to prove it is finally catching up. Let’s look at what leaky gut is, what causes it, the various ways it expresses in symptoms – including autoimmunity, and the five steps to a healthy gut. Plus, read on for natural remedies to leaky gut!
What is leaky gut?
Intestinal permeability is referred to as leaky gut. When people hear that term, they often think of bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Those can be some of the symptoms. Some of those people may even suspect food sensitivities but can can’t pinpoint exactly what is causing their digestive upset. But, you don’t have to have gastrointestinal problems to have leaky gut. It can manifest itself as skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, low-thyroid, brain fog, depression, weight gain, low energy, and so many more ways! Take this quiz to see if your symptoms might be a result of your gut health.
Your intestines are a 20-25 foot hollow tube starting at the mouth and going to the other end. Think of it as a donut or a garden hose. It is all wound up inside. It has lots of surface area with little creases, folds and finger-like projections. If you stretched it out completely flat, the surface area of all the tiny folds would cover an entire tennis court. This is for good reason – food needs that much exposure to the digestive tract for it to get broken down into its tiny individual amino acids and sugars for absorption. However, that tube lining is only one cell thick. One cell separates you from the outside world. Technically, the food that is in the tube is still in the outside world until your body assimilates it through this single cell layer.
These cells are connected to each other with these tight junctions. The tight junctions are just that, they are tight. They prevent unwanted particles from getting into the blood stream. These tight junctions only allow very specific and very small molecules through to the blood stream, where the nutrients are then carried to the liver, processed and sent to various areas of the body where they are needed.
How leaky gut is triggered
You may already be familiar with gluten being considered bad. Here’s why. There are over 50 different measurable blood proteins that regulate the tight junctions. One example of this is called zonulin. Gluten binds to a certain receptor in the gut that triggers zonulin which then activates the opening of the junctions. When these junctions are over-activated it lets larger molecules through that shouldn’t be allowed into the bloodstream. Remember, there are many other proteins, in wheat and other grains, that are similar in triggering the loosening of these junctions. The result is a leaky gut.
The body will compensate a long time. Think of the gut lining as a piece of cheesecloth. Toast for breakfast and gut lining gets a little tear in it. But, it heals. Sandwich at lunch. It tears and heals. Crackers or a cookie for afternoon snack. It tears and heals. Pasta for dinner. It tears and heals.
But, at some point you cross a line, it no longer heals properly, and your body looses its ability to control what comes in from the outside world. This isn’t just for those genetically susceptible to celiac disease. In one study, after a large exposure to gluten, there was a 70% increase in intestinal permeability detected in ALL people. So, every single time anyone eats gluten, leaky gut results often along with an immune reaction.
Gluten is not the only trigger
Gluten is not the only trigger of leaky gut. There are numerous other grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, and even seemingly healthy vegetables that contain components like lectins, sapponins, phytic acids, glycoalkaloids and others, that either resist digestion, provoke inflammation, trigger antibodies, or trigger the openings of the junctions, and thus stress the intestinal barrier.
Immune System To The Rescue
When these junctions loosen and allow larger particles through into your blood stream, this is where the immune system is triggered. In fact, 80% of your immune system is in the gut and it is evaluating everything you take in. Your adaptive immune system determines if something is an invader. Because that larger food particle wasn’t supposed to be allowed through, it is tagged as an invader causing an immune reaction and inflammation.
The immune system protects you from the outside world. Often the foods we eat the most are the ones that the immune system has flagged as invaders. This also explains why different people have different food sensitivities.
Can leaky gut lead to autoimmunity?
The job of the immune system is to keep you safe from invaders so it tags them and distributes that information system wide. Unfortunately, many of these proteins that are tagged as invaders look very similar to the protein structures in our own tissues. This is called molecular mimicry. It is believed that over time, with prolonged inflammation, the immune system wears down and mistakenly attacks similar tissues. In fact, there is strong evidence that gluten proteins are similar to thyroid tissue which is one reason why thyroid issues are so prevalent (and often occur before or along with other autoimmune diseases). However, it also seems to occur in the weakest link in the chain. This is where your genes play a role as well.
“There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a pathogenic role in various autoimmune diseases…Therefore, we hypothesize that besides genetic and environmental factors, loss of intestinal barrier function is necessary to develop autoimmunity.”
– Dr. Alessio Fasano, Mucosal Biology Expert
The Root Cause
There are three things that play into the development of autoimmune disease: genes, environmental triggers and intestinal permeability – aka leaky gut. Although you might have genetic tendencies toward certain diseases, how the environment washes over your genes determines how they will express themselves. Environmental factors might include: food, exercise, sleep habits, stress, traumatic events, surgeries, having healthy relationships, toxins, medications, chemicals, infections, viruses, an imbalance in gut bacteria and so much more. These all interact with your genes and can determine whether or not an autoimmune or other disease results.
You are a very unique and complex machine with many moving parts that are interconnected. So, for one person leaky gut might manifest as food sensitivities, another joint pain. For others it could be sinus issues, migraines, joint pain, psoriasis, chronic fatigue, neurodegenerative issues or digestive problems or IBS. Take this quiz to see if your symptoms could be leaky gut.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Over time, the over active immune response results in chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a signature of chronic disease. This is especially true in autoimmune conditions. It is kind of like a hammer hitting a spot on the drywall, day after day after day. Eventually, there is hole in the wall. Calming the immune system and inflammation also calms symptoms.
The integrity of the gut is of paramount importance in calming the immune system. A healthy gut is our good fence that protect us from the outside world.
The New Frontier in Medicine
Remember the human genome project in the 80-90s where scientists set out to map our DNA? Scientists are now using that technology and artificial intelligence to begin mapping our gut microbiome. This is considered the new frontier in medicine. It is fascinating and cutting-edge.
Your body is filled with both beneficial and harmful bacteria, virus, yeast, and fungi-types of microorganisms. There are 100 times more bacterial DNA in your body than human DNA. That means you are really only one percent human, 99 percent microorganism. It is estimated that there are 100 trillion microorganisms living in the bowels alone. You are the host. It is a symbiotic relationship and a complex ecosystem that requires balance, just like the rainforest. They eat what you feed them and in return these microorganisms do important jobs for you like:
- Synthesis necessary hormones and enzymes
- Breakdown food for nutrient generation
- Aid in detoxification processes
- Breakdown medications
- Produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, melatonin
- Interacts with our immune system – 80% of which is in the gut
- Sets our biological rhythms in our sleep cycle
- Sends craving signals – in fact, more communication goes to the brain from the gut than the other way around, which is why the gut is referred to as the second brain
You aren’t eating for one, you are eating for 100 trillion. The key is to feed the good microorganisms much more than the harmful ones in your gut. Unfortunately, our modern diet of sugar, highly-processed, refined oils, boxed and packaged foods feed the bad bacteria and yeasts. They then proliferate and cause problems like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). If the harmful bacteria become overgrown, that can even cause inflammation and stress the gut lining too.
Your immune system is constantly communicating across the intestinal barrier to assess what is incoming from the hollow tube of your digestive tract. If there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria out there who are sending too many messages across the barrier, this tells your immune system that there is a problem out there in the hollow tube. The immune system will then mount an attack because it needs to protect you from the overwhelming amount of harmful bacteria. This is how the gut lining can become compromised from the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, often referred to as SIBO. And, the inflammation becomes chronic unless there is a shift of the population.
Do I need testing for leaky gut?
I often hear this question. Not even an endoscopic procedure or colonoscopy can detect leaky gut. However, it is safe to assume if you are suffering from only a few symptoms (check your symptoms in this leaky gut quiz), then your gut isn’t in great shape. And, if you already have an autoimmune disease and haven’t taken steps to restore your gut, you very likely have leaky gut. Everyone can benefit from a gut refresh!
How do you restore the intestinal barrier?
As a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, I had the privilege of being trained by doctors at the Institute for Functional Medicine and other renowned experts on health, digestion, and what leads to a healthy microbiome. They taught a “5R” program that can lead to dramatic improvements in gut health and greatly improve symptoms.
We are exposed to foods and chemicals every day and we don’t even realize how it upsets our body. These stressors can aggravate the gut lining, disrupt the microbiome balance, contribute to inflammation, or trigger an immune response. The body has to clean up and remove chemicals from internal biological processes such as: estrogen, cortisol, by-products of metabolism and so much more. External chemicals like artificial sweeteners, fluoride in our water, medications and others also tax the body. There are unfriendly microbes in our gut that should be removed and rebalanced like parasites, yeast, H.Pylori infection, and bacterial overgrowths. This phase aims to address the things that negatively affect the gastrointestinal tract to give it time to cool inflammation, quiet the immune system and repair the lining of the gut.
Removing the top allergenic foods for a short period of time allows the body time to rest, do its work at repairing any damage, and begin calming the immune system. There are many types of ‘elimination diets’ out there but in general, they are still considered the “Gold-Standard” for identifying those things that cause reactions in the body. The Institute for Functional Medicine has a plan that I discuss in my Refreshed Gut Health Coaching Program. I empower clients to tune-in and listen to their body so they can pinpoint their exact triggers. Nearly 80 percent of people experience significant symptom relief within a short period of time. I walk along side people who want to try this option as a first line of defense but find it difficult to make such large behavioral changes in how they eat because their lives are so busy. They often suspect certain foods are giving them trouble but have never been able to pinpoint it with absolute certainty.
The body needs certain phytonutrients to function optimally. The Refreshed Gut program covers what our gut and cells need to perform their job effectively and have the energy so it can repair, detoxify, send and receive communication signals. This phase really supports the body as it begins to recover from the stress it has been under. It also explains how to one could address deficiencies that occur as we age.
Stress induces chemical reactions in the body that inhibits digestion, acid production, and gut motility, and increases mucosal permeability which impairs the gut lining. You know this if you’ve ever experienced an upset stomach when you were worried about something. But, also hidden inflammation in the body can stress the body. Learning techniques to transform stress is really important. Often stress can’t be eliminated, but we can learn to view it differently and replace those thoughts so it doesn’t have the same effect on us physiologically and chemically. In the Refreshed Gut program we look at ways to replace stressors, mental, emotional, and physical.
With 100 trillion microorganisms in the gut, taking a probiotic is like placing a single drop of water in a whole bathtub. It is not necessarily a miracle pill. Although there is a place for probiotics, like helping ease antibiotic side-effects of diarrhea, they do not necessarily establish a colony. They are more transient. Think of them as a tourist. They come in, boost the local economy by helping with neurotransmitter production or b-vitamins, then after a nice visit, they leave the area.
In the Refreshed Gut program, I cover the best ways to selectively promote the growth of the beneficial bacteria as well as when to and when NOT to reintroduce beneficial strains to support gut health.
Repair supports the body in restoring the healthy mucosal lining of the intestinal tract. The good news is that cells are constantly sloughing off the gut lining and being replaced about every three days. So, by removing the triggers and replacing them with supportive elements, and reinoculating, the gut lining can repair itself pretty quickly.
Food is medicine. Food is often used as a first line of defense. There are natural substances in certain foods that support a healthy gut barrier. Be sure to download this quick guide with Natural Remedies for Leaky Gut.
Food is not the only factor in achieving a healthy, balanced gut!
Lifestyle choices have a major impact on gut composition. In fact, the ones that your mother might have told you like: stress less, laugh more, get to bed, get outside and play, and eat your vegetables are the most important when it comes to our overall health – including our gut.
As a health coach, what I see is that people often know the things they should be doing to be healthy like: get more quality sleep, manage stress better, make healthy food choices, and exercise.
The problem is: they don’t do it.
That is where I step in and help you finally succeed in making positive, lasting changes. I spend the time with you to help you figure out what you want to achieve, how to objectively look at your life, and develop strategies to finally get your health where they want it to be. I am a supportive mentor who can be a guide in developing a healthy mindset, habits, goals and lifestyle in a realistic way so you can follow through. Plus, I encourage you every step along the way.
Health coaching sessions are included in the Refreshed Gut program. It is a critical component in helping you finally pinpoint your triggers. I wouldn’t just teach you about gut health and leave you to do it on your own. I want to hear your story, support you through the process and empower you to take charge of your health.
Symptoms are your body’s way of sending you signals and trying to tell you something.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our bodies are amazing, interconnected machines that will compensate for a very long time. But, at some point, without the right inputs, the body can no longer compensate and that is when symptoms arise.
Is your body asking for the right inputs?
What does it need?
Are you listening?
What is your gut telling you?
Sign up for the Refreshed Gut Health Coaching Program so you can start rebalancing and calming your gut AND your symptoms.
Health begins with a balanced gut!