Leaky Gut Syndrome In Plain English – And How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help Fix It
Leaky Gut can be so confusing, but it’s becoming more and more of an epidemic. Many of the causes and cures of Leaky Gut are widely debated, but Naturopathic Physicians are more aware of the condition and ways to treat it.
This article is meant to shine some light on how to treat Leaky Gut Syndrome and why the SCD Diet is such a critical component to it.
Leaky Gut Explained:
The term Leaky Gut Syndrome is used to describe the condition of “Hyperpermeable Intestines”. A fancy medical term that means the intestinal lining has became more porous, with more holes developing that are larger in size and the screening out process is no longer functioning properly. The fallout results in larger, undigested food molecules and other “bad stuff” (yeast, toxins, and all other forms of waste) that your body normally doesn’t allow through, to flow freely into your bloodstream.
So now that we have the general essentially meaningless definition out of the way let’s find out what is really going on…
The intestinal lining is the first mechanism of defense for our immune system. The outer layers of intestinal cells (epithelial) are connected by structures called tight junctions. At the tips of these cells are the microvilli, which absorb properly digested nutrients and transport them through the epithelial cell and into the bloodstream. During normal digestion process the tight junctions stay closed, forcing all molecules to effectively be screened and only pass into the blood stream through the mucosa cells (think of them like bouncers at the front of a classy bar). For reasons we will discuss later these tight junctions can become “open” or permeable allowing un-screened molecules to flow directly into the bloodstream (think of it like a fish net with very small holes).
Graphic From: www.leakygutcure.com
So Then What Happens?
The first reaction your body has to these “foreign” bodies in your blood is to fight like hell. Initially, your Liver is called into action to work overtime and try to screen out all the particles that your intestinal lining was supposed to be taking care of. In most cases, the liver has no chance of keeping up with the constant flow of waste into your blood and all the toxins, undigested food molecules, yeast, and other pathogens start to accumulate in your body.
Now the sleeping giant wakes up (your immune system) and it is not happy. It goes into full battle mode to fight the evil intruders and get them out of the body ASAP. More often than not, the body cannot keep up with the task at hand and the majority of these foreign bodies absorb into tissues throughout the body… causing them to inflame.
Inflammation is also an immune response and causes even more stress on your system. Now that your body is focused on fighting the large war, the little battles are starting to be ignored, like filtering out the blood, calming inflamed areas of the body, fighting bacteria, regulating the gut, etc. This process flow can lead to your body fighting itself and an array of autoimmune diseases such as Chronic Fatigue, MS, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, and Fibromyalgia.
Now your body will begin to produce antibody soldiers designed to fight against these foreign objects (which can be things such as the Casein protein from the milk you’re drinking, or other proteins in nuts, grains, or eggs). Even chemicals normally found in foods such as Phenols and Glycerin can now trigger immune responses when they enter the body. For instance, I immediately react to diary of any kind. I get instant brain fog, a headache, sore throat, and horrible sinus drainage. A similar reaction happens when I eat foods high in phenols such as tomato juice. I am confident that it is all part of a reaction as a result of years with leaky gut from my Celiac Disease.
A great article at EnzymeStuff points out that, if you are having any food sensitivities to more than a dozen foods, you likely have leaky gut. Any undigested foods that are absorbed into the blood stream are now considered enemies of the state, and your immune system will develop reactions to many of them, leading to food intolerances. When you have a Leaky Gut condition, the damaged microvilli along the intestinal lining cannot manufacture the digestive enzymes they need to break down the food for proper digestion. The resulting condition allows food molecules to flow into the bloodstream that have not been completely broken down into the nutrients your body needs.
Bottom Line: The foods that you’re eating are not the root of the problem; it’s the leaky gut letting the food molecules into your bloodstream. Of course, the caveat is severe food allergies such as gluten to a Celiac or deadly peanut allergies.
How Do I Know If I Have Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Symptoms of Leaky Gut can vary from person to person depending on the level of damage and the tissues being affected. A good article at AllergyScape describes multiple food sensitivities as a sign that your immune system is developing antibodies to everything you’re eating. Nutritional deficiencies are a sign of lacking vitamins and minerals from the improper breakdown of food in your intestines. Chronic diarrhea and constipation are signs of inflammation of the intestinal walls from Leaky Gut. Skin rashes are your body’s way of trying to dump the toxins through the skin perforations. A poor immune system will result from your body trying to wage war on itself and ignoring all the virus and bacteria we encounter on a daily basis, allowing you to get sick more often. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss, and excessive fatigue are a result of the inflammation of tissue and toxin build up. Yeast overgrowth (Candida) will cause cravings for sugar and carbs, gas, bloating, and anxiety. All of these things add up to a host of symptoms with a myriad of explanations… all leading back to one thing: the constant river of foreign objects being allowed to enter your bloodstream.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
The cause of Leaky Gut is widely debated in the medical community. However, there is some level of consensus that the following are the basic contributors:
- Diet: Consuming high amounts of refined sugars, processed foods, preservatives, refined flours, and flavorings introduces massive amounts of chemicals into the body that is seen as toxic. If your body has a hard time keeping up the toxins start to build up and cause inflammation (like we talked about earlier).
- Chronic Stress: Chronic stress almost always results in a suppressed immune system. A weakened immune system cannot handle doing it’s normal job and gets overrun with pathogens very quickly. This increases overall gut inflammation leading to increased permeability of the intestinal lining.
- Inflammation: Any type of inflammation in the gut can lead to leaky gut. This can be brought on by low stomach acid (which passes undigested food into the small intestine irritating everything it passes by), yeast overgrowth (Candida), bacteria overgrowth, infection, parasites and excessive environmental toxins.
- Medications: Any medication prescriptions or even over-the-counter pain relievers with Aspirin or Acetaminophen irritate the intestinal lining and decrease the mucosal levels (a membrane produces mucus on the intestinal lining as a natural protective measure). This can start or help to continue the inflammation cycle (more bacteria, yeast, and digestion issues) and promotes an increase in permeability.
- Yeast: Yeast is found in normal gut flora but as soon as it begins to get out of hand it mutates into a multi-celled fungus (usually Candida) that grows tentacles to grab onto the intestinal lining and stay put, consequently making its own holes in the lining.
- Lack of Zinc: Zinc is a critical piece of maintaining a strong intestinal lining. A deficiency of the vitamin can lead to the mucosal lining losing strength and becoming more permeable. There are studies that show that supplementing with Zinc when it is deficient can dramatically improve intestinal lining integrity.
How To Fix Leaky Gut Syndrome…
The medical community is also still rather divided about the methods used to alleviate leaky gut. Treating Leaky Gut is a multi-faceted approach that requires many different pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. If each one is utilized, the holes in the sinking ship will plug up and allow the body to return to a more normal state. Here are a few of the most agreed upon avenues and also where the SCD Diet comes into play:
-Specialized Testing: Ask your Naturopathic Physician (ND) to order stool testing for digestion and overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast, fungus and parasites. Also, it is very important to rule out gluten sensitivity and fool allergies. Gut inflammation can be tested by your Naturopathic Physician as well. Your ND can then create a personalized treatment plan for you which will re-balance your gut flora, heal inflammation, and get you feeling better, naturally!
- Diet Restrictions: Eliminating sugars, starches, grains, and any other irritating foods alleviates the inflammation and starves out the yeast overgrowth (this is where the SCD diet takes over the healing process). Reducing both of these allows the intestinal tract to slowly return to its normal permeability, stopping the flow of foreign objects into the blood, which will stop food intolerance symptoms and eventually help stop the vicious cycle just as the book described it. I would argue that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is the foundation of curing leaky gut, but it does need some help from the next three pieces.
Here’s a free guide to get started on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: “How To Start The SCD Diet In 24-Hours”
- Nutritional Supplementing: The conditions that lead to leaky gut can also cause mal-absorption and improper digestion, both of which are going to leave you with nutritional deficiencies.
- Your Naturopathic Physician will create a personalized supplement program for you based on specialized testing for nutritional deficiencies.
- First and foremost: supplementing with a good multi-vitamin, large amounts of vitamin D, and Zinc will help the intestinal lining return to normal (assuming the irritants from the diet are removed by following the SCD diet). Essential fish oils have also been shown to really help improve the condition of the intestinal mucosal lining (omega-3’s greatly reduce inflammation among a host of other benefits).
- Probiotics: Now that the Candida is being knocked down by your adherence to the SCD diet, mixing in a solid foundation of probiotics, and more specifically, the friendly bacteria Lactobacillus Acidophilus is a must. The diet gets rid of the bad bacteria and you need a constant feed of the good bacteria to replace it. Friendly bacteria stop the inhabitance of bad bacteria and yeast, heal the gut lining, help nutrients get absorbed, and keep the vicious cycle in check. Studies suggest that keeping a ratio of 85% good to bad bacteria in the gut will stop the cycle from starting back up. A good non-dairy SCD legal lactobacillus acidophilus will be very beneficial.
- Digestive Enzymes: Digestive enzymes are critical to properly breaking down the foods we eat. They are found naturally in the raw form of foods to help break them down, unfortunately, in the beginning stages of the SCD diet we have to cook all of our fruits and veggies, rendering them useless for enzymes. The have multi-faceted skills to help alleviate leaky gut. First, plant based enzymes will break down food into very small particles before it leaves the stomach, preventing large undigested molecules from irritating the intestinal lining and increasing nutritional uptake. They also work through your intestines acting as garbage collectors by removing toxins, bacteria, and damaged cells of the mucosal lining. The whole process gives the gut a clean slate of healthy cells to rebuild with. While the leaky gut permeability remains, they do the same garbage collecting in the bloodstream if they are passed through the intestinal lining. The bromelain and papain enzymes are shown to reduce inflammation in the gut lining and throughout other tissues in the body, allowing the immune system and the liver some reprieve.