Do you have leaky gut? And what can you do about it?


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Disclaimer:  I will be sharing information and websites that discuss leaky gut syndrome and it’s possible treatments in this post.  I do not intend to diagnose any illness here; this post is intended to be informational.   

After many years of battling IBS and my change to a gluten and dairy free lifestyle, I am now on an experimental journey to heal my leaky gut.  My first step is to try drinking Kombucha.   I will be posting my progress on that in other posts.

What is leaky gut?  As defined by WebMD:

A possible cause of leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability.

That could happen when tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, don’t work properly. That could let substances leak into the bloodstream.

It can cause all sorts of health problems and conditions.  But is it a catchall condition that is being blamed for a myriad of health problems?

I have read several articles from several websites and have drawn my own conclusions.  There are many that promote supplements.  I tend not to rely too much on that, as that tells me they are in it for the money.  But there are some intriguing points that are made.  I don’t intend to try to stop doing everything that could be causing my symptoms, but by reading these articles, I realize there are some things I am doing that I could change.

I got most of my information from the Leaky gut support site.  I will share some of her information; you can click on the link and draw your own conclusions. She also has a free quiz on her site that you might want to take.  I got a very high score for leaky gut.

These are some of the symptoms you might experience:

Digestion and Other General Symptoms

Some symptoms are localized to the gut, and include:

  • Bloating
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Constipation
  • Ongoing diarrhea
  • Gas

General signs include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Food allergies
  • General/seasonal allergies
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Skin rashes (related to inflammation)
  • Nutritional deficiencies (improper absorption)
  • Weakened immune system (from overexertion)

Brain related symptoms include:

  • Mood
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety
  • Depression (usually worsened)

More severe conditions from leaky gut include:

  • IBS
  • Crohn’s
  • Celiac
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hashimoto

I can check off a lot of these symptoms.  But all of some or all of these can be attributed to other conditions.   There also seems to be a lot of conflicting information as to what is actually helpful in healing leaky gut.  I will share some of the FAQ’s from myleakygutsyndrome.com:

Are eggs good for leaky gut?

Yes. Eggs are nutritious and acceptable to consume. They are rich in good fats (omegas), B vitamins which are often deficient in leaky gut patients, and l-lysine to help support immune function. Ensure that you cook your eggs either poached or over medium heat: cooking them too fast on high can destroy some nutrients and create free radicals–which are natural antioxidant enemies. Use only coconut oil or other heatable, extra virgin oils.

What about fermented foods: are they good?

Fermented foods are naturally rich in probiotics, so yes!–With some cautions in place. Ensure that the foods do not have chemical, sugar, or salt added. Sauerkraut, kim chi, and even kefir or plain, whole yogurt are rich in probiotics, though the latter two are dairy based and may need to be excluded from the diet for a period of time when first beginning to heal leaky gut.

Is banana good?

During a leaky gut diet, you may want to avoid bananas. Though they are nutrient, fiber, and mineral dense (especially with potassium), they are also high in sugar, and many people can develop allergies to bananas. Small portions of banana may be added much later in the diet, but be aware of your overall sugar consumption. Once your body is healed, be it a few months or even years, bananas are good when consumed in moderation. Aside from the afore mentioned benefits, they also contain FOS, which is food for beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Is Coconut Milk Good?

Depending on how pure the coconut milk is, any source of coconut can be healing, have anti-inflammatory properties, and is made up of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs, or sometimes MCTs–medium chain triglycerides) which are easier for the body to digest than many other fats. Many store-bought containers of coconut milk will have fillers and ingredients difficult to digest and absorb, such as calcium carbonate. Guar gum, usually derived from corn, is a thickener found in many premade sources of coconut milk as well and is disruptive to the gut-healing process.

Is Coconut Oil Good?

A resounding yes! Coconut oil is heavy in nutritious fats easily absorbed by the body, and has immune-supporting and healing components. It can inhibit candida growth and help support healthy digestion. Ensure that coconut oil is unrefined and extra virgin.

Can leaky gut cause acid reflux?

Here comes a surprise: acid reflux is not always as a result of high stomach acid. In fact, in many cases it evolves as a result of low acid. When you have low acid, which means that of a more alkaline variety, then you not only have a build up of undigested food stuffs but also can develop reflux which is thought to be as a consequence of fermentation rather than degrading of foods. This can also present, and often does even prior to reflux, as bloating and general ‘gassiness.’

Can leaky gut cause symptoms of anxiety?

Many people with leaky gut syndrome suffer from increased anxiety. For some people this will only happen at a social level and they may feel less confident than they once did when they are exposed to larger gatherings of people. Others find that this anxiety is so extreme they are affected even in their home environment and when attempting to cope with the normal routine of everyday life. What has to be appreciated is that when the body is coping with leaky gut syndrome it is affecting the nervous system. Most particularly if affects the autonomous ‘fight or flight’ system and essentially the body is remaining in a more or less, constant state of high alert. These are not responses which we have conscious control over. This aspect of the nervous system, together with that of the enteric nervous system, which controls our gut, takes over automatically.

Inflammation and Leaky Gut

Inflammation due to leaky gut can arise in several different ways. Firstly the change in the intestinal environment causes irritation to the digestive system itself. Then, when the balance of gut microflora changes, bacteria can release more toxins which set up an inflammatory response. As the tight junctions of the intestinal wall are affected and molecules seep through into the blood stream, yet again they prompt an inflammatory/immune response. This is, of course, excluding several other factors including how these molecules adversely affect the parts of the body in which they settle. Other aspects relating to inflammation relate to how the stomach lining responds to a more alkaline environment and the over production of gastrin. Also it should be taken into consideration that the food eaten is likely to be fermented rather than degraded in the stomach cavity and the bigger picture suggests internal effects which are constantly thrown into an inflammatory response.

Is Ibuprofen good for leaky gut?

Ibuprofen comes under the classification of NSAIDs (Non-steriodal anti-inflammatory) drugs which are thought to contribute to causing leaky gut syndrome. Originally the theory, which was precisely that, a theory, was derided by the orthodox medical community, however in the past few years research has confirmed that Ibuprofen can indeed result in leaky gut syndrome. A report published in 2014 by the National Institute of Health in the UK confirmed that Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs result not only in inflammation of the intestinal lining but also in increased permeability. Although much of the research which has taken place focuses on the effects of people with celiac (coeliac) disease and the increased intolerance to substances such as gluten, such drugs can obviously detrimentally affect those with leaky gut whether their condition is diagnosed or not.

Immune System and Leaky Gut Syndrome

When the integrity of the intestinal wall becomes compromised it lets through molecules which are too large and some toxins and bacteria. Although nutrients are actually meant to pass through the intestinal wall, the structure of it means they should only pass through when they have reached a certain point in the digestive process. Because in leaky gut the gaps in the wall are bigger then this barrier is breached. Because of this our immune system responds. These particles become foreign bodies and our immune system does what it’s supposed to do – fend off invaders. It may well be that these ‘invaders’ are substances which would, at a later point in the digestive process, normally be sent through the intestinal wall, but because they are sent through at the wrong point and they are of the wrong ‘structure’ the body simply does not recognize them. The immune system then goes into overdrive and it sets off all kinds of reactions including that of our endocrine system. This means that not only can all the glands in our body be affected but also that our hormonal system becomes erratic. So, when you get thyroid dysfunction or sleep problems, or even excessive sweating, these can all be signals that your immune system is being adversely affected by a leaky gut. Many people find today that they test positive for antibodies in various parts of the body: again an indicator that the body is overreacting when foreign particles are entering the body.

A more direct observation can be made when we start to become sensitive to certain foods – foods that the body should be able to cope with under normal circumstances. This is the immune system starting to recognize normal foodstuffs as enemies simply because they are entering the body at the wrong point and in an unrecognizable form when you have leaky gut.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Leaky Gut Syndrome Are They Connected?

Some people believe that their IBS could possibly be a cause of their leaky gut syndrome, however what is more likely is that IBS is a collection of symptoms indicating that they have gut dysbiosis and intestinal overgrowth which will ultimately lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome. Of course this could be construed as being a possible cause but really it is simply the progression of an illness. In the same way that some patients achieve a diagnosis of IBS and which later is attributed to SIBO, then this can eventually be diagnosed as leaky gut syndrome. The symptoms of IBS are general stomach pain and cramping which may often be alleviated after passing a motion. Additional indicators of IBS can be: suffering pain on intercourse, excessive wind, backache, nausea, excessive urination during the night time, lethargy, incontinence and bloating. Some people also suffer from low mood or depression which is usually put down to being a result of dealing with their condition. Of course, if IBS evolves from a digestive dysfunction then the real truth of the matter is that they probably are not obtaining the nutrients they need to ensure such problems as neurotransmitter production is not lacking. Still, rarely is IBS currently seen as the initiation of a more chronic condition, despite the fact that this often turns out to be the case.

I was especially interested in what she had to say about IBS, anxiety, acid reflux and the use of NSAIDS.  I take an aspirin and an antacid daily.  I used to take Prilosec every day until I got a weird side effect: my big toenails started to grow out funny.  I was able to wean myself off of the Prilosec, but it took about another year for my toenails to grow out normally.  I take the aspirin for arthritis joint pain.  I am hoping that by taking the Kombucha that I can stop taking both of these.

She also mentions that white rice can make symptoms worse.  This is bad for those of us with gluten intolerance-most gluten free packaged flours and mixes have white or brown rice as their base.  I don’t know if I can give these up entirely.

My whole mission of drinking Kombucha is to be able to eat wheat and dairy again in really small amounts.  I am not sure if that will ever happen, but I am hopeful.  I am also hoping to alleviate my joint pain and have more energy.  I realized that Kombucha is not a miracle elixer.  But it will be interesting to see if it makes any difference in how I feel overall.

So what else can you do to alleviate leaky gut?

  • Avoid dairy, sugar, gluten and soy
  • avoid processed foods
  • avoid nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or any fruit with seeds)

Sugar is definitely my downfall.  I love tomatoes and potatoes.  Could I give all of this up?  I don’t know if I could.  I am starting slow.  I am also going to try to cut back on my sugar intake.  Avoiding rice is almost impossible.

You have to pick your battles.  Giving up gluten and dairy was a big step, and one with definite benefits.  But I still get IBS symptoms, and it’s not just from being “glutened”.  It will be a journey.  And hopefully, one worth taking.

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