Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Doni Wilson gives an overview of Leaky Gut. She explains what it is and how to test and treat it naturally.
Part 1 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Leaky Gut
Leaky Gut, otherwise known as intestinal permeability, is a major underlying cause of many health issues including IBS, headaches, weight gain, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, anxiety, depression, autoimmune conditions, and allergies. So, why is it so often not identified or addressed? Let’s get to the bottom of this and help you understand how Leaky Gut is relevant to your health.
What Is Leaky Gut?
While it sounds like it would mean your gut was full of holes that allow liquid to leak out, Leaky Gut actually happens at such a microscopic level that you can’t see anything at all. Let me explain how it works.
Leaky Gut happens in the small intestine, the section of your digestive system that lies between your stomach (the first stop on our food’s transit through our bodies; this is where the food we eat is broken down, or digested, into a form our bodies can use) and large intestine (the final leg of our food’s journey before whatever the body can’t use is eliminated as feces).
When it arrives at the small intestine, your food should be thoroughly broken down so that only the nutrients are able to make their way through the walls of your small intestine and into your blood where they are circulated to where they are needed in the rest of your body.
The cells that make up the walls of the intestines replace themselves every 72 hours and are quite vulnerable to stress. So if you are under psychological stress or if your digestive tract is under stress—from exposure to medications, antibiotics, alcohol, or caffeine to name just a few examples—then the cells making up the intestinal walls are not as healthy as they should be. It is these unhealthy cells that can allow food that is not fully digested to “leak” through the intestinal wall and into the space underneath where your immune system is on guard for anything that shouldn’t be there, like viruses and bacteria. If your immune system notices partially undigested proteins and food, it mounts an immune response—an attack—to get rid of these foreign bodies that are threatening your health. This attack leads to an inflammatory response which creates yet more stress on your system resulting in further damage to the intestinal wall.
So you see, the more leaky your intestinal wall, the leakier it will become. It’s a vicious cycle where, what starts off in most of us as a small amount of leakage can become quite a severe source of inflammation throughout your whole body making you feel horrible.
How Do You Know You Have It?
In many, but not all cases, the inflammation caused by Leaky Gut causes digestive symptoms such as heartburn, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and/or hemorrhoids. However, you might also start to suspect Leaky Gut if you have any of the following unresolving symptoms:
- Achiness and pain, such as head or joint pain
- Menstrual pain
- Unexplained headaches
- Allergies and/or allergic reactions on your skin
- Anxiety, depression
- Weight issues – weight gain or you find it hard to gain weight
- An autoimmune condition, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or M.S.
Why Is It Often Missed or Misdiagnosed?
Although there has been research on Leaky Gut around for several decades, it is not well recognized by traditional medical doctors or gastroenterologists so don’t be surprised if they don’t mention it at all if you talk to them about your symptoms.
Neither an endoscopy nor a colonoscopy will show Leaky Gut, so it won’t be reported there either.
There are fairly simple tests currently being developed to help identify Leaky Gut but, at this point in time, one of the best ways (I find) to identify Leaky Gut is a food sensitivity panel. This will also give further information about how to heal it. I’ll be discussing more about the types of testing for Leaky Gut in an upcoming article in this series.
Can It Be Treated?
That is the best news! While I know many of you have been told by many health practitioners that your health issues will never heal, this is not the case with Leaky Gut—Leaky Gut can heal! Because of this, Leaky Gut is the perfect example of a condition where a completely different approach to health is beneficial.
Because, as we said at the top of this article, the cells of the intestinal wall renew themselves every 72 hours, it stands to reason that all we need to do to allow Leaky Gut to heal is remove, or stop, what is causing damage to the intestines. Once we have done that, we can then add in nutrients and herbs that assist and support the process, thus speeding up the healing process.
So yes, the good news is that Leaky Gut can heal. And as it does so, you are likely to feel better and better over several months or years.
In this series of articles I’ll be talking more about Leaky Gut—examining the research on what causes it, looking at how to test for it, and most importantly, how to heal it. You’ll learn about the health issues that are associated with Leaky Gut, and how healing Leaky Gut can reverse even those conditions that are thought to be unresolvable.
Don’t delay! Leaky Gut can go away, but not if you ignore it—all you have to do is start taking steps to eliminate the causes and introduce support to help your body heal.