Do you suffer from regular bloating, uncomfortable digestion, gas, fatigue, an autoimmune condition, mood swings, brain fog, skin issues, nutrient deficiencies or multiple food sensitivities?
Have you taken multiple courses of antibiotics or NSAIDs in your life?
If so, you may be suffering from what’s known (and now accepted) as Leaky Gut Syndrome, also known as intestinal hyperpermeability.
And while you may not have heard of it, it’s an extremely common condition which is often at the root of a variety of other chronic illnesses.
Many of our clients at Knew Health are surprised to discover that a leaky gut has been the sneaky culprit behind their pesky symptoms and health concerns.
Our job is to educate and empower you so you can recognize the signs and symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome, and know how to prevent and address it.
What exactly is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky Gut Syndrome aka intestinal hyperpermeability, is a condition in which the lining of the intestines becomes damaged or porous.
When this occurs, harmful particles and pathogens are able to breach the otherwise secure intestinal wall…
…which you definitely don’t want.
Your intestinal tract should look like a tightly woven net, which only allows certain small particles in—like nutrients from food—while keeping larger harmful particles—like pathogens and undigested food proteins—out.
When the intestines become permeable, those larger particles and pathogens such as large food particles, viruses, bacteria and other toxins, are able to penetrate the intestinal barrier and enter your bloodstream.
Why does this matter?
This matters because these larger particles are seen by your body as foreign invaders, which causes inflammation and decreased immunity.
This is why Leaky Gut Syndrome is a causal factor in so many seemingly unrelated inflammatory conditions; it creates a chronic low-grade inflammation which taxes your body and leads to malfunction of other organs and systems.
Plus, when your gut isn’t functioning optimally you’re not able to absorb the nutrients you need to heal and stay healthy.
What Causes Leaky Syndrome in the First Place?
Leaky Gut Syndrome has several causes, which may vary from person to person including:
- Poor diet
- Overuse of antibiotics, NSAIDs and other prescription drugs
- Bacterial imbalance in the intestinal tract
- Chronic stress
- Toxic load
Let’s break these down so you understand what may be at play in your digestive health.
#1: Poor Diet
It’s important to understand that everyone digests and responds to foods differently.
While one person may have a noticeable reaction to gluten or dairy, another person may have no issue at all.
This is due to a variety of known and unknown factors including genetics, ancestry, a pre-existing condition or their unique biology.
However, when it comes to gut health, an excess of the following foods can really do some harm:
- Processed foods—’nuff said
- Grains—especially refined grains and those high in gluten and anti-nutrient phytates
- Sugar—excessive refined sugar can create an imbalance in your gut microbiome, resulting in an overgrowth of bad bacteria. Plus, refined sugar robs your body of essential nutrients which compromises your immunity
- Dairy products—dairy products, especially from pasteurized cow’s milk, tend to be poorly digested which can lead to poor gut health (in even those without a diagnosed allergy)
#2: Overuse of antibiotics and/or NSAID drugs
Despite the growing global antibiotic resistance crisis, antibiotics are still widely over-prescribed—especially in the pediatric and elderly populations[note]https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/stewardship-report/outpatient.html[/note].
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written anually[note]https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/stewardship-report/outpatient.html[/note]…and many would argue that number is much higher.
Therefore, most of us have taken several rounds of antibiotics by the time we become adults.
Antibiotic resistance aside, overuse has created a massive number of health issues for a large number of people…Leaky Gut Syndrome being one of them.
The reason is, when you take an antibiotic it kills off all the bacteria in your gut—the bad guys and the protective good guys.
This total-bacteria-kill-off may or may not have major consequences for you, depending upon 4 main factors:
- How strong your dose—different types of antibiotics have different strengths
- How frequently you’ve taken antibiotics—the more prescriptions you’ve had, the worse off your gut
- How healthy you were before taking the medicine—if you had weak digestion before, antibiotics can make things worse
- Whether or not you replenished your gut bacteria post-prescription—eating cultured foods, drinking nourishing bone broths and spending time outdoors all help heal and revitalize the gut post-antibiotics
Let us be clear, we are not anti-antibiotics!
These medicines have saved countless lives, and continue to spare people from the life-threatening complications of bacterial infections.
A world without antibiotics was, indeed, a more dangerous place. And they are absolutely appropriate for a wide variety of health issues.
What we are against is the overuse of antibiotics, and the lack of education given about viable alternatives (when appropriate) and how to heal and restore good gut bacteria post-infection.
Now, onto NSAIDs
The health consequences of regular NSAID use are far too vast to cover in this article.
However, the FDA has raised their warnings about NSAID drug use of late, due to their damaging effects on the gastrointestinal tract [note]https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/11086-non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory-medicines-nsaids[/note]and the cardiovascular system [note]https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/nsaid-side-effects[/note].
If you’ve ever taken an NSAID for more than a few days, you can probably attest to the tummy trouble which often ensues.
That doesn’t mean you have to wallow in pain.
Just be aware these drugs can cause some serious damage to your gut and heart, and have some alternatives lined up for the next time you get a headache.
Your Knew Health Coach or functional medicine practitioner can offer some great advice on natural pain solutions.
#3: Bacterial imbalance of the intestinal tract
We covered some of this above in the antibiotic section.
But in a nutshell: your intestinal tract should be teaming with billions of beneficial bacteria which support literally every bodily function—from gene expression and digestion to mood regulation and immunity.
If that healthy bacterial balance is compromised, by either antibiotic over-use or a highly-processed diet, an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria can occur.
When this happens, it causes degradation of the intestinal wall, resulting in (you guessed it): Leaky Gut Syndrome.
#4: Chronic Stress
When it comes to chronic ailments, stress is a causal factor which is often overlooked—especially with Leaky Gut Syndrome.
The reason is your brain and your gut are directly connected via the vagus nerve.
This vine-like nerve acts like an information super highway, shuttling signals from brain to gut, and vice versa.
Therefore, if your brain is constantly on overdrive, your gut will feel the impacts of that chronic stress.
For example, if you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach before a big life event, or experienced indigestion after an intense dinner conversation, you’ve felt this phenomenon.
#5: Toxic load
Beyond toxic stress, food and medications, environmental toxins like pesticides, heavy metals, molds and other persistent organic compounds have been shown to negatively impact gut health[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5515271/[/note].
How to heal your gut and get your health back on track
Despite the complexity of Leaky Gut’s causal factors and its mysterious symptoms, it is entirely possible to heal.
Step 1: Adjust your nutrition
A good first step is to evaluate your diet and remove any possible foods that may be triggering or worsening the situation.
We call this an elimination diet, and suggest removing the following foods for at least 4-6 weeks to see how your symptoms improve:
- Dairy (some people may be able to tolerate cultured dairy products, check with your Health Coach or practitioner)
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners (Stevia is OK)
- Processed foods
- Refined seed oils
To help heal your gut, and to avoid any feelings of deprivation, add in the following gut-friendly foods:
- Probiotic-rich foods like kim chi, sauerkraut, cultured veggies, real pickles kombucha, yogurt and kefir (if you can handle dairy—if you’re unsure, check with your health coach or practitioner)—enjoy as a condiment 2-3 times a day
- Bone broths—1-3 cups a day
- Plenty of fresh, lightly cooked vegetables—7-10 servings
- Moderate amounts of fresh fruit—1-2 servings for per day for most people
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids—like wild-caught salmon and other oily fish, grass-fed meats, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil, etc.
- Coconut oil and grass-fed butter or ghee (if you can handle dairy)
These simple dietary changes can do wonders for healing the gut, reducing symptoms and restoring your energy.
Step 2: Avoid unnecessary medications by working with a Health Coach or integrative functional medicine practitioner
Since antibiotics, NSAIDs and other drugs can disrupt gut health, you need a healthcare professional in your corner to explain your options.
For example, an integrative functional medicine doctor or practitioner will be far less likely to over-prescribe antibiotics, because they know if and when a natural alternative would be appropriate.
Likewise, a Health Coach can educate you on some awesome ways to naturally reduce headaches, muscle cramps and other aches and pains, which can help reduce your need for NSAIDs and other OTC pain-killers.
Step 3: Reduce chronic stress
One of the best ways to reduce chronic stress is to simply carve out time for activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
And you need to schedule this time, and stick to it.
Additionally, other time-saving stress busters include:
- Meditation apps
- Deep belly breathing
- Talking with a friend
- Spending time with a pet
- Drinking tea
- Listening to music
For more tips and inspiration, see our previous article: 5 Quick Science-based Hacks for Reducing Stress (no matter what your schedule or lifestyle).
Step 4: Reduce your toxic load
Yes, environmental toxins are all around us…but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to protect ourselves.
Here are some super-simple tips to reducing your toxic load:
- Invest in a good air purifier—indoor air quality is often way worse than outdoor, look for air purifiers which filter out dust, germs and allergens
- Invest in a good water filter—municipal water supplies are just loaded with chemicals, traces of pharmaceuticals, and other unsavory toxins which can be filtered out with a good system
- Use non-toxic cleaning products—conventional cleaning products are poisonous. Why breathe them in when natural products are now easy to find or make yourself?
- Adopt a no-shoes indoors policy—shoes harbor all sorts of disgusting bacteria, germs, pesticides, fecal matter and even heavy metals[note]https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/ls_final.pdf[/note]. Take ’em off to improve your indoor air quality
- Switch to natural laundry soap—laundry soap is loaded with artificial fragrances and other toxic ingredients. Look for great deals on natural laundry products at your local price club or shop online (they’re much more affordable than they used to be)
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but proves the point that you don’t have to have to move to a remote mountaintop to reduce your toxic load.
Do you suspect a leaky gut?
As you’ve learned, Leaky Gut Syndrome is extremely common…but it’s also possible to heal.
If you suspect you may have Leaky Gut Syndrome, you can start by following the steps outlined in this article, and/or find a Health Coach or functional medicine practitioner to help identify the causal factors and get you on the road back to health.
At Knew Health, our Health Coaches are experts in guiding members to resolve Leaky Gut, and other chronic conditions, at their root cause.
It’s been said all disease begins in the gut.
Whether you suspect Leaky Gut Syndrome or not, we hope this article has given you some good tips to help optimize your gut health, prevent future ailments and improve your overall well being.
-The Knew Health Team