Do You Have Leaky Gut Symptoms?
You won't find leaky gut syndrome as a diagnosis in the medical school textbooks. For a long time, Western Medicine didn't really even acknowledge that it exists, except in cases of Celiac or Crohn's disease. But unfortunately, the number of patients with similar health complaints - the kind that used to be associated only with Crohn's or Celiac - has been increasing exponentially.
What is Leaky Gut?
The official short answer is intestinal hyper-permeability. A couple of pretty fancy words meaning that things are getting through the wall of the small intestine that aren't supposed to be allowed.
But let's back up for a minute.
Your digestive tract begins in your mouth and ends at your bottom. It's like a long, squiggly tube, sometimes wide, other times narrow. This tube is a mucous membrane, like your skin, but contained within your body instead of covering the outside of your body.
And like your skin, it acts as a protective barrier. In this case, it separates your body from whatever it is that you're eating or drinking, and also from post-digestive material or fecal matter. Besides this, each section of this tube has its own special job to do. Technically, what's inside the tube, is outside your body, even though we don't usually think about it that way. Because your digestive tract is somewhat like interior skin.
Starting to get the picture now?
One of the big jobs of your small intestine is to finish the digestive process by continuing to break down the food you have eaten into smaller and smaller particles. And then, it absorbs the nutrients from that food.
And it has another big job, too. It's supposed to keep harmful stuff inside the tube, where it can't cause too much trouble for your immune system. Things like bad germs, toxins, and food particles that are still too big for your body to use.
To do this, your small intestine has to be permeable to some extent. It needs to be able to allow the nutrients you need, including water, to get into your blood stream so they can be used for energy production, cell repair, and other needed functions. You could say it's programmed to open the gates when the correct password is given. And only the good guys - the nutrients - have the password.
But sometimes, the lining of the small intestine gets damaged. Its communication pathways can fail and the passwords get garbled. The gates can get jammed open, or even jammed shut. And that can turn into even bigger problems.
What Does Leaky Gut Look Like?
"Leaky gut syndrome is said to have symptoms including bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches and pains. But it's something of a medical mystery," says gastroenterologist Donald Kirby, MD. And really, you can't blame the doctors for being confused.
Leaking gut can look like so many illnesses. Most of them, you wouldn't even normally associate with digestion. We can add chronic itchiness, rashes, and problems with metabolism, mood issues, chronic stuffy head, belly bloat, and allergies of all sorts to this list of symptoms. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
A Clinical Condition with Many Diagnoses
It's not hard to imagine that digestive disorders might be caused by a leaky stomach. Diarrhea, constipation, GERD, gas and bloating, food sensitivities, gastritis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac, IBS, gluten intolerance, pancreatitis, hepatitis... These are all associated with the digestive tract. So it's not a big mental leap to make the connection.
But as hard as it may be to believe, leaky gut symptoms can also show up in a lot of other ways.
Skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, teenage acne and cystic acne. Musculo-skeletal disorders, including joint pain, muscle pain and weakness, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and osteoarthritis. Auto-immune disorders such as allergies, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, hyper-sensitivities, Lupus, frequent infections or low grade fevers.
We're not done yet.
Hormonal imbalances including PMS, ovarian cysts, excessive facial hair in women, events leading to hysterectomy, thyroid disorders, and adrenal fatigue. Respiratory ailments like asthma, hay fever, sinus problems, chronic nasal congestion or runny nose. And possibly the most widespread leaking gut issue? Obesity. It's rampant in our society. And ironically, chronic underweight is linked to leaky gut problems as well.
What causes this damage?
How do you get a leaky gut in the first place?
Even the medical community agrees that leaking gut appears to be associated with your diet. And as corporations get better at making foods more convenient, nutrition seems to go by the wayside in order to make more room for profits. I mean, just look at the acronym: Standard American Diet. SAD.
If your diet is filled with processed foods, sugar, chemicals, and trans fats, and is low in fiber and actual nutrients, then yes. Less-than-ideal nutrition is likely to be a culprit.
Chronic stress has also been implicated as a possible cause of gut dysfunction. This seems like a biggie to me, because those leaky gut symptoms we talked about look to be pretty stressful themselves. When there are also outside pressures from jobs, school, relationships, finances, and it's all feeding back into itself... Wow, that's a merry-go-round I don't want to ride. There can also be a problem with medical intervention that was meant to fix another health issue.
Acid reflux medicines (PPIs) and antacids reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. But you need acid to digest protein. Ironically, much of the time in cases of heartburn, stomach acid levels are actually too low, and not too high, as you would naturally think. The proper amount of hydrochloric acid needs to be present in your gut so that the rest of your digestion can work the way it's supposed to. Plus, that protein needs to get broken down so your body can utilize it. And oddly, stomach acid is your body's first line of defense against viruses, harmful bacteria, and parasites.
The overuse of antibiotics is another cause of gut problems. They're are sometimes necessary, but they end up killing off beneficial bacteria along with the harmful ones. Which can cause your microbial balance to get way out of whack. This is known as dysbiosis.
Radiation, chemotherapy, and other drugs can cause hyper-permeability of the small intestine. But even ordinary over-the-counter meds such as aspirin and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) damage the gut lining. Recall that these drugs have long been associated with ulcerations in the digestive tract.
What is SIBO?
If you are treating your leaky gut symptoms by following the four Rs and you're not seeing much progress, it could be that you're dealing with SIBO - small intestine bacterial overgrowth. SIBO (pronounced SEE-bo) is one of the causes of leaky gut, but treatment for the two is a bit different.
The most common symptoms of SIBO are abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating/distention, diarrhea and/or constipation, and extreme burping and passing gas. It tends to be under diagnosed because it shares so many indications with other gastrointestinal disorders.
A bit of background
The small intestine is a big part of the digestive tract. More than 20 feet long, it takes up most of the space in the abdomen. Above it, the stomach's job is to mix chewed up food with acid, and really start to break down the pieces of food. After churning for a while, this mixture is sent to the small intestine where it's broken down even further, and nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Several nutrients are also manufactured here.
After all that acid treatment, there is really very little bacteria in the small intestine, and only specific varieties. Which is how it's supposed to be. The main bacteria colonies that are so important to good health are a little further down in the colon (large intestine).
There is a one-way valve between the small and large gut - the ileocecal valve (ICV) - designed to keep things moving forward. If the ICV gets damaged or even just stuck, digested material can go backward into the small intestine. By then, the normal colon bacteria, simply trying to do their job to keep us healthy, has been added to the mix.
But remember, bacteria, even the good kind, doesn't belong in the small intestine. Its presence can set off an inflammatory cascade with far reaching effects. Other digestive issues of course, like GERD, leaky gut, IBS... but also hormone production, mood, and brain function can be affected.
Obviously, this is not something you'd want to happen.
There are many circumstances that can lead to SIBO, but the primary factor appears to be gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in your medical history. And who hasn't had stomach flu at some point? There are greater and lesser degrees of physical damage caused by these infections, so a bout with tummy problems doesn't necessarily mean you'll get SIBO. But if your gut is sufficiently damaged, intestinal function will be impaired.
If you suspect you have SIBO, the most common lab test used is a breath test for incomplete digestion. Some practitioners are also beginning to use a urine panel to test for organic acids.
Once you're diagnosed, some doctors choose to treat SIBO with low level antibiotics. Others believe the antibiotic cure is short lived, and that the SIBO will nearly always return. I suspect it all depends on a multitude of circumstances, both physical and emotional.
Most practitioners seem to agree that inflammatory foods must be removed from the diet. No starches, sugar, or alcohol. No grains. No probiotics or prebiotics. Most dairy products and legumes are a no-no. And sometimes, even fruits must be avoided. Getting enough nutrition while starving out the SIBO begins to look like a tightrope act.
How Food Sensitivities Are Associated with Leaky Gut
The gastro-intestinal tract influences both the brain and immune system. Immune cells are widespread in the gastrointestinal system, particularly in the lining of the small intestine. It is in this intestinal lining that the normally leak-proof lining allows for the absorption of proteins, fatty acids, and carbohydrates (as simple sugars).
Sometimes there are abnormalities in the intestinal lining that normally cause the sieve to become leaky, allowing for bigger particles of food to pass through. This is called “leaky gut syndrome”
When this happens, larger particles of food pass into the bloodstream, causing an immune response that leads to various disease symptoms like food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases. The intestinal lining is only one cell layer thick so that can become damaged fairly easily. When this layer becomes damaged, the holes in the sieve become bigger so that larger molecules of fat, carbohydrates, partially digested protein, and undigested protein can pass into the bloodstream.
Some of these undigested food particles enter the liver, which needs to metabolize it. The rest just circulates through the bloodstream, stressing the immune system and other organs in the body. Leaky gut symptoms have been associated with ADHD, food sensitivities, and autism, among other problems.
Testing for Leaky Gut
If you want to know if you have leaking gut syndrome, you can undergo a lactulose-mannitol intestinal permeability test that is usually done by a medical doctor that specializes in nutrition. The test is cheap but isn’t covered under most people’s insurance policies. Even so, the test may be worth having done, as it is the only way to find out if you have the disorder.
Causes of Leaky Gut
Leaky gut can be caused by several factors. Trauma, drug use (such as antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), stress, parasites, bacterial infections in the abdomen, eating junk food, and alcohol abuse can all contribute to getting leaky gut symptoms. Starchy foods, sugary foods, and foods that are high in hydrogenated vegetable oil are particular culprits behind getting leaking gut syndrome. This can lead to leaky gut symptoms and food sensitivities.
It just takes a single binge-eating episode on junk foods or a course of antibiotics to cause the gut to become leaky. This is why you should eat more whole and natural foods and less junk foods. Whole foods communicate with the brain, leading to a sound mind-body connection when junk food doesn’t do this.
Leaky gut symptoms may also result in a deluge of wrong information to be sent from the digestive system to the brain and body. Foods like milk (which contains casein) and wheat protein (which contains gluten) are exorphins that act like morphine in the brain. These exorphins can build up, leading to food sensitivities and toxicity to the brain.
There are three steps you need to take in order to have fewer food sensitivities, less ADHD, and less autism:
Those people who have Lactobacillus in their gut have a decreased chance of having food sensitivities and a decreased chance of having chronic medical conditions, such as ADHD and asthma. They also have a decreased incidence of having a leaky gut and the problems associated with having it.
Foods that contribute to having leaky gut symptoms include things like deep fried foods, fast food, canned foods, overcooked food, and junk food. These foods increase the size of the pores in the gut, allowing for increased leakage of undigested food to enter the blood stream and allow for more food sensitivities.
How to Stop Food Sensitivities
There are changes you can make in your diet that can decrease your risk of having food sensitivities and a leaky gut.