The Real Deal About “Leaky Gut” Syndrome
Posted June 12, 2016 Written by Liz Gold
Seriously? Doesn’t it sound like something made up from a 1980’s horror movie? I talk to people and they sometimes laugh when I say the words “leaky gut”. When I am writing my blog or advising friends and family, I really make sure to temper my very open mind with scientific fact and a lot of hard research. My viewpoint is based in my scientific studies and classes, but I feel is it important to continuously look to eastern medicine for guidance as well. The concept of leaky gut syndrome starting getting some attention around 2009 and research in this area is now plentiful. As of 2016, it is well known that the gut, and especially the microbiome of the gut, plays an important role in disease. Eastern medicine has understood the syndrome for hundreds of years, perhaps not from a chemical or cellular standpoint but more from a symptom level.
Ten years ago, when I began having the symptoms associated with leaky gut, my doctor had no idea how to help me. The only thing he said was that it could be Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and prescribed an anti-depressant. Yes, you heard me correctly….an anti-depressant. I told him I was far from depressed and he assured me the dose was so low it would not affect me psychologically and that the drug had shown promise in relieving the symptoms of IBS. Needless to say, the drug completely freaked me out and I stopped taking it immediately. Eventually my symptoms got worse and escalated into chronic yeast infections, which, I believed, were completely unrelated to my IBS. Finally, I decide to seek help from a dietitian familiar with integrative techniques because I figured it really couldn’t hurt at this point. The experience I had with leaky gut syndrome is really the foundation for why I changed my life and my career. It is important for me to help others understand what this syndrome is, how to recognize the symptoms, and how to heal.
I first heard the term leaky gut when I went to have some allergy testing done at an Integrative Medicine Center. The testing showed that I had several food sensitivities. Please note that I did not say allergies. You should not be surprised to hear that the worst of the offending foods was yeast. The tests also showed a severe sensitivity to sugars of any kind. When I asked what this meant, my dietitian stated that I needed to change my diet drastically. She prescribed a very plain diet of basically chicken and brown rice and nothing else. I did not know it at the time but this diet is called the Elimination Diet. She said if I followed this very strict diet for a while, I should be able to slowly incorporate other foods back in and not have the same problems like bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and yeast infections.
Well, easier said than done, right? I did my best to start weaning myself off of the bread I love so much and I really cut down my sugar intake. After a few weeks of not even really following it 100%, I still felt pretty darn good and noticed a significant difference in my energy level. This prompted me to go to the next level and visit an acupuncturist. I wanted to get some extra help with willpower and I also continued to get recipe suggestions from the dietitian. Well, lo and behold, not only did the acupuncture sessions really relieve stress and help me focus on my goals, the dietitian was able to give me a customized nutrition plan that was highly effective in treating ALL of my symptoms. When I began the plan, I was already doing some of the things she suggested, so it was not as hard as starting “cold turkey”. But the overall plan was not easy at all. Many foods to avoid and a list of allowed foods that, to be honest, I had never eaten before……ever. Like dandelion and mustard greens, kale and Brussels sprouts. Yikes. But the reason I was successful is that she gave me suggestions on how to cook things, recipes to use, how to plan for the week, and places to go to find more recipes for those foods. If she hadn’t done that, I would have been lost and I surely would have failed. I learned to really love the taste of those fresh veggies and I haven’t looked back since.
This whole experience made me realize that it is NOT easy making REAL changes in your food habits, but that if you can make those changes, the payoff is huge. I am now thriving with a healthier body and state of mind and I knock on wood everyday because I literally have not even had a sniffle in the six years since I began these changes. Food and its power to heal truly amaze me and I will continue to dedicate my life to helping others achieve wellness through nutrition.
As for “leaky gut” and the science behind it…..since this is what constituted the foundation of this whole article, let’s talk about that. As I stated, leaky gut is finally starting to be recognized as a real condition among western physicians and research in this area is gaining significant traction. The actual scientific name for “leaky gut” is increased intestinal permeability. That name, in and of itself, describes the science behind the leaky gut syndrome. Increased permeability in the gut results from damage to the intestinal wall due to external things like excessive NSAID use, poor diet, excessive alcohol or drug use, excessive consumption of certain foods such as high-fat foods, radiation exposure, or other lifestyle factors. Essentially, the tight junctions in the epithelial wall of the gut that regulate the absorption of nutrients and keep toxins out are compromised. These junctions become more open, general dysbiosis* of the gut occurs, and this causes things to “leak” out into the bloodstream, to put it in laymen’s terms. This can cause autoimmune reactions, food sensitivities, and symptoms like bloating, gas, fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and even malnutrition.
The reason I got leaky gut was, I believe, twofold. First, I was an avid user of ibuprofen and acetaminophen when I was in my late twenties and, at one point, it got so bad that I was taking ibuprofen if I felt like I MIGHT get a headache. I really thought they were harmless so I did not even think twice about taking them. Second, my eating habits were absolutely atrocious. My job was quite stressful and I was eating out quite a bit and most of my lunches and dinners consisted of processed, high-fat, high-salt foods, and also too much alcohol. Rarely was I consuming whole fresh fruits, vegetables or grains.
The good news is that the gut can heal through an initial “cleanse” like the one I did three years ago and continue to do once each year. So if you think you might have leaky gut, you have a great opportunity to really take charge of your health and live a more energetic and fulfilling life. Fill out my health questionnaire located here and I will reach out to you within 24 hours!
*Dysbiosis of the gut – An imbalance in the bacteria of the gut consisting of a disproportionate amount of bad bacteria compared to good bacteria.