What Is Leaky Gut And How Do I Fix It
There are more than 300 autoimmune conditions and the one common feature among all of them is the intestinal permeability also known as leaky gut. Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is the number one root cause of autoimmune conditions. Too often we spend all our time chasing the symptoms and we never deal with the root cause of the problem.
When you continue to chase only the symptoms, you will always complain about the same issue. However, you don’t have to persistently put up with symptoms when you deal with the root cause of the problem. Taking pills or potions and putting them over the symptoms is like popping a band-aid on an issue so you can ignore it for a while. If you don’t take the effort to heal the issue correctly, it will come back, sometimes angrier and stronger. So if you have any autoimmune condition then it may be a good idea to start your healing journey by looking at gut health.
- Chronic stress
- Intestinal infections
- Small intestine bacterial overgrowth
- Environmental contaminants
- Excessive alcohol
- Poor diet
- NSAIDS and other medications
What is Leaky Gut aka Intestinal Permeability?
This is the damage to the lining of your gut wall. Your gut contains mucous lining, villi, and microvilli. The mucous lining is there to protect us from foreign substances, toxins, and foods that may irritate the villi and microvilli. However, if you continue to abuse that lining, sooner or later you will gradually wear it out. You will then reach the microvilli which are like little tentacles when healthy. They are involved in every part of digestion. If you eat the wrong food, these microvilli get blunt and your immune system starts to get compromised. Then gradually the cell wall of your intestine starts to become permeable. Little holes start to form inside the lining of your gut and food particles begin to escape and enter your bloodstream. This then leads to a whole host of autoimmune conditions. For me personally, the symptoms were perioral dermatitis on my face, high cortisol levels in the middle of the night, adrenal fatigue, candida, joint ache, and low thyroid. At my age of 30, this shouldn’t be happening.
If you are battling with an autoimmune condition, you have to start with healing your gut. Although it is designed to handle some stress, the wear and tear and excessive abuse break it down. This is the number one cause of food allergies, seasonal allergies, and autoimmune diseases. So if you put a pill and a potion over those allergies or conditions you are just ignoring the damaged intestinal lining and from some point in time it is going to get worse. Larger symptoms, problems or disease is going to turn up. The more chronic the damage is the more stress on the rest of your body. Toxins get released, more load on the liver and then more stress created through the hormonal system. This is what led to my adrenal fatigue. A damaged gut cannot absorb nutrients so while you may be eating everything right, your body is not absorbing it. Which is why you may hear me say “you are only as healthy as your digestive system”.
A Lack of Beneficial Gut Bacteria
Inside our digestive system, we have bacteria and we actually have more bacteria than we do human cells. This bacteria is made up of both good and bad bacteria and an imbalance with more bad guys than good can create leaky gut also. One of the most common reasons for this imbalance is overuse of prescription antibiotic drugs and a lack of probiotics. This is why whenever you have to take any course of medication it’s also wise to ensure you increase your fermented foods and take probiotics along side them and after. Other reasons for this imbalance is sugar, sugar feeds the bad bacteria and helps it to multiply, whereas green leafy vegetables and plenty of good quality fibre feeds to good bacteria and starves the bad guys. This is why its so important to increase your fibre intake from vegetables as they provide the pre-biotic fibre to help the good bacteria multiply and starve out the bad guys, then when you combine that with your fermented foods you are creating the perfect plateform to restore digestive health again.
Here are some fermented foods to include
- Coconut yogurt
- Greek yogurt
- Apple cider vinegar
- Raw hard cheeses like gouda
- Fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut
Another reason we can get leaky gut is from exposure to heavy metals, household chemicals, environmental pollutants, additives, and preservatives. These toxins are more common in our environment than ever before and while we often can’t avoid them all together, we can take control of what we choose to purchase and make wiser choices when it comes to our own home and lifestyle.
When these toxins enter your body, your liver works extra hard to safely eliminate them. Overtime, if you’re constantly being exposed to these toxins, your liver can become overburdened, sluggish and your body’s natural ability to detoxify slows down.
When we have a sluggish digestive system this can allow toxins to linger in your gut, which can contribute to damaging your gut lining, and therefore causing leaky gut.
This is why you want to be aware of the product you use on your skin, in your home, the perfume you use, hair products, airfresher and all the rest. Keep everything as close to nature as possible and get into using essentail oils instead.
How to Heal Leaky Gut?
First, you have to remove the foods that irritate the gut. This includes all wheat, any gluten-containing products, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, coffee and modern grains. Lifestyle factors have to be addressed like having a good quality sleep in dark room, managing stress, finding time for low strain exercise and getting fresh air, and receiving vitamin D into the body via sunlight.
It can take 6 months to a year to heal a leaky gut so removing irritating foods has to be strict. Your diet has to be therapeutic and nourishing over a period of time to allow it to heal. The good news is your gut lining is one of the quickest parts of your body to heal and repair. However, the healing process will also depend on the severity of the damage on the healthy gut flora or if you have any other symptoms related like SIBO or candida which also need time to heal and allow the good gut flora to repopulate. Until healing has finished and the gut health is back again, all grains, sugar, legumes, and dairy (excluding butter, real yogurt and some cheeses for those who can tolerate dairy) need to be removed from the diet.
If the leaky gut is severe and healing is not starting to take place, then removal of knight shade vegetables, egg whites and nuts may also be required along with dairy. These foods can cause irritation in an already irritated gut. It is not saying that you have to eat this way forever; this is just to help you heal so you can regain gut health. If you don’t take this step, then you will always continue to chase the symptoms and you will always feel the same. However, if you get to the root cause and fix it, the sooner you will gain that optimal health you are seeking for. It goes without saying that all packaged and processed foods must be avoided. It is so important to change your diet to avoid gut irritation and bring down inflammation. Any exposure to the irritating foods can slow down the progress. So it is really vital to take the time to heal. For some people, they put up with symptoms for a lifetime and just take it as it is because they consider it as a bad luck. However, if you take the time to heal and really heal, you can reverse autoimmune conditions and get back to genuine health and feel great.
How Leaky Gut Causes Stress On The Rest Of The Body
When you have a damaged intestinal lining it can cause stress on your whole body! I have just been through this entire journey. My body was screaming out to me and I was ignoring it. It wasn’t until I had a rash on my face that I took notice and started to pay attention. I really did “everything right” in my eyes at that time. However, I knew deep inside that something wasn’t right and so this leads me to where I am today.
I had been chasing symptoms for over 8 years now. From hay fever, allergies, dermatitis, candida, knee pain, joint pain, adrenal fatigue, to high and low thyroid and malabsorption. I went to different people to fix these problems at that time but my dilemma was not resolved not until I understood the whole picture. You see, I was constantly chasing symptoms and popping pills, potions, and band-aids over them. I was always putting up with feeling rubbish and putting up with conditions that were deemed normal and this is all too common. Too often we just don’t look deeper and we need to if we are to address the root cause of the problem. It is so important to understand how your body works, what are its common symptoms and what do they mean.
Most people have some degree of damage to the intestine. This is why the intestine is the fastest healing body part on us; it can replace itself and fix itself quicker than anything else. It is set up to handle some stress. However, if that stress turns up for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, along with lack of sleep over time, it will never get the chance to heal and the damage may take longer to fix once given the chance.
For me, the damage was quite severe because it had come out on my skin with perioral dermatitis. This meant some real healing needed to be done inside. I spent 6 months putting 100% of my effort in repairing and healing my intestinal permeability. Since the stress in my gut had caused my adrenals to burn out this meant I had to rebuild my adrenals at the same time. Exercise had to be done to build needed energy so I did gentle workINs each day. I had to follow a healing diet with plenty of bone broth and gelatin-rich foods to help rebuild my intestinal lining, along with probiotics, cod liver oil and fermented foods.
6 months of dedicated healing to fix the root cause of the problem I had put up with symptoms for 8 years!!! I would have continued to put up with them if I had stayed on the same path of chasing symptoms. They would have gone more and more severe as time went on.
Here is some of the autoimmune conditions that are linked to intestinal permeability:
- Celiac disease,
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome,
- Multiple sclerosis,
- Attention deficit,
- Hormonal imbalances,
- PCOS, endometriosis,
- Hair loss,
- Thyroid problems,
- Adrenal fatigue,
- Chronic fatigue syndrome,
- Rheumatoid arthritis,
- Chronic fatigue,
- Food allergies,
- Hay fever,
- Seasonal allergies.
- In fact there are over 300 autoimmune conditions and they are all linked to leaky gut.
You can Heal the Gut
70-80% of your body’s immune system comes from your gut which means that healing any autoimmune condition starts from gut health and that needs to begin with focus on nutrition and all the elements of wellness. Everything from the quality of your sleep, the type of exercise you do, through to the stress you are putting yourself through each day. It all takes its toll and it all needs to be looked at equally.
Steps towards healing the gut:
- Build a healthy gut flora and restore the balance of good and bad bacteria. Do this with probiotics along side fermented foods. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt and kefir if you can handle dairy or coconut yogurt.
- Increase your intake of vitamin and mineral rich foods like vegetables, meats, fish, organ meats, eggs and quality fats. Ensure your source as organic as possible.
- Remove all processed foods, refined sugars, and grains, wheat containing products, flours, legumes, and alcohol. Eliminate hard to process foods like gluten and dairy.
- Consume foods that help rebuild the mucosal lining of the stomach such as bone broths and gelatin-rich foods like homemade jelly. Homemade bone broths are amazing for healing the gut. They are rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and a huge amount of minerals. They also contain beneficial amino acids that help the body detoxify. The gelatin helps the digestive tract build up the mucosal lining and help coat the digestive system. An incredibly healing superfood that can make a huge difference in the healing process.
- Supplements like cod liver oil/butter oil blend, apple cider vinegar, and amino acids like L-Glutamine.
- Make it sure that you are getting adequate essential fatty acids like fish oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and butter. You can also explore flax seed oil and seeds along with chia seeds. These are particularly good if soaked because it brings out gelatin-rich properties which are beneficial for healing.
- Avoid painkillers and antibiotic if possible and if needed when taken, take extra measures to repopulate the gut with good bacteria afterward because both strip good bacteria and increase intestinal permeability which can delay the repair.
- Increase the amount of your vitamin C. The best form of this is from real food. I prefer to squeeze lemon daily into my water for vitamin C. This helps the body recover and repair.
- Get 7-9 hours of deep sleep in a dark room each night to help the body heal and repair
- Move gently doing workINs and walking or taichi
- Remove stresses from you life and add more time in nature.
What Do I Eat To Heal Leaky Gut?
I thought I would go into a little more detail on what to eat, the key is that the foods promote healing and reduce inflammation, you need to rebuild the cell wall of your intestine and let your microvilli recover, replenish, and restore the mucosal lining of your digestive system.
Omega 3 Oils
Good quality omega 3. Your body needs the correct ratio of omega 3 and omega 6. Our modern diet has way too much omega 6 which promotes inflammation. You need to increase your omega 3. You must have a ratio of 1:1 of omega 3 to omega 6 for your health. However, a better ratio for healing and inflammation looks more like 4:1 which omega 3 being the dominant healer.
Omega 6 oils are found in vegetable oils, grain fed chickens and eggs, and nuts which are common in a lot of people’s diets. Omega 3 is present in fish, cod liver oil, grass fed animals, and organic free range eggs.
Gelatin Rich Foods
Gelatin rich foods contain collagen and minerals which are essential for building strong bones and repairing of the cell wall. So getting in some homemade bone broths and jellies can help you intensify the recovery of your gut as well as a good collagen supplement is a great start.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are high in minerals and vitamins alongside antioxidants and fiber to help draw out toxins from your body and help your body control inflammation. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, turnip, and kale) are fantastic in promoting toxin removal. So getting a variety of vegetables of all colors provides your body with all the nutrients it needs to help it heal. Get into having vegetables for every meal, including breakfast; you will be amazed at how this sets you up for the day. Aim for all the above ground leafy green vegetables instead of loads of below ground starchy vegetables and have a good 2 handfuls with every single meal.
Low Sugar High Nutrient Fruit
Try to avoid having too much fruit because fruit is high in sugar and it can cause irritation to the gut. Start with fruit that is super high in vitamins and antioxidants such as berries and pay attention to how your body reacts to them. Often in a gut that is irritated, cravings and emotions are one of the big symptoms of damage. Any sugar can cause all the bad bacteria to make you crave more. Sugar can often throw fuel on a fire, even though fruit is one of those foods that can be good for you, for someone with any gut damage, it needs to pick carefully the right kind and amount of fruit to eat.
Vitamin C Rich Foods
Vitamin C helps your body recover and repair, so if you can’t handle the fruit, then you need to ensure you are getting adequate vitamin C. Rest assured, vitamin C is all those vegetables you will be consuming. But try adding the juice of a lemon to your first bottle of water. This will not only help your liver, the vitamin C is fresh and also very helpful in the healing process of your gut lining.
Eat foods that will help you restore the healthy gut flora. This means getting into fermented vegetables and exploring it. My favorites are sauerkraut and kimchi. If you can tolerate dairy then you may try yogurt and kefir. You can also make kefir with coconut milk. This is where probiotics come into play. A lot of available probiotics only have a bacterial count of around 3-5 billion, in order to help heal and repopulate your body with good quality bacteria you need a therapeutic dose of 15-20 billion count. Good quality probiotics will not only help you build up good bacteria, they are also anti-inflammatory and they will advance the restoration of the mucous lining of your gut. Garden of life primal defense ultra is the best ones I have found and the one I prefer.
Vitamins A, D and K
Vitamins A, D and K are the vitamins which are discovered by Dr. Weston A Price that when used together they become most essential vitamins for health and healing. The vitamins together with the omega 3 in the cod liver oil really promote healing of the cell wall. Along with vitamin D from the food, vitamin D from sunlight is also crucial for healing, so putting real attention to getting sunlight on your skin is vital for healing. In order to get adequate vitamin D, about 30 minutes of direct midday sunlight in the summer months is considered optimal amount.
Coconut oil is also very healing, it is an antimicrobial short/medium chain saturated fat, and this can help reduce fungus, bacteria, and yeast overgrowth in the small intestine. Medium chain fats are incredibly healing and gentle on the cells which mean that they are absorbed easily and can be used for energy without any stress on the digestive system.
As your body heals it needs the building blocks of cells. This comes from protein and animal protein is your best source. This helps your body build new cells and connective tissues. So get into making meals that contain bone broth and loads of vegetables. This will help promote healing not only in the gut but also in every other part of the body. You will not only heal, you will also feel amazing when you eat food that is fuel and easy to digest.
Having leaky gut isn’t the end of the world and many people do have it without any symptoms what so ever, while others have many. Our symptoms all vary person to person and ignoring leaky gut and putting up with symptoms year after year is what can later lead to more serious situations. I like to think of digestive health as caring for it, like putting oil in my car. It’s not something you do for just 3 months. You do it for a lifetime and you want to take care of your digestion just as you care for something else. The more you make it a priority and just part of your day to day living, the less symptoms you will have and the healthier you will be.