Mounting evidence on the importance of gut health and what can happen when it’s disrupted has shown us that many of our common chronic health problems – beyond the obvious digestive problems start in our gut. This includes overweight, anxiety, depression, diabetes, and even autoimmune disease.
This is because your digestive system does much more than just help you to digest and eliminate food – though those are important functions, too. Your gut, through your microbiome, the unique collection of gut flora that inhabits our intestines, influences your immunity, mental health, detoxification, and hormones. And the lining of your gut is a major protective barrier between the foods you eat and microorganisms to which you are exposed, and your immune system, which influences your reactions to foods, and whether you develop food sensitivities, inflammatory conditions, and chronic diseases.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS)?
Your gut is lined with a row of cells called enterocytes. Between these cells are tight junctions. Their job is to regulate what gets across the intestinal lining and into your general system. While the gut is naturally permeable to nutrients, which are small molecules, so that you can get your nutrition from your food, when your gut barrier and microbiome get weakened from chronic exposure to foods and medications that irritate your gut, or when the good bacteria get out of balance from antibiotics, these tight junctions develop gaps, and you can develop a leaky gut, or leaky gut syndrome (LGS). When this happens, fragments of protein and bacteria that aren’t supposed to can get into your system. Your body recognizes these are foreign invaders and responds by producing antibodies that mount an immune system reaction against these molecules. Your body goes on red alert to react to many triggers in your environment.
10 Signs That You Have a Leaky Gut
1. You struggle with digestive problems including gas, bloating, loose stools, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
1. You have food intolerances or food sensitivities.
2. You suffer from seasonal allergies.
3. You have eczema, skin rashes, acne, or other chronic skin problems.
4. You have an autoimmune condition.
5. You’re tired all the time.
6. You have chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.
6. You struggle with anxiety, depression, or erratic moods.
7. You’ve been diagnosed with yeast (Candida) overgrowth or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
8. You can’t lose weight in spite of an excellent diet.
9. Your joints ache and swell.
10. You have trouble concentrating, with your memory, or notice other cognitive changes.
How to Heal Your Leaky Gut
Healing your gut is not hard to do, and it is the most important first step in treating most chronic conditions.
To simplify the process of healing the gut, I teach my patients the 4R program. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, it can take from about 4-6 weeks to 6 months to fully heal your gut. Symptom improvement is your best guide to resolution.
1. Remove : Take out what ails you. Start with an Elimination Diet for 2 weeks. Remove all of the triggers that irritate your gut including foods, medications (of course check with your doctor on this), and ideally, stress, too! If you have been diagnosed with Candida (yeast) in the past, or have a lot of gas, bloating, and either loose stools or constipation, you might want to do this phase in conjunction with a functional medicine doctor who can provide comprehensive stool testing to see if this is still a problem and who can work with you on supplements (or sometimes medications), to eliminate the yeast overgrowth.
2. Replace: Add in digestive support. This includes digestive enzymes, and if you have a lot of nausea with meals or when you take supplements, you might also need some additional stomach acid in the form of a supplement called Betaine HCl, or try 1 Tbs. of apple cider vinegar in water with your meals.
3. Reinoculate: Add in a good quality probiotic to restore your gut flora. You want it to have a minimum of 5 billion CFUs in each dose, and a good range of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter species. Fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchee can also be helpful.
4. Repair: The following supplements can be taken for up to 6 months to help to heal the intestinal lining:
- Tumeric, aloe vera, marshmallow root, and DGL licorice (aloe and licorice are not for internal use during pregnancy; these are fine for children) are some of the most effective herbs for healing the gut lining. They are best taken in capsule or extract form, though tumeric can also be added to foods. DGL licorice is available as chewable lozenges and thus may be the simplest one to give to kids.
- Zinc: 5-10 mg/day for children 4-7 years, 10-20 mg/day for children to age 12, 25-40 mg/day for older children and adults
- An antioxidant supplement containing vitamins A and carotenoids, C, E, and selenium. These are often found in a multivitamin. Pregnant women should get these from their prenatal vitamin only.
- Fish oil: I prefer Nordic Natural Pro-EFA Junior for kids, and any good quality fish oil for adults. For kids you can put the oil into smoothies. Fish oil is important for general health in pregnancy and breastfeeding, too.
- L-Glutamine Powder: 5-10 gm of powder twice daily for one month. (Much less for kids but talk with your child’s doctor before using and don’t supplement in pregnancy).
Doing the 4R program, especially following an elimination diet, can help you to heal many of your symptoms and conditions – 4Ever.