Feel lighter and healthier by healing your leaky gut!
Gut health is often the first need to address, when I am helping patients get to the source of their dis-ease. Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is a common root cause of inflammation in the body. Not addressing the problem turns into increased inflammation and more nagging symptoms. Inflammation makes us feel heavy, moody, lethargic, tired, and achy. It also is a common underlying cause for many common chronic diseases and immune system problems such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Irritable bowel disease (crohn’s or colitis)
- Allergies of all kinds
- Skin rashes: eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis
- Metabolic disorders: diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Arthritis of all kinds
- Autoimmune conditions: celiac, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and lupus
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to stick closer to home and reflect on our lives more than usual. Now, more than ever, is the time to do everything to protect and strengthen our immunity! If your health needs improvement, come to NCNM to give your body the attention it deserves.
Table of Contents
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is when the lining of your intestines become leaky. It’s inflammatory chemicals, foods, and other things that trigger the lining to lose its integrity. Inflammation is part of your body’s immune response to anything flagged as irritating or harmful. This problem can be triggered by a few different irritants and the one I’ll be focusing on today is food intolerances. Certain foods will cause your intestines to be leaky, then your immune system responds by turning up the volume on inflammation. This inflammation further aggravates the situation allowing more food particles to leak into your body. As you can see when these foods are consumed on a regular basis this problem can snow-ball over time.
When chronic low-grade inflammation is present, even harmless substances like food particles, beneficial bacteria, and the cells of your own tissues are likely to become targets. It is not normal for your body to attack the cells of your thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), your pancreas (type 1 diabetes), or your joints (rheumatoid arthritis). And these are just a few of the conditions associated with chronic inflammation. #1
Your intestines are supposed to be a tight barrier between your body and the food material that is going through your digestive tract. In a healthy gut, only vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are allowed to pass through. 70% of your immune system surrounds your gut to pay close attention that only the good stuff gets through and to respond to any invaders or irritants. There are tight junctions between the cells lining your gut. Food intolerances will break these junctions leading to leaks in the barrier.
Leaky gut occurs when there is damage to the gut lining as a result of stress, certain medications (especially antibiotics and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen), environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies (especially zinc and vitamins A and D), micro-biome disruption, and inflammatory food triggers (especially gluten) any of which can lead to permeability of these tight junctions. #2
There is a lot more to the leaky gut story, but those are the highlights. Foods and other irritants cause the breakage of tight junctions, inflammation happens as a result. The inflammation contributes to the further breakdown of this barrier. Over time this can lead to many different diseases including autoimmune disease. As you can see, having a healthy tight barrier between you and your half digested food is a good thing! Healing your leaky gut is how you can feel lighter, vital, and resilient. Read on to understand if you have leaky gut and what you can do about it.
Do I have leaky gut?
In my clinical experience, most of us have at least some degree of leaky gut. Those who are experiencing more severe symptoms are more likely to have more advanced leaky gut. One of the hardest parts about this is that the ambiguous symptoms (that don’t seem to be related to digestion) are often the clues to leaky gut. It is also important to know that you may not notice a symptom of leaky gut until 4 days after you eat the food you are intolerant to. No wonder most people have not intuitively discovered their food intolerances by trial and error!
I have worked with leaky gut for such a long time now that I can see the signs right away when a patient tells me about how they are feeling. I want you to have an idea of what this could look like if this is going on for you. The trouble is, we are all individuals and as such, inflammation will show its ugly face in different ways in each of us. Here is a list of common symptoms starting with those that I think are the most indicative of leaky gut.
Common Symptoms of Leaky Gut
- Eczema or dermatitis
- Childhood history of ear infections, asthma, and/or skin rashes
- IBS (constipation or diarrhea)
- Joint pain or muscle stiffness
- Any history of repeated antibiotic use
- Brain fog
- Metabolism slowing down
- Hormonal problems: PMS or difficult menstrual cycles
- Low libido or motivation in men
- Weight gain or inability to lose stubborn weight
- Mood problems: irritability, anxiety, and depression
- Abdominal pain
- Gas and digestive bloating
- Headaches or migraines
The more symptoms you have from this list the more likely you are to have leaky gut. This list is not exhaustive but it should help you identify whether you need to schedule with me to address this sneaky and troubling condition.
How do I verify what is causing my leaky gut?
Once we have identified the symptoms and our suspicion is high for leaky gut, the next steps are to decide how you’d like to go about verifying the condition. Here are the more common ways I help my patients identify leaky gut and confirm our suspicions.
Option 1: IgG Food Intolerance Testing
This testing will help find the foods that your immune system is reacting to by reporting antibody response to a diverse panel of foods. All it requires is a blood sample to send to the lab. This is the most specific and individualized approach and probably the most common choice among my patients. These results are then followed with a modified elimination and challenge diet to identify the most problematic foods. More on this process a bit later.
Option 2: The Elimination and Challenge Diet
The resource I recommend is Tom Malterre’s “The Elimination Diet” book. It is a well developed book that will help you understand leaky gut in more depth and then give you step by step instructions on how to eliminate high suspicion foods and then challenge them. This is a thorough and challenging way to approach leaky gut. I’ve done the process myself and I can tell you, it takes a very strong resolve to stick with such a restricted diet for such a long stretch of time. I believe there are easier ways.
Option 3: The Whole 30
This is the most budget friendly option. I like The Whole 30 because the program is more approachable than option 2. There are no testing costs and most people feel better when they eat this way for a month. Problem is, if you are intolerant of a food that is a little more unique, you may not feel that much better on the Whole 30. This is because it doesn’t cut out all the high probability foods. High probability foods are those that many people have reactions to. The Whole 30 keeps eggs and some other common food intolerances like tree nuts in the program. If you have an intolerance to eggs or nuts, you will not get great results on The Whole 30. Only testing will help you identify which foods you are likely reacting to.
I can help you decide which option is best for you and your situation. Please schedule with me HERE.
How do I fix my leaky gut?
The gold standard for identifying and eliminating food intolerances is the process of elimination and challenge of that food. It takes a bare minimum of 2 weeks for those tight junctions to heal once the food or irritant is taken out of your diet. Initially with my patients, I coach them to cut high suspicion foods out for 1 month. Your list of high suspicion foods will differ depending on which option you choose.
Week 1: Usually the hardest. This is when addiction becomes apparent. There can be food cravings and other signs of withdrawal when you eliminate foods that have an effect on your neurochemistry. In my experience- gluten, dairy, and sugar can cause withdrawal symptoms and cravings. If you are worried about this, you can slowly reduce the food over a week or two before cutting it out completely.
Week 2 & 3: Gets easier and things are really showing progress.
Week 4: You will discover what it feels like to be in a body that is less inflamed, has an intact gut lining, and is healthier! This is what we want. Many of your symptoms will go away or become less severe in just a month if you are eliminating the right foods.
I have many tips for how to make the elimination process easier. One of my favorites is smoothies as a meal replacement.
Dr. Koontz’s Smoothie Recipe
- Liquid base: mostly water and some alternative milk such as coconut or hemp
- Protein powder:
- If you are avoiding dairy, do not use whey based protein powder, whey is dairy
- Aim to get approximately 17-20g of protein, usually 1 scoop
- My favorites are PurePaleo Meal and PurePaleo
- Whole Body Collagen
- A generous handful of greens such as kale, beet tops, spring mix, or spinach
- Frozen fruit or berries
- Pro Tip: add a half avocado to get a creamy consistency
- Pro Tip: add some MCT oil or coconut oil to give your smoothie some healthy fats
You can buy smoothie products at our dispensary! Call the office to order: (360) 734-9500 or learn more about the NCNM Dispensary here.
There is more to healing leaky gut than simply avoiding the foods. There are some supplements that I often recommend to take while doing the elimination and challenge diet. Please consult me or your nutritionist/ physician before starting any new supplements!
Recommended Supplements for Leaky Gut
(taken in conjunction with the elimination diet)
- Glutamine powder
- Think of this as fertilizer for the garden, it helps to heal the damage done to the lining of your gut, healing the cracks faster.
- Leaky gut and micro-biome dysbiosis go hand-in-hand most of the time, so taking a good quality probiotic once a day is important.
- Digestive Enzymes
- These help to reduce the perpetuation of leaky gut and boosts your digestion. I recommend taking one with each meal while doing your elimination and challenge process.
The Challenge Phase
Once you have eliminated the foods for a month and taken the supplements as prescribed, you are ready to transition to the challenge phase. This is quite tricky because each person will have a different physical response when they challenge a food that is a true food intolerance. It can also be tricky because there is a delay of up to 4 days after they challenge the food when symptoms can appear.
Having a coach to guide you through this process becomes critical at this step. I often see people miss the subtle signs their body is telling them when leaky gut is reopened. When challenging a true food intolerance, your body will let you know that leaky gut is happening again. If you miss the signs, you start eating that food again. This causes leaky gut to come back and over time the inflammation will come back too.
Can I cure my leaky gut by myself?
If you are attempting to do this on your own, please get Tom’s book to give you guidance. Keep a food and symptoms journal! Start tracking from day one of the elimination phase all the way through your last challenge. That way you know how to challenge the foods properly and you have a journal that tells you how YOUR body changed as you eliminated the foods for a month. I am more than happy to share the rest of my tips and tricks and help you create a personalized approach to this. You can schedule with me HERE.
Leaky Gut and Weight Loss
Doing the elimination and challenge diet can be an opportunity to shed some extra weight. The inflammation caused by leaky gut has an effect on hormone levels and as stated before, can cause worse diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hormone imbalance or low thyroid can be underlying why you can’t lose weight. I constantly see in my patients that when they heal their gut, their hormone-related symptoms get better. Leaky gut can be a somewhat hidden underlying cause of weight gain and I want you to know that no amount of calorie restriction or working out harder will fix it. You have to heal your gut and identify your food intolerances to cure this.
Leaky Gut and Mood Symptoms
Leaky gut = Leaky brain. The same chemical mediators that stir up all the inflammation in the gut travel via the bloodstream throughout the body. Our blood brain barrier, the protection of our precious brain, is very similar to the lining of our intestines. Because these barriers are alike, they will respond similarly to the inflammatory messengers running through the blood. I often see mood symptoms get better when we eliminate food intolerances, heal leaky gut, and get people off their intolerances. Anxiety is a very good example of this. I’ve seen anxiety go down in many patients when they have done the work to heal the gut.
End Result of Healing the Gut
I often get asked, “what are the results at the end if I do all this work?”. At the end of the process, you get a body with less inflammation, less symptoms and a clear understanding of which foods were contributing to the problem. You will feel more energetic, lighter, and less moody and achy. Most individuals only have a few foods they have to eliminate for the long term.
After the elimination and challenge is complete, we transition to a maintenance diet or a sustainable way of eating for the long term. Some of my favorites are mediterranean diet, anti-inflammatory diet, and paleo diet.
Food is one of the most powerful tools to transform your life. Food is medicine and food can be harmful. This is different for each person and thus my recommendation really depends on the individual and their unique needs.
“When in doubt, heal the gut.”
When someone has a lot of different symptoms presenting at the same time (like the ones I listed above), then it is time to focus on healing the gut! I can tell you that in my practice, I often start people on their healing journey by focusing on the digestive system because it is so foundational to our overall health and well being. You deserve to live your best life, so let’s start with healing your gut! Reach out to me today. I love this stuff!
- Malterre, T. (2016). The elimination diet: Discover the foods that are making you sick and tired--and feel better fast. New York: Boston.
- Romm, A. J. (2019). The adrenal thyroid revolution: A proven 4-week program to rescue your metabolism, hormones, mind & mood. New York: HarperOne.
- TAP Integrative. (2014). Intestinal Permeability - Probiotics [Leaky gut infographic]. Retrieved 2020.