Plugging Away the Holes of 'Leaky Gut"
Leaky gut. The phrase is all over the place. Yes, it is what is sounds like, and essentially a matter of needing to "plug the holes". It’s simple…in theory.
But how do we go about fixing our faulty plumbing system? And, what does leaky gut really look like? How do I know if I really have it? How fast can I heal up? How will I know when this “leakiness” is no more?
There really is no quick fix for leaky gut, but there are in fact systematic approaches to addressing it. We’ll get to that. First, let’s take a look at what’s actually occurring.
What it REALLY Looks Like
As you can see in the above picture, leaky gut is when the ‘tight junctions’ of the intestinal lining become ‘loose’. The cells have become irritated and inflamed, allowing unwanted pathogens to seep through, as well as undigested food particles.
These pathogens, usually bacterial or fungal in nature, produce toxins in our system that leave us not feeling so great.
The inflammation in the lining of gut causes symptoms such as gas, bloating, pain and cramping, nausea, diarrhea, constipation etc. Once this inflammation has developed into symptoms, the goal is to restore the integrity of the gut lining, regenerate a strong mucosal barrier, and increase the strength of the tight junctions.
We want very low levels of pathogens in the gut, and lots of microbial diversity. The path to this restoration requires support in several directions. Here is the 4 step approach that most Functional Medicine practitioners have adopted to heal leaky gut:
I have already written an in depth blog on how to follow the above steps, going into great detail about what each one looks like. This blog is an essential guide to those suffering from unwanted digestive symptoms- click here.
All digestive disturbance is treatable……..therapies that only address one or two of these facets are typically incomplete, not producing the desired outcome. It is imperative to remove the pathogenic bacteria or fungi, repopulate the microbiota, restore the physical integrity of the cells on the lining of the gut, and regulate immune function. The absence of one of these will not support the body enough to heal. Each step is crucial.
How Do I Know if I Have Leaky Gut?
Quite frankly, it is usually pretty obvious if one has leaky gut. Yes, there is lab work we can do to detect this issue, to some degree. It is often inaccurate and unnecessary, however. Usually, you will know because eating does not go unnoticed. Within 30 minutes to 24 hours, you experience symptoms from eating that leave you feeling ill.
Besides the common digestive symptoms listed above, perhaps you are experiencing fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, headaches, body aces, skin issues, depression or anxiety, and intense sugar cravings. These all go hand in hand with a leaky gut diagnosis.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, SIBO or Crohn’s, Colitis, it is safe to say that you are dealing with leaky gut. It is an umbrella term that really includes every digestive illness. With every single case I see, the process back to optimal digestion is the same, no matter how severe the condition.
Of course, there are many factors involved as to how long it will take to restore digestive health. I am frequently asked ‘how long.’ My answer is the same, every time: it depends. Here are the top ten determining factors. Some we can influence, others not so much:
- Current state of gut
- Medical History
- Heavy Metal Burden
- Emotional/Psychological State
- Extent of Silent gut Infection
Diet is one of the most crucial factors in determining how long it will take one to recover from a compromised gut barrier. This you have complete and total control over.
In some ways, you determine the pace in which you heal. As we clean up other areas of our bodies and address our stress levels and emotional barriers, we indirectly support our microbiomes and enhance healing of leaky gut. See my section on diet here.
How Will I Know When Leaky Gut is No-More?
You will know because you feel better! You tolerate more and more foods. Your joint pain greatly diminishes, or your headaches vanish. The gas and bloating you once experienced from splurging at that birthday party is non-existent. And you’re not on your computer at midnight looking for the next right supplement.
Why is the Mucosal Barrier so Important?
“The mucosal system is a very important part of the human immune system. Not many people think of mucus as being protective, but it is the main interface between the human body and the outside world. The mucosal system contains 150 times more surface area than skin, which makes it one of the most important immune barriers. The health of the mucosa determines how the body interacts with antigens; therefore, the integrity of the intestinal mucosa can dictate overall immune function.”
Kiran - Microbiomelabs
It’s all about amino acids; there are 4 main ones that play a vital role in producing the beneficial mucosa that provides protection on the lining of our colons. This mucosa acts as a barrier, preventing pathogenic microbes from invading our guts.
Studies show that these 4 amino’s increase mucous production (the good kind) and stimulate production of it. This gives way to a thicker, more resilient mucosal barrier.
This is exactly what we need to heal leaky gut.
This is the final step in its restoration. After we have removed the unwanted microbes, replaced our diet with nutrient dense food and electrolytes, replenished with some type of probiotic (spores are my fave), then we repair the lining.
Wonder why everyone recommends collagen for leaky gut and repairing the lining? Guess what? It’s way high in amino acids.
Top 5 Essential Ingredients for Healing Leaky Gut:
- Amino Acids (specifically 4 listed above)
- Collagen (high in amino acids)
- IgG Immunogloblulins (neutralizes toxins and simultaneously rebuilds intestinal lining)
- Short-Chain Fatty Acids (modulate microbial terrain)
- Mucilaginous herbs such as slippery elm, marshmallow root, plantain, licorice root (soothe and protect by adding a ‘slimy coat’ )
Recommended Products for Support in Healing Leaky Gut:
- GI- Revive by Designs for Health: this is one of the best as far as formulas that include glutamine go. It also includes glucosamine and soothing herbs that aid in repairing the lining such as slippery elm, marshmallow and licorice root.
- MegaMucosa- Microbiomelabs: This is probobly my favorite simply because it is also Is an IgG product, which is like turning the immune syetem on while simultaneously repairing the gut lining.
- Gastromend – Designs for Health: alternative for glutamine. Superb formula for mucosal repair that also includes soothing herbs as well as mastic gum, zinc carnosine and Vitamin U.
- Systemic Formulas Collagen ECM.
- Glutamine + AloeSoothe -- Xymogen: if going the glutamine route, this is a fantastic formula I had private labeled, very soothing with high doses of aloe
- GI Encap- Thorne: Contains high doses of slippery elm, marshmallow root, licorice root, aloe, and nothing else.
Slippery Elm and Marshmallow Root- These herbs are incredibly soothing to the lining of the gut. If you have a lot of pain and cramping, these herbs, in very high doses, could be your new best friend.
While I was healing my colon, these were a staple. I needed VERY high doses and could not afford taking ¼ bottle of pills of them. If this is the case for you, order these herbs by the pound from one of the following companies. Make smoothies and throw tablespoons of each in. Or put a heaping teaspoon of each in hot water and make a tea. You can do this multiple times a day.
These herbs are very gentle and have zero side effects. They become quite gooey or gelatinous if you let them sit for too long in a smoothie or tea. There’s a reason why all of the top supplements for mucosal healing include these herbs. They really work.
- Mountain Rose Herbs (most expensive)
- Starwest Botanicals (medium expensive)
- Tame the Spirit Herbs (least expensive yet very good quality)
I have assisted and witnessed many that do heal from leaky gut. It does take educating oneself, mindfulness of diet and lifestyle, and of course- discipline with taking supplements and staying on course.
It is absolutely possible………an you are certainly worthy of healing.