When the digestive system develops gaps between the cells of its membrane lining, the substances that should be confined to your digestive tract can “leak” from your intestines and enter your bloodstream. Because these harmful substances aren’t normally in your blood, your immune system recognizes them as foreign invaders and begins to attack them by releasing antibodies. Your immune system literally attacks your own body as if it is an enemy. This continued release of antibodies causes inflammation (swelling), which accumulates over time, causing the digestive system to not work properly and leads to an array of unpleasant symptoms. If left untreated, leaky gut can lead to prolonged inflammation in the body, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and certain cancers.
The list of causes is about as extensive as the list of symptoms, and includes toxins, alcohol, the use of medications such as antibiotics, stress, excessive weight, food sensitivities, lack of vitamin D, and lack of movement (exercise).
Another cause of leaky gut is poor diet. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet, also known as SAD, really lives up to its initials. It’s the naturally occurring bacteria present in “real” food that keeps our gut healthy. Foods that have been picked, pressed, pulverized, processed, preserved and packaged before being frozen or put in a box or bag are going to lead to an imbalanced ecology in the gut. A growing body of research also indicates grains such as wheat might be culprits in the development of leaky gut because they contain substances that have been shown to damage the intestinal walls.
Leaky gut can cause an array of symptoms that are seemingly unrelated to the digestive tract. Because the digestive system is the portal of entry for all nutrients into the body, digestive health can affect the brain, the joints, the skin and every other system. In fact, the list of “leaky” gut symptoms is quite extensive. Here are some of the most common signs:
At our practice, we offer different types of testing to assist in determining if a patient’s problems could be stemming from leaky gut. Our Food Sensitivity Panel is a test that measures if you are reacting to nearly 100 different foods. Remember, leakage in your intestinal wall leads to undigested food passing into the bloodstream. This test tells us if your immune system is releasing antibodies to “attack” any of the foods.
If you test positive for antibodies to a certain percentage of foods, it indicates that undigested particles of these foods are leaking from your gut into your blood. The more antibodies we find, the more your immune system is in overdrive.
Note that testing positive for certain foods does not mean you are “allergic” to these foods. It means that your body is reacting to foods that aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Once your leaky gut is healed, you may be able to reintroduce the foods into your diet. We offer follow-up testing and are also involved in national research in food sensitivity testing.
Health starts in the gut. We will assess your gut through history and appropriate diagnostic tests (for gluten sensitivities, inflammation in the gut, unwanted bugs like parasites or yeast). We will then aggressively treat the causes of gut dysfunction, including leaky gut, food sensitivities, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), yeast overgrowth, parasites, and worms.
We may use herbs, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and anti-worm botanicals to eradicate the triggers of intestinal dysfunction. Repair and healing of the gut requires the use of digestive enzymes, prebiotics, probiotics (healthy bacteria), and nutrients needed for repair of your gut lining including zinc, omega 3 fats, GLA, glutamine, and anti-inflammatory botanicals such as quercetin and turmeric.
Delayed food sensitivities are among the most potent triggers for chronic symptoms, digestive system damage, and an inflamed immune system. A trial of a comprehensive elimination diet for four weeks, followed by food reintroduction is a powerful therapeutic and diagnostic tool. The closer you follow this elimination diet, the faster you will know how much food is playing a role in your illness.