Growing up, my health was sub-par.
Before the age of 4, I was hospitalized numerous times with bronchitis and pneumonia. I was susceptible to these conditions because of my asthma diagnosis. During my hospitalizations, I was treated with antibiotics galore. Although this was the necessary treatment option at the time, I’m not sure this benefited me in the long run.
At the age of 4, I had my first run-in with an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. I discovered this after my poor grandma served me a peanut buter cake for my birthday. I then preceded to get an allergy test done by allergist.
Again, around the age of 4 (a tough age!) I had also developed a skin condition on my thumb, which was later diagnosed as psoriasis, which is an auto-immune condition. It was strange that it was localized just to my right thumb.
I suspect that the bouts of antibiotics I was on during the first few years of my life had done some damage to my gut health. Antibiotics not only destroy harmful bacteria, but they destroy the good bacteria that can keep our gut healthy!
A few years ago, I came across the pnenomom known as Leaky Gut, which was popular in the alternative medicine world. I was skeptical, as I always am at first. However at the same time, I am fairly open minded for a mainstream traditionally-trained health practitioner. I wonder if this could phenomenon could explain my allergies, asthma and auto-immune condition psoriasis. Let’s dive more into what Leaky Gut is all about. The wonderful Holly Bradich helped me dig into the research around Leaky Gut!
I’ve only seen alternative-health gurus talk about leaky gut; how can I know for sure that it’s a real diagnosis?
Until recently, leaky gut was only a theory, and was only discussed by alternative-health practitioners. It is poorly understood by the medical community. “We don’t know a lot but we know that it exists,” says Linda A. Lee, MD, gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Centre. There is evidence that several major chronic autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Celiac disease all have one thing in common; leaky gut. Researchers propose that this is one of the contributing factors to the development of these chronic diseases.
To understand leaky gut, first we must answer the question: what do healthy gut cells look like?
When they are healthy, intestinal cells form a protective layer, and there are no gaps between them. When the body is under a state of chronic inflammation caused by poor diet or chronic disease such as diabetes, the space between the cells begins to widen. The gaps between the cells allow invaders such as bacteria and food particles to enter the blood stream. This is what is referred to as leaky gut. Once these invaders enter the blood stream the immune system attacks them, in an effort to clean up the blood. Over time this process causes chronic inflammation which promotes the development of allergies and various chronic diseases. So you can see how gut inflammation leads to whole body inflammation.
The diagram to the left may help you to better understand the relationship between leaky gut and chronic disease.
Note that this process is a two way street; inflammation causes leaky gut, and leaky gut causes inflammation. Inflammation causes chronic disease, which causes more inflammation; it’s a vicious cycle.
What factors are linked to leaky gut?
The following factors can contribute to leaky gut, but leaky gut can also cause the conditions as well. You can say these diseases contribute to one other, which is called a bi-directional relationship.
- inflammatory conditions, such as surgery, trauma and infections
- mental illness including depression, anxiety, ADHD, ADD
- food sensitivities and allergies
- skin conditions, atopic dermatitis
- autoimmune diseases such as Celiac, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes
- chronic use of pain relievers/anti-inflammatory drugs
- use of chemotherapy drugs
- chronic stress
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- acid reflux/GERD
- antibiotic use
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
- food sensitivities and allergies, bloating and gas
- eczema and asthma
- “brain fog”: poor mental clarity and memory
How do we test for leaky gut?
If you want to differentiate and know for sure whether you are suffering from a leaky gut rather than something else, there are tests available to do just that.
A leaky gut cannot be not found on the usual tests, not even with an endoscopy or colonoscopy, so these tests are quite specialized. Talk to your doctor about receiving these types of tests to check for leaky gut:
1. Urine test – specifically the Lactose/Mannitol test
2. Parasite test
3. Bacterial dysbiosis test
4. Comprehensive Stool and Digestive Analysis test
5. Blood test checking for IgG and IgA antibodies
6. Food allergy tests (but often food allergy tests can miss a sensitivity or indicate an allergy to a food you don’t actually react negatively to)
From a diet and lifestyle approach – what can we do?
- Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet that is:
- High in omega-3’s
- Low in glycemic index
- Rich in soluble & insoluble fibre
2. Consider supplementation
There is some research to indicate that leaky gut may be healed by supplementing with the amino acid glutamine, although doses used in studies are quite large and vary from 16g/day to 30g/day depending on the disease to be treated.
There is also some research that indicates that probiotic supplementation may help to heal leaky gut. Saccharomyces boulardii, a nonpathogenic yeast, have been identified and include stabilization of the gastrointestinal barrier as it relates to intestinal permeability. Probiotics are a very safe supplement, so even though researchers don’t have enough evidence to claim that they will help, they are worth trying.
3. Manage your stress and stay mindful
4. Reduce alcohol consumption
5. Reduce your use of over the counter medications such as painkillers and allergy pills to prevent intestinal inflammation