[A note from Holistic Squid: I've written before about leaky gut – a condition that most doctors won't mention and can be at the root of so many health problems. In this post, Jennifer Dages shares how to know if you need a gut healing diet – even if you don't have any symptoms of unhappy digestion.]
A few years ago I discovered that my teenage daughter needed a gut healing diet. Her main problem was irritable bowel syndrome and after a year of the GAPS diet, a gut healing diet, she found relief from her various gastrointestinal symptoms.
To my surprise she also found relief from some other things that I didn't expect. The migraine headaches she had for 3 years before have not come back after 4 years. The intense fears and terrible nightmares she had as a child are gone completely. The asthma she developed at age 11 is no longer an issue.
Our gut is our first line of defense to rid the body of toxins. Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician who is considered the father of modern medicine, said “All disease begins in the gut.”
When we have healthy gut flora, also known as beneficial bacteria, our bodies are able to get rid of toxins and things that are harmful to us. But when we have an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, they damage our guts and cause the problem of a leaky gut.
What is leaky gut?
All digestion happens in the gut, but the primary breakdown of foods and absorption into the body is in the small intestine. When things are working properly food is broken down into tiny particles like glucose, amino acids, and various vitamins and minerals. These are then absorbed through the tiny villi lining the sides of the small intestine.
Leaky gut is when there is damage to the intestinal lining, which can actually leave holes. These holes then allow bacteria, toxins, undigested particles of proteins and fats to escape the digestive tract and get into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, before digestion is complete. Hence the term-leaky gut.
These things can cause leaky gut…
Antibiotics – Most people in this century have had antibiotics at time or another in their lives and you are probably no exception.
Antibiotics will kill off bad bacteria but also kill off the good bacteria, which line the entire digestive tract acting as a barrier against toxins and invaders. Then harmful bacteria and yeasts are left to repopulate the gut and they damage the lining.
Gluten and dairy – One of the functions of the intestinal cells is regulating the permeability of the gut.
Gliadin (a component of gluten) is the protein which gives wheat dough its stretchiness. It also increases the production of the intestinal protein zonulin, which will open up gaps in the normally tight connections between intestinal cells and cause leaky gut. (source)
The casein protein in dairy can cause the same complications.
GMO (genetically modified) foods – GMO foods are high in lectins, because of the modifications made to them to help fight off bugs. GMO foods now include soy, corn, canola, and sugar beets.
These lectins, which are also in grains and dry beans, will cause damage and inflammation to the intestinal wall, thus leading to leaky gut.
Medications – Both prescription and over-the-counter medications (especially pain meds, contraceptive pills, sleeping pills,”heartburn” pills, steroids) may also lead to increased permeability of the intestinal lining. Aspirin, in particular, reduces the thickness of the gut lining, which leads to its breakdown. (source)
Sugars and carbohydrates – In large amounts, sugars and processed carbs increase the growth of pathogenic bacteria and fungi, especially candida. These pathogenic bacteria and candida yeast damage the gut lining.
Chronic stress – Chronic stress raises the level of the adrenal hormone, cortisol, which degrades the gut lining and contributes to leaky gut. And who doesn't have stress in their life?
Toxic chemicals and pesticides – These work much like antibiotics and damage the intestinal lining. With a damaged lining the body is not able to detox from the chemicals coming in through the skin, lungs, or with food, and the lining becomes further damaged.
It is pretty hard to avoid all the factors that cause leaky gut. Take a good long hard look at yourself and see how many apply to you. You probably have at least 3 or 4 of them, even if you insist that your digestion is fine.
So with that in mind, let's look at the problems that leaky gut can cause, starting with digestion.
Six signs you may need a gut healing diet
#1 – Digestive issues
This includes things like heartburn, tummy aches, constipation, diarrhea, foul smelling gas, lots of gas, crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
If the gut lining is not healthy then many people will have some kind of gut symptom, because digestion is not working properly, although this is not true for everyone. So maybe this is not you, but let's go on.
#2 – Skin problems
Do you struggle with eczema, psoriasis, or unexplained rashes?
If the toxins in the body are not eliminated through the gut, they will escape through that leaky gut and move into the blood stream, circulating around the body, until they are eliminated through the skin.
All the creams in the world will not fix the cause; it requires healing up the leaky gut for a real solution.
#3 – Respiratory issues
Do you have asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic allergies, hay fever, sinusitis, or a post nasal drip? The lungs are also a later line of defense (much like the skin) to rid the body of toxins.
Toxins, undigested proteins, and microbes will move up through the cells in the breathing pathways and get coughed up and out of the body. If there are too many of these toxins, they will accumulate in some kind of chest inflammation or bronchitis.
When the gases build up they can also cause bronchospasms or wheezing. New cells are pushing the damaged ones out of the way and the bronchi are slowing air passage down, so this clearing can happen.
The medications given to help manage these problems will only treat symptoms and not heal up the cause, the leaky gut. In fact, many of the medications will contribute to the leaky gut and make things worse in the long term. (source)
#4 – Autoimmune conditions
Autoimmune diseases are when the body attacks itself. Autoimmune diseases begin in the gut. Poor gut health will eventually show itself in one of many different autoimmune diseases.
The food antigens that leak across the gut wall can sometimes resemble the natural antigens on tissues. Protective antibodies will then attack the antigens, causing further damage and resulting in the body attacking itself, hence an autoimmune condition.
The particular autoimmune disease that will show up in a person is tied in with their genes and where they are most vulnerable. These include Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Addison's Disease, Grave's Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, Celiac Disease, and many more. (source)
#5 – Brain issues
Do you struggle with ADHD, ADD, autism, depression, bipolar disease, dyslexia and learning disabilities, or schizophrenia or do you know someone who does?
When the toxins and particles of food get through the intestinal lining, one place they head to is the brain. In folks with candida overgrowth, glucose (simple sugar) gets digested differently from a healthy gut and is converted into an alcohol which can cross the blood barrier.
Opiates can actually be a byproduct of grain and casein (dairy) digestion and will go to the brain and change behavior and the brain itself.
According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the GAPS diet, low levels of a protein digesting enzyme are found in those with schizophrenia, depression, and autoimmune diseases. (Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Chapter 6)
#6 – Infertility
Have you had difficulty getting pregnant or not been able to have children at all? Poor gut health will usually result in poor nutrient absorption and the pathogenic bacteria using up many of the nutrients available in the food you eat. The result is malnutrition.
The inflammation and leaky gut also puts the immune system in a high state of alert, as it combats the threats coming in.
Gluten, in particular, can lead to suppressed thyroid function, which often leads to infertility. With the malnutrition and compromised immune system from the leaky gut, it can be very difficult to get pregnant. (source)
Still not sure if you need a gut healing diet? Click here to take this leaky gut quiz.
If you see that you have one or more of these issues, do not despair. There is hope for healing. Our bodies are very resilient and with proper care and nutrition much healing can happen.
A gut healing diet can make the needed changes in your gut health and you can regain the health you desire again.
Got tips for a gut healing diet?
Share them in the comments below!
Jennifer is a happily married homeschooling mother of 4 who lives in the small town of Pennsylvania. She blogs at The Entwife's Journal and at Purposeful Nutrition. She is also an RN who is working to build a health business through blogging, speaking, and health coaching.