Top 7 Causes of Leaky Gut & What To Do About It

Dr. Sara DeFrancesco is a Naturopathic Doctor & Licensed Acupuncturist providing Root Cause, Functional Medicine in Portland, Oregon.

Intestinal permeability (commonly known as Leaky Gut) is a common root cause that either begins or exacerbates chronic, inflammatory diseases. Many people are unaware that leaky gut is a common cause of extraintestinal (non-digestive) symptoms and do not know that they may benefit from treatment of leaky gut.

Leaky gut compromises digestive and immune health.

When the tight junctions that hold small intestine cells together are damaged, the cells pull apart and allow undigested food particles, antigens, and pathogens (like bacteria, viruses, and parasites) to enter the blood. The immune system responds by neutralizing the intruders with immune complexes, resulting in an abnormally high level of inflammation throughout the body that is stimulated each time we eat. For a detailed explanation of the mechanism of leaky gut, click here.

Most symptoms related to intestinal permeability are extraintestinal (non-digestive) and include:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Headaches
  • Skin problems such as acne, rosacea, or eczema.
  • Seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, or asthma.
  • Digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Food sensitivities and intolerances.
  • Mood and brain health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ Disease, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or lupus.

Leaky gut is caused by:

  1. Antibiotics
  2. Over the counter pain killers
  3. Autoimmunity
  4. Inflammatory foods
  5. Stress
  6. Stealth infections
  7. Low stomach acid

Treating leaky gut is a foundational step to decrease inflammation and re-establish immune intelligence.

The state of our gut determines the state of our immune health. To address inflammation and immune health, leaky gut needs to be resolved so we can re-establish the intelligence of our immune system and lower chronic inflammation throughout the body.

The 5 Phases To Healing Leaky Gut

1. Remove

Remove obstacles to digestive health. This includes inflammatory foods, environmental and lifestyle stressors, and possible bacteria, yeast, and parasite infections.

2. Restore

Heal digestive function compromised by inflammation and poor nutrient status due to malabsorption. Digestive enzymes, herbal bitters, or apple cider vinegar are helpful in this phase to support proper digestive function.

3. Re-inoculate

Add in probiotic foods like fermented vegetables, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, or coconut yogurt. Make sure to check that the food has not been pasteurized and still contains the healthy bacteria or make your own at home.

4. Rebalance

Reducing stress and inflammatory triggers in your environment. Clean up the toxic burden in your life - including cleaning products, makeup, and relationships. Do something that you love every day to reduce stress and release endorphins. Get outside as much as you can. Try meditation, even if it’s just two minutes a day - it’s still beneficial.

5. Repair

Provide nutrients to fuel and rebuild the small intestine lining so the tight junctions re-establish their integrity stop the leak. Bone broth, turmeric, steamed vegetables, and long cooked stews are easy to digest and helpful for cellular repair and function.

 

References:

  1. Fasano A. Intestinal Permeability and Its Regulation by Zonulin: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Implications. Clin Gastroenterol H. 2012;10(10):1096–1100. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2012.08.012.

  2. Fasano A. Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012;42(1):71–78. doi:10.1007/s12016-011-8291-x.

  3. Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly C, Luo X. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers Immunol. 2017;8:598. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598.

  4. Miller A, Maletic V, Raison C. Inflammation and Its Discontents: The Role of Cytokines in the Pathophysiology of Major Depression. Biol Psychiat. 2009;65(9):732–741. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.11.029.


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