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10 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut—and How to Heal It

10 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut—and How to Heal It

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by Samantha Parent Walravens

My body never completely bounced back after I had my first child—15 years ago. I've told myself that my symptoms were part of being a busy mom: fatigue, digestive problems, joint pain, insomnia, low libido, even mild-grade depression. Many moms I know suffer the same ailments, or worse. They'll subside at some point, I told myself.
 
My health care provider tested me over the years for various medical conditions—from anemia and thyroid disorders to mononucleosis and Lyme disease. The tests always came out negative. "You just need to sleep more and manage your stress better," he told me.

I found an answer four months ago when I went to see Willie Victor, a nutritionist in Mill Valley, California, whose practice is based on the healing properties of food. She asked me to keep a food diary and take a blood test for food allergies and sensitivities.

The results were shocking. It turns out I was "highly sensitive" (not quite allergic, but almost) to a number of foods that had been a regular part of my daily diet—dairy, soy, sugar, caffeine and gluten.

She told me that I had "leaky gut syndrome," a condition that is not typically diagnosed but could be affecting the health of many people. Dr. Robynne Chutkan, assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, says leaky gut "is likely to emerge as one of the most significant medical concepts of our time."

What is leaky gut?

Leaky gut, or "intestinal permeability," as Victor explained, is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria to "leak" through the intestines and flood the blood stream. The foreign substances entering the blood can cause an autoimmune response in the body including inflammatory and allergic reactions such as migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

With leaky gut, damaged cells in your intestines don't produce the enzymes needed for proper digestion. As a result, your body cannot absorb essential nutrients, which can lead to hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system. 

What causes leaky gut?

In many cases, leaky gut is caused by your diet. For me, certain foods that I was consuming every day, including gluten, soy and dairy, were being treated by my body as foreign invaders that had to be fought off. When I ate these foods, my body went to war, producing antibodies, which triggered an immune response that included diarrhea, headaches, fatigue and joint pain.

Leaky gut can also be caused by medications including antibiotics, steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and acetaminophen, which can irritate the intestinal lining and damage protective mucus layers. This irritation can start or continue the inflammation cycle that leads to intestinal permeability.

10 signs you have a leaky gut:

According to Dr. Leo Galland, director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, the following symptoms might be signs of leaky gut:

  1. Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
  2. Nutritional deficiencies
  3. Poor immune system
  4. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
  5. Excessive fatigue
  6. Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
  7. Cravings for sugar or carbs
  8. Arthritis or joint pain
  9. Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
  10. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn's

How to heal a leaky gut

The key to healing a leaky gut is changing your diet and eliminating the foods that your body treats as toxic. On the advice of my nutritionist, I eliminated gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Within six weeks, I was feeling like a new person. My energy levels were way up, the diarrhea and bloating had subsided, and I was sleeping like a baby at night.

In addition to eliminating certain foods, I added a few things to help repair my leaky gut. These included healthy fats such as fish, coconut and olive oils; avocados and flax; probiotics to restore the healthy bacteria in my gastrointestinal tract; and L-glutamine, an amino acid that rejuvenates the lining of the intestinal wall.

Within three months, I had controlled my leaky gut. I have to adhere to my new dietary changes or I suffer the consequences—diarrhea, bloating and fatigue. But it's a small price to pay for feeling so alive and healthy again!

If you have any of the symptoms I mentioned, get checked by your health care provider. I had sensitivities to certain foods, but your symptoms could be caused by other issues. It's important to design a treatment plan that fits your issues.

Samantha Parent Walravens is a journalist, mother of four, and author of the New York Times–acclaimed book, TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. You can follow Samantha Parent Walravens on Twitter: @nosuperwoman.

Comments

My 11 year old daughter has morphea and has spots coming up all on parts of her body she also was diagonased with celiac disease last year and concerned they are both auto ammuine diseases they maybe from leaky gut been to specialists locally but just adived to put creams on spots ..I feel it is to do with the gut anyone know how to help or reccommend someone thanks Tracenta

I was speaking to a naturopath about my daughter, who suffers from eczema and allergies. He mentioned that she was more than likely suffering from leaky gut syndrome. This prompted me to do some research on the subject and I soon realised that I too had many of the symptoms. I was extremely fatigued and extremely anxious. I had joint pain and suffered from poor immunity. I decided to take drastic action and cut out all sugar and wheat products and although I didn’t give up dairy, I went lactose free. (I generally only have a small amount of milk in my morning coffee). The first thing I noticed was that the joint pain disappeared. The fatigue improved over time and the anxiety is dissipating daily. I take coconut oil daily, hydrolysed gelatin (which provides collagen to heal the leaky gut), moringa powder (provides amino acids) and cinnamon powder (to reduce insulin resistance). I add them all to a smoothie consisting of mainly baby spinach leaves and I add 1/2 kiwi, ginger, lemon juice, cucumber and berries. I find that this kick starts my day and gives me energy. I make my own gluten free bread for lunch and I eat relatively normal meals for dinner (like meat, fish or chicken and vegetables or salad). I don’t eat grains and I use gluten free pasta for bolognaise, lasagne etc. I do eat oats because they have a probiotic effect on the bowel. I have 1 coffee a day, I drink greet tea and lemon between meals and I only drink filtered water. I take a good probiotic daily and an immune support supplement. Since I started these changes, I’ve lost weight regardless of whether I exercise or not and my current weight loss is 15kg. (This has been over a 12 month period, but I’ve kept the weight off and I’m continuing to lose weight). I wouldn’t say that I am completely healed, but I am certainly heading in the right direction. My daughters eczema has also improved as have her other symptoms related to leaky gut syndrome. I am so grateful to the naturopath that brought leaky gut to may attention and helped me to make positive changes to the health and wellbeing of myself and my family.

Most of what was discussed here also matches the symptoms of pyroluria. Among the symptoms listed here for leaky gut also are found inthe very prolific ailment named Pyroluria. I have been wrestling with : Lupus, Celiac Sprue, had three heart attacks, Coronary artery disease, Epilepsy, Congestive heart failure and been misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the list goes on -- but somehow I have not died -- and even experienced a hearth reversal for the past several years. My best friend, a registered nurse with lupus says I am "youthing." I think she coined the term but she is doing most of what I have done with alternative practioners like: examined food allergies, gotten acupuncture, taken vitamins for Pyroluria added L-glutamine to her diet for depression. So I am saying don't give up when your body is sending out a cry for help but try options that are recommended by your health conscious friends who are thriving. I am writing a detailed book about my own health journey spelling out how I reversed the trend towards an early death -- often instigated by drug pushers with MD after their name. Well the title of my book will be "A Lifetime of Healing" which explores healing from trauma, genetic issues,and misguided advice from under-informed, well-meaning doctors. I suggest that your own survival is worth some time at a medical or nutritional library. Explore nutritional options just in case they can help without all the side effects. By the way, I no longer have relentless joint pain or heart pain but I used to consume Ibuprofen like a food group. For me, that is an unexpected miracle.

Interesting, I did not know this is a major cause of weight gain

I have been dealing with all if the symptoms listed for around 16 years. I have gotten horribly worse over the last 2 1/2 years. I was recently told that I have severe vitamin deficiencies. My doctor just says take vitamins and I will feel better. My theory is I need to find out why or what is causing this. Could leaky gut cause this problem.

This post clearly depicts how leaky gut can be treated with appropriate diet. Yes, many foods such as gluten and lentils will trigger the symptoms of leaky gut. One must understand the exact triggering foods and avoid them. Certain foods like fermented foods (probiotics) will help in treating the leaky gut syndrome. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Simple and informative.

Thanks for the article, I believe I may have some of the same issues. One question though, if going back and consuming these foods causes flare ups then have you really even healed anything or are you just treating the symptoms rather than the cause? If your gut lining is healed then consuming these foods on occasion shouldn't cause any issues right?

Hi, I have all the symptoms that come with Leaky Gut. At first thought it was SIBO but treatment was ineffective. I do not include gluten, sugars, dairy, soy or anything processed or artificial in my diet. I do not drink alcohol and have had this lifestyle for about 8 years. I have been on the low Fodmap for 4-5 year also and I am suffering so much with severe gas that it prevents me from sleeping and most days I am too uncomfortable to walk. I am having large amounts of hair lost which seems to coincide with the stress of this, I have been stuck like this for 9 months now. I see a Herbal practitioner who has started to do home visits to me and have been taking various Herbal Medicines for the symptoms which has done nothing to help. I have had relevant blood tests, stool tests and Colonoscopy which has detected nothing. Any advice is welcomed as I do not know what else to do and can not stay like this.

Hello, I've had really bad anxiety/panic attacks for the last 2 years, mainly when I'm in a car......do you think that this could be caused by leaky gut? thanks! Ashleigh

How can Intermittent Fasting helps cure leaky gut?

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