Leaky Gut is the cat burglar of health. It can steal your mental clarity, energy, and even your nutrients without making a peep.
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is when microscopic tears occur in the lining of the epithelial layer of the gut. The causes are vast, but the health issues that come with leaky gut are always crummy.
A few years ago, I would have told you that leaky gut was nonsense. Well, I was dead wrong. Leaky gut is real, and very common. It can happen with age, stress (that was me), poor food choices, poor lifestyle choices, and so many other external factors we’ll get into today. The good news is that the human body is very resilient, and heals well if you nurture it. So if you have leaky gut, know that it is totally fixable. If you don’t have leaky gut, you can still benefit from the information here. Prevention is truly the best medicine!
I had to learn about leaky gut the hard way, in the form of an ever expanding bald spot on my scalp, also known as alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is a form of autoimmunity where your body gets the wonderful idea to attack its own hair follicles. After thirty years without any medical issues, and living a healthy lifestyle for the past 12 of those years, I was bind sided by this. “Of all the people, how could this happen to ME?!? I’m a fricken health and fitness blogger for crying out loud.”
At first I was embarrassed and beyond stressed that something like this could happen to me, the health nut. But in reality, I had some important blind spots in my lifestyle, and it’s my hope that you can learn from my mistakes. After months of research and hard work, I’m happy to report my bald patch is fully grown in, without corticosteroids, and I get to share this information and hopefully help you!
Here’s what I’ve learned about gut health, and it’s role in overall health…
Your Gut is The Epicenter of Your Health
The health of your gut plays a major role in the function of every other system of your body. Science is barely scratching the surface on the role your gut plays in your overall health, but some of the most important are:
1. It absorbs and assimilates the food you eat. Without a healthy gut, you’re not absorbing all of your nutrients
2. It helps modulate the immune system.
3. It’s the first line of defense against all the nasties we ingest and encounter on a day to day basis. Even the most pristine, organic food has things that need to be cast out. The gut does this.
4. It is the seat of your intuition. This isn’t science, but I believe when you have a gut feeling about things, it’s very important listen up! The gut is usually right!
The human body is amazing. Not a single second goes by without your body doing some very important task. Cleaning toxins, pumping blood, breathing, communicating between cells and so on. Every organ, vessel and tissue is basically a bunch of cells. Those cells need nutrients to function properly. The only place that your cells can get fuel is from the food that you eat, and so it’s easy to see why having a healthy gut lining to properly digest these nutrients is so important.
Leaky Gut – The Symptoms
As far as I’m concerned, gut health should be the primary focus for most health issues. Healing and sealing the gut appears to be a panacea for ailments of the skin, brain, and immune function. If you have a healthy gut, it’s possible that you greatly reduce most health issues, not just the ones regarding skin, brain, and immune function!
It goes far beyond my pay grade to pretend to know exactly how the gut interacts with the skin and brain. All I know is that medical literature acknowledges the existence a a gut-skin axis, as well as a gut-brain axis. Countless studies have also shown a direct link between compromised gut function and skin and/or brain issues.
So how do you know if you have intestinal permeability?
Well, If you’re experiencing any of the following, especially more than a couple of these, you might have intestinal permeability:
-Skin issues (acne, yeast etc)
Autoimmunity & The Gut
It’s estimated that 70-85% of your immune system lives inside your gut. That is a shocking number, right?
What’s even more shocking is that most doctors don’t address gut health when dealing with autoimmunity. That’s probably because research on the microbiome is in its infancy. But the research is very clear leaky gut has a direct correlation to autoimmunity. In fact, most research shows that up to 100% of autoimmunity is correlated with leaky gut.
Dr. Natasha McBride gives a great analogy in her book to demonstrate the role of the microbiome in immunity. Imagine your gut as a war fort with two lines of defense; the soldiers on the perimeter of the fort (T1 Cells), and the community of civilians that live inside the perimeter (T2 cells). When the soldiers on the perimeter become damaged or confused, that leaves the inexperienced community of civilians to try to fight off invaders. These civilians aren’t that great at fighting, and when an invader slips by, the entire system goes into overdrive. This is a very lay explanation for the trigger of autoimmunity.
Long story short, healing and sealing the gut is crucial for healing or preventing most diseases, especially autoimmunity.
What to cut:
1. Gluten – The word gluten translates to “glue”, which is what coats your intestinal villi every time you eat gluten. This coating can damage the precious villi. Gluten is also an inflammatory food. If you want to heal your gut, cut out gluten.
2. Grains – When healing my Alopecia Areata, I followed the AIP diet in Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s The Paleo Approach. Grains can be irritating to the gut. This isn’t a big deal for a healthy gut, but for a compromised gut, grains aren’t the best idea. If you have any autoimmune issues, eliminating all grains for a short time can really boost your healing process. After months of watching my spot grow bigger and bigger, it stopped growing, and actually began to heal the week after I followed the AIP diet.
I eat rice, and some quinoa, and the occasional gluten free oats, but only added them back in after four months of strict adherence to the AIP, grain free diet (which was totally worth it, by the way!).
3. Stress – If you have unmanaged stress in your life, it will undermine all your other health efforts. Stress increases cortisol, and is very bad for gut health.
4. Environmental toxins – Mold, harsh cleansers,
5. Antibacterial soaps and hand gels – These put a monkey wrench in the flora and fauna of the microbes on your skin, which studies show can also impact the flora and fauna of your gut!
6. Antibiotics – Which kill all the bacteria in your gut. Not just the baddies.
Supplements to Add:
1. HCL & Digestive Enzymes – These will aid the digestion of your food, and improve transit time. Breaking down the food you eat will help your body make the most of the food you eat, and also prevent dysbiosis from food sitting in your gut too long.
2. Glutamine – There are tons of studies on the healing capabilities of glutamine.
3. Great Lakes Collagen – A very healing source of protein. Great for hair, skin, and nails.
4. A powerful probiotic – I like Prescript Assist and VSL #3
Food to Add
1. Bone Broth – Rich in healing collagen and glycine. Also great for hair, skin, and joints.
2. Fermented Foods – Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha can help punch up the diversity of your micro biome, and lend more “soldiers” to your army.
3. A variety of vegetables and fruits – Dr. Terry Wahls, author of The Wahls Protocol, healed herself of MS by eating a regimented diet of nine cups of vegetables per day! Through doing so, she theorizes the covered all of her nutritional bases. I think shooting for six servings is a more realistic number for most people. If you can hit nine, great, but at a minimum, shoot for six.
4. A variety of protein sources – Beware the chicken breast rut. Eating just muscle meats leaves “cash on the table” when it comes to nutrition. Eating various parts of the animal, including the organ meats, is an easy way to get a super boost of nutrition.
Mistake #1 – Consuming gluten. I made a video about the perils of gluten a few years ago, but real talk, I still ate it occasionally. Maybe once a week or every other week. To be specific, I freakin love those Egg White Wraps from Starbucks, and would get one before my workouts on the weekends. The month before my bald patch appeared, I was consistently eating gluten a few times a week, despite knowing better. This was the first time in years I’d eaten a substantial amount of gluten, and I think that probably had something to do with my sudden onset of alopecia areata. While eating gluten once a week might be fine for some people, I won’t be touching the stuff for the foreseeable future. As Dr. Tom O’Brian states, if you’re intolerant to gluten, having ‘just a little gluten’ isn’t an option. “Can you be just a little pregnant?”, he asks. If you’re intolerant, a sprinkle of gluten is the same as a bagel.
Mistake #2 – Stress Management. Stress was the main reason for my Alopecia Areata. 2015 was a stressful year, and I learned I completely lacked an ability to handle stress. My perspective would get skewed, worry would consumed me, it would affect my sleep, my baseline level of happiness, and my overall well being. Oh, and stress is terrible for your gut health. I didn’t realize the battery-acid quality that stress has on your body until my hair started falling out. Well, lesson learned. Today, I make distressing a top priority, and use things like meditation and quiet walks to decompress. I’ve also reread Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins to help me see my issues from a more empowering perspective.
Mistake #3 – Antibiotics. I’d taken a couple very strong rounds of antibiotics at least once per year for the past couple years. The issues were ear infections, and an infected wisdom tooth. These antibiotics mixed with all the other mistakes might have been the final break in the chain.
Mistake #4 – Hidden mold in my old apartment. There were annual leaks during the rainy seasons, and over the course of eight years, they really piled up and caused a mold problem. I didn’t figure this out until just before moving, so who knows how long this hidden toxin was an issue for me.
Books you should read to learn specific science behind Autoimmunity, gut health, and the micro biome:
(In no particular order, besides number 1)
1. The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballyntyne. Start with this book first. If you want to get to the bottom of autoimmunity, Do Not Skip This Book.
2. Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. This book gives a different perspective on gut health, as well as a healing protocol involving bone broth.
3. Brain Maker by Dr. David Perlmutter. This book goes into the link between gut health and the health of the brain. It even givs some insight on the possible causes of, and prevention plan for Alzheimers.
4. The Good Gut by Justin Sonnemberg and Erica Sonnemberg.
5. Gut Bliss by Dr. Chutkan