Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability is simply when the tight junctions of the microvilli in the small intestines becomes not so tight anymore.
Lining our small intestine are finger-like projections called villi. Those villi have their own even smaller finger-like projections, called microvilli. You can see what these look like in the diagram below.
When you have a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, lots of stress or some other condition like PCOS, Endometriosis or even mood problems- the tight junctions between the individual epithelial cells become loose. This means that substances that aren’t fully digested and broken down (like the cheeseburger, fries and Coke you had for lunch) and some particles get into your blood stream. Obviously, this isn’t a good thing- and so symptoms ensue.
When you have chronically don’t digest your food fully, stuff starts to ferment. Fermented, undigested food is like bad sludge- it gums up the works, and feeds pathogens like candida (hello yeast overgrowth!), parasites and other ‘bad’ bacteria. All of the pathogens plus the undigested food particles can create numerous symptoms, and I have listed the main ones here.
Hormone Connection: When bad shit gets into your bloodstream, and pathogens are allowed to run rampant, this creates both inflammation and stress in your body. Stress redirects all of your body’s efforts into combatting stress- not making sex hormones. Your sex hormone function weakens, and hormonal havoc ensues.
- Undigested food particles in stool
- Acid reflux
- Rectal itching
- Chronic candida (aka yeast overgrowth)
- Adrenal fatigue
- Hormonal Imbalance such as PCOS, Endometriosis and/or PMS
- Autoimmune disease
- Brain fog and/or inability to concentrate
- Itchy skin or other skin eruptions
- Unexplained weight gain
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Chronic fatigue
- And others
Addressing your gut function is the first and foremost way to make those intestinal junctions tight again! Think of it like your gut is your BFF and you’ve had a falling out (i.e.: bad diet, leaky gut symptoms). You know the relationship is important enough to fix- so you can get back to gossiping, looking at sexy man pictures and complaining about the kids. Wouldn’t you want to be gentle, supportive and caring towards this friend in order to make a lifelong reconciliation? So to with your gut. Bad gut = bad health.
Here’s my favourite ways to love my gut-BFF.
Avoid Food Sensitivities
The top food sensitivities are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, sugar/sweeteners, corn, nightshade vegetables, yeasts, nuts/seeds, read meat, shellfish, fish and citrus. Phew- that’s a long list! This doesn’t mean you have all (or any) of these sensitivities. BUT removing harmful foods is the first step to cleaning up your gut and sealing those tight junctions.
You can do IgG food sensitivity testing (not 100% accurate) or an elimination diet (gold standard) to determine food sensitivities. You may need to remove these foods for a month or more, depending on your own unique situation.
Increase Digestive Fire
If you can’t digest your food- you’re not getting the nutrients you need (because they’re not being absorbed) and instead those gut pathogens we talked about earlier will take over. Digestion needs strong digestive juices- from the enzymes in your saliva to your stomach acid to the enzymes and probiotics in your intestines.
In Ayruveda, the Ancient Indian healing modality, they call your ability to digest food your ‘digestive fire’. If you’re experiencing the symptoms I listed above, you’re probably pretty low in the digestive fire department. Here’s a few suggestions on how to increase that fire:
- Enjoy some raw food as each meal (raw food contains lots of enzymes)
- Drink warm lemon water upon waking (great Ayurvedic trick for setting good digestion for the day)
- Use digestive enzyme supplements like:
- Betain HCl
- Protease/Lactase/Lipase and other enzyme “-ases”
- Save your water consumption for between meals, drinking a lot while eating a meal dilutes digestive juices
- Enjoy some kind of fermented food daily (raw sauerkraut is #1 when thinking hormonal balance!)
Eat Whole Foods
This goes without saying. Or not. Because I’m saying it right now! The better your diet, the better your gut. The better your gut, the better your health. Try some of the following:
- Protein, fat and fibre with every meal
- Eat as many vegetables as you possible can
- Choose organic whenever possible, especially for meat and dairy products
- Avoid processed foods that come in bags, boxes and cartons
- Prepare as much of your food yourself as possible. When eating out, use these tips to keep healthy
- Aim to drink 1/2 your bodyweight in ounces of water daily. Increase slowly if you’re not currently drinking much water.
Probiotics as Gut Friends
I’m super excited for all the research coming out about the connection between our gut microbes (aka bacteria or probiotics) and our health. We need to keep these little guys happy if we want to be happy- literally, mood has a huge connection to gut microbes. Here’s a couple of ways to get started:
- Enjoy fermented (probiotic) foods daily in small amounts
- raw sauerkraut
- pickled beets
- water kefir
- coconut milk kefir
- plain, unsweetened dairy or coconut milk yogurt
- Take a probiotic supplement
- Aim for 8-10 strains of probiotics in your supplement
- Choose a dairy-free version to reduce exposure to food sensitivities
When you make broth from chicken, fish or beef bones- you’ve created an extremely healthful elixir that also seals your gut. When prepared correctly, the broth will contains tons of minerals, amino acids and gelatin. All of this combined will help to soothe inflamed tissues, and provide your body with what it needs to rebuild a healthy intestinal lining.
I like to make broth about once a week, and use it regularly in the form of soups, right from a mug or to cook whole grains and make sauces for meats. The more often you can get bone broth into you, the better. I’ll freeze any extra broth in ice cube trays for those times when I don’t make fresh and need some. Below is a simple slow-cooker bone broth recipe. Put it all together and forget about it for a day!
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- 1-2lbs clean-source animal bones (chicken is my favourite)
- A few celery stalks and carrots
- 1 onion
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- Enough water to cover the bones (or about 9-10 cups)
- Place everything in your slow cooker and cook on low for 12-24 hours. Strain and refrigerate or freeze up to 3 months.
The Hormone Diva http://thehormonediva.com/