“Leaky Gut” sounds pretty weird, right? The first time I heard the term back when I was struggling with chronic diarrhea and low energy, what that popped in my mind was, “Ewwww, does that mean my poop is leaking into my body?”
Now, after years of studying leaky gut, that simplistic question isn’t far from the truth (more on leaky gut below). Here is what concerns me most: More and more people are affected by leaky gut… and many of them don’t realize that this sneaky disease is what’s making them suffer.
Leaky gut can masquerade as fatigue, anxiety, depression, digestive symptoms, weight problems, and other serious conditions. It’s been linked to asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel, kidney disease, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and heart failure. Even with all the latest technology and over ten thousand research papers written about it, this hidden epidemic is still referred to as the “Disease Your Doctor Can’t Diagnose.” And for good reason. Without the proper information, it can be hard to diagnose and treat.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky Gut, or Increased Intestinal Permeability, is a condition whereby toxic food particles, environmental chemicals, and bacterial waste leak through your digestive tract and enter your body. Once inside, these foreign particles raise your cortisol and push your immune system into battle, promoting inflammation and jumpstarting the development of chronic disease—not to mention sucking your energy dry.
There is growing scientific interest in the relationship between disease and intestinal permeability. In fact, combining the terms in a Google search leads to scores of articles as people searching for answers to their poor health. Here is a short list of Google searches that make this point.
- Intestinal Permeability and Heart Disease
- Intestinal Permeability and Autoimmune Disease
- Intestinal Permeability and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Intestinal Permeability and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Intestinal Permeability and Acne
Additionally, Dr. Alessio Fasano’s groundbreaking work, “Leaky Gut Theory of Autoimmunity” (1) suggests that the more than a hundred autoimmune diseases all begin with leaky gut. Combined with the thousands of published research papers on intestinal permeability, you’d think that the medical community would abuzz about this condition. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The average physician is not schooled in leaky gut and many dismiss its relationship to their patients’ chronic medical conditions.
Leaky gut is a tricky condition because it manifests itself in many different ways. Plus, it’s not always related to digestive problems. Nearly 30% of people with leaky gut report no digestive issues at all. For them, leaky gut is associated with some other chronic condition, where the connection to intestinal permeability is not obvious. Yet, research is showing that gut health can influence the function of many other body systems, which is why leaky gut disease is important to diagnose and treat.
There are two common ways to test for leaky gut: the lactulose-mannitol intestinal permeability test and the Cyrex labs “Array #2.”
The Lactulose-mannitol test is commonly used as the gold standard in research settings, whereas the Cyrex panel is a better option to measure the immune response from leaky gut. In their current stage of development, neither test can diagnose leaky gut with 100% accuracy. However, in concert with an understanding of the risk factors for intestinal permeability and knowledge about leaky gut triggers, testing can uncover susceptibility to intestinal permeability and point sufferers towards a treatment regimen.
Leaky Gut Triggers
I’ve identified nineteen different triggers that can lead to increased intestinal permeability. Of these, three are the most troubling—and all are preventable. Shutting down these triggers can start to reverse some of leaky gut’s symptoms and help return you to better health.
Leaky Gut Trigger 1: Gluten
Eating gluten on the weekends? Having the occasional beer on a hot day? You should strongly consider changing that habit. The research is very clear that gluten contributes to leaky gut. (2) When it comes to dealing with serious health problems, there’s no room for “Cheat Day.”
With leaky gut, undigested food particles sneak into your bloodstream, which causes the immune system to attack them as foreign invaders. That starts a cascade of inflammation. By removing problematic foods like eggs, tomatoes & eggplants, peppers (including bell peppers and hot peppers), certain spices (curries, paprika, and chili powder), and nuts and seeds, people who suffer from leaky gut have found relief. That means cutting out these hard-to-digest foods and eliminating “Cheat Days” may help you reverse intestinal permeability.
Leaky Gut Trigger 2: Pills
Who hasn’t reached for an Advil or Motrin in times of pain? Whether it’s a headache or the multitude of pains that follow you home from the gym, it’s natural to reach for a pill to get some relief.
Here’s the brutal truth about that habit: Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) cause your gut to leak.
Research shows that 50% – 70% of long-term NSAID users (3) have increased leaky gut and five days of prescription use can cause a 3x increase in permeability. (4). Unfortunately, many doctors prescribe these medications and don’t tell their patients about the gut health side effects.
If you take NSAIDS, especially the stronger kind that are used to treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, you’re putting your gut barrier at risk. Talk with your physician and see if more gut-friendly medications are available.
Leaky Gut Trigger 3: Stress and Infection
Stress wrecks your gut and makes it leaky. There are so many studies that back this u, such as the a study that appeared in the Journal of Physiology and pharmacology. (5) You won’t heal your gut if it’s experiencing chronic stress. It’s like having a broken bone. It can’t mend if you keep using it. You have to put it in a cast to protect it and take a break for a while.
We’re all familiar with the obvious forms of stress: a lousy job or a bad relationship. Stress can also be more subtle, like working out too hard, which can really tax your body if you’re struggling with chronic illness. If you don’t feel well, interrupt your routine for a while. As you start to feel better, slowly return to your normal routine, one activity at a time. If you start to feel lousy again, you’ll know which activity is causing the problem.
There’s another hidden stressor that we’ve seen in so many of the clients with whom we consult: gut infections. Parasitic and bacterial infections are omnipresent and can contribute to leaky gut as much as guzzling a gluten shake. If you’re still sick and haven’t had a stool test yet, I strongly recommend that you take one. I know…pooping in a plastic tube doesn’t sound like a party, but trust me: its much better than letting a nasty infection live on in your body.
How to Fix Leaky Gut
Your gut isn’t going to heal in a day. Even if you’re already on a ‘real food’ diet, avoiding NSAIDs, and reducing your stress, you may have more work to do before you’ve fully healed your leaky gut. Remember: There can be up to 19 different intestinal permeability triggers that contribute to increased intestinal permeability. That means you need a lot of information in order to craft a solution to your specific leaky gut problem.
Want to learn more? Order Dr. Sara’s new book – about this topic and so much more – entitled, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years.
- Fasano A. (2012 Feb). Clin Rev Allergy Immunol., 42(1):71-8. doi: 10.1007/s12016-011-8291-x. Review.
- Drago S, El Asmar R, Di Pierro M, Grazia Clemente M, Tripathi A, Sapone A, Thakar M, Iacono G, Carroccio A, D’Agate C, Not T, Zampini L, Catassi C, Fasano A. (2006 Apr). Scand J Gastroenterol, 41(4):408-19.
- Sung Chul Park, Hoon Jai Chun, Chang Don Kang and Donggeun Sul. (2011 Nov 14). Prevention and management of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs-induced small intestinal injury. World J Gastroenterol. 14; 17(42): 4647-4653.
- Mahmood A, FitzGerald A J, Marchbank T, Ntatsaki T, Murray D, Ghosh S, and Playford R J. (2007 Feb). Zinc carnosine, a health food supplement that stabilises small bowel integrity and stimulates gut repair processes. Gut, 56(2): 168–175.
- Konturek P C, Brzozowski T, Konturek S J. (2011). Stress and the Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach and Treatment Options. Journal of Physiology and Phrarmacology, 62, 6, 591-599.
Jordan Reasoner is a mechanical engineer turned health engineer. Celiac Disease almost killed him in 2007, but he transformed his health using real food and a focus on leaky gut. Since then, he’s known for starting SCDLifestyle.com with Steve Wright to help others naturally overcome chronic digestive problems and enjoy perfect poops. He lives in Bozeman, MT with his two children, two mutts, and loves hiking in the mountains.