How to Cure Leaky Gut
I’m frequently asked by patients, “What is leaky gut syndrome, how did I get it and what can I do to resolve my problems?”
These questions are more complex than one might imagine at first and this syndrome certainly has more health ramifications than one could ever consider. So let’s dig in by defining exactly what is leaky gut, how it is typically generated and what are the best leaky gut syndrome treatment options out there. I also will discuss how to wrestle with the philosophical question as to whether it needs to be treated itself in the first place.
Death of Digestive Lining Cells
Your digestive tract surface cells turn over frequently, they live, die and are replaced. One of the main constituents of the gut lining is an amino acid called glutamine.
When we are stressed we jump into a catabolic, or breakdown state, which means that the body shifts it’s energy production pathways. Rather than burning fat or carbohydrates for fuel, we turn to an alternate fuel source, amino acids– like you guessed it, glutamine.
This is not a good long-term strategy. This “emergency” fuel system is intended to kick in for short periods of time when you are under extreme duress. When we start to burn amino acids for fuel the body turns to muscle tissue and gut lining tissue in order to pull amino acids away to be burned up as energy. When your body uses this alternative fuel source all the time, the metabolic disaster it creates leads to fatigue, body fat accumulation (since you’re not burning fat well) and a destruction of the gut lining as glutamine is burned up for fuel, leading to a sort of stress induced leaky gut.
Stress Causes Leaky Gut
What that means is that stress, in and of itself can generate inflammation in the intestines, damaging the gut lining and triggering leaky gut symptoms of fatigue, bloating, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea.
In other words stress causes you to use your gut lining for energy or fuel. When escalated to an extreme degree leaky gut can trigger autoimmune reactions, allergies even depression and anxiety in some people. Once we are stressed enough and the gut lining is continually damaged we lose our immune response in the digestive system through the destruction of Secretory Immunoglobulin A or SIgA. This opens the door for GI tract infection related problems with bacteria, yeast or parasitic overgrowth. Now you have a leaky gut along with a GI tract overgrowth of some type of bad bug and this is exactly what I find in most of my patients.
The really interesting thing about GI tract problems is that quite frequently they do not cause digestive symptoms. Yes, that is correct. Most people with leaky gut syndrome don’t have any symptoms that would lead them to believe they have a leaky gut! How can that possibility happen? Well if you have a digestive problem the main issue at hand is what we call malabsorption, meaning you don’t absorb nutrients well, along with tissue damage and inflammation. This combination can impact your brain, causing depression and anxiety, and causes joint pain, autoimmune diseases and even allergies. The central theme of natural medicine is that digestive problems can trigger symptoms anywhere in the body.
Correcting Leaky Gut Syndrome
In terms of how to cure leaky gut, this is straightforward and not so straightforward. One approach, which is highly successful for many people is to use glutamine based GI repair powders.
However, this only leads to temporary relief if the real problem is emotional stress (common) coupled with GI tract tissue infections (also common). As a result I was trained to address the underlying cause by testing and correcting adrenal hormone and catecholamine related imbalance. In other words to first clear up stress related issues in the body, coach people on how to get out of a constant stress pattern, through exercise, better sleep patterns, meditation or healthier diet choices. Then finally clear up their GI infections and tackle their leaky gut. You can treat leaky gut while getting a handle on GI infections and emotional stress, but it won’t work long term unless the core issues are addressed.
Should I Even Treat Leaky Gut or Let it Heal on Its Own?
Another point I often pose to patients is perhaps we don’t treat your leaky gut at all? Perhaps your leaky gut syndrome problem is a manifestation of something else and if you try to expose the gut damage you’ll end up getting even sicker in the long run.
And in truth I’ve seen this many times. A person with a serious GI infection for example, treats their symptoms with digestive enzymes and leaky gut repair supplements, only to allow the GI infection to percolate and get worse over time. One key concept in functional medicine is to treat the underlying cause and leaky gut in and of itself isn’t a cause of anything, it’s most often simply a reaction.
The problem with figuring out the deeper layer is it involves two things humans aren’t fond of. Stool testing and dealing with our emotional issues. Unfortunately, if you are interested in getting a better understanding of your health problems, one has to confront these unpleasant areas of life. What we find consistently is that if emotional stress is reduced significantly and if we test for and treat GI tissue infections then the leaky gut miraculously heals itself without a single supplement needed. Just think if you crashed on a bicycle and tore up your leg and knee and it then got infected, you wouldn’t rush out and take “injured leg syndrome supplements”. You’d think wow that hurts. Then after you treated the infection you’d think, wow that’s going to heal now.
This brings us to the most important point of this whole post, which is that “The Power That Made the Body, Heals the Body”. In other words, if you give your body a fighting chance it will heal itself, we just need to remove the blocks.