Leaky gut has become an epidemic that affects millions of people around the world—even though many of them aren’t aware of the underlying condition that causes their symptoms ranging from digestive problems and mood imbalances to autoimmunity, and other chronic illnesses.
Some of the common triggers that can initiate leaky gut syndrome is antibiotic use, which can kill billions of gut microbes and leave you prone to this condition, and from following the SAD Standard American Diet, which is fiber deficient and loaded with sugar.
Traditionally-trained physicians often fail to recognize the critical importance of gut health, or how a leaky gut can affect your whole body and mind. Yet, many traditionally trained doctors will start you on a course of antibiotics for an infection, and ignore the importance of restoring and repopulating your gut microbiome. Your intestinal tract is the foundation of your body’s immune system and a key gatekeeper that lets in nutrients while preventing pathogens and toxins from entering your bloodstream.
When the lining of the intestinal tract is injured, such as when bad microbes overwhelm our gut (in medical circles we call this dysbiosis) the gut lining becomes inflamed and starts to leak food and microbes from the gut lumen into the blood stream. Our gut is designed to allow nutrients to pass from the gut lumen to our blood stream, but food and stool are not supposed to leak across this lining into the blood stream.
A leaky gut causes a cascade of problems, as foreign particles leak into the blood stream. The body responds with inflammatory compounds and body wide inflammation increases dramatically. The inflamed gut with microbes and foreign particles passing across the gut lining alerts the immune system to attack, causing additional damage, and as the system inflammation increases, this creates a vicious circle that is hard to stop.
In the short term a leaky gut makes you achier, you might notice brain fog and decreased concentration, your energy drops, and you have increased bloating and other GI symptoms. If this is allowed to continue long term, it can trigger an auto-immune attack with your immune system attacking your own tissues (such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, and psoriasis). Over time, the dysbiosis will lead to substantial weight gain, and the prolonged rise in inflammation increases your risk for heart disease and memory loss.
People who consume probiotic food sources generally have a healthy gut microbiome and are less likely to develop gut inflammation and gut leaking. Great sources of probiotic foods include sources with and without dairy and/or soy:
- Plain, organic yogurt, plain, organic kefir, Cottage cheese
- Miso, tempeh, kombucha, natto
- Sauerkraut, pickles, olives in brine, pickled vegetables
The leaky gut syndrome is common in people who follow the SAD Standard American Diet, which lacks adequate fiber and includes an overload of sugar and refined carbs that cause inflammation and overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Some medications can also cause a leaky gut, in particular antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen, Naprosyn, Aleve, Advil, Celebrex) are used to treat joint, tendon, and muscle aches. They do temporarily decrease joint pain and inflammation, but they can also cause major gastro-intestinal injury, bleeding, and initiate leaky gut syndrome. My general rule with my patients is to avoid the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and if you use them, make it rare use, and not more than 5-10 days per year.
There are a variety of compounds that if consumed, can kill billions of healthy gut microbes. Some of the most common are antibiotics, artificial sweeteners, and other chemicals we are exposed to, such as weed killers.
Just one short 5-7-10 day course of antibiotics can kill billions of gut microbes and disrupt the normal balance in your intestinal tract for months or even years. This is why I’ve been adamant with my clinic patients that they avoid taking antibiotics for cold, bronchitis, or intestinal symptoms that will likely resolve on their own. Antibiotics play a vital role when treating serious infections, such as pneumonia, cellulitis, or a kidney infection, but according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) well over one third of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are used inappropriately. Always ask your physician if you can safely give an infection time to recover on its own before starting a course of antibiotics.
If you do need to start a course of antibiotic therapy, you should also start a probiotic course that contains at least 25-50 billion bacteria per dose per day for several months to help restore normal gut microbes. If this seems like a big dose, consider that you have trillions of microbes in your intestinal tract and most of them will die with they pass through stomach acid, this is the minimal dosage that will likely make a difference. It is also important to follow a high fiber diet that is loaded with vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts as this is a great way to provide prebiotic fiber for your gut bacteria to multiply and repopulate your intestinal tract; without fiber, your gut microbes will starve and die. One of my favorite probiotic supplements is called ProMed50—I’ll share more on this probiotic shortly.
One of the most commonly used weed killers in the United States today, and globally, is Roundup, a glyphosate compound. Not only does it turn out that it kills weeds, but if consumed it also kills healthy gut bacteria. Multiple studies show that trace quantities of a glyphosate will kill healthy gut microbes. There is also plenty of concern that consuming Roundup might increase cancer risk. Roundup use is extremely common, and many agricultural products are tainted with this product. The only way to effectively avoid it is to buy organically grown foods that ban the use of Roundup.
Whoever initially created the artificial sweetener Splenda (sucralose) must have thought that they found a gold mine. By attaching chloride to a sugar molecule, you block the absorption of sugar across the intestinal tract. When you consume chlorinated sugar, you taste sweetness, but don’t absorb any calories. Initially, this seems like a great way to allow people to consume sweet tasting food products without the calories and impact on blood sugar levels.
But the same way chlorinated water kills bacteria in water, chlorinated sugar kills some of the healthy bacteria in your gut. So, this turned out not to be such a great idea after all.
Many scientists have reported that a variety of artificial chemical sweeteners (Splenda®, Saccarhin® and Nutrasweet®) impact healthy gut bacteria, and promote populations of gut bacteria that are more efficient at absorbing calories. And the impact of artificial sweeteners on the gut microbiome appears to apply to other compounds as well, not just those related to chlorinated sugar. One group of Israeli researchers have reported that artificial sweeteners enhance the populations of gut bacteria that are more efficient at pulling energy from our food and turning that energy into fat.
My best advice is to avoid all sweeteners, but if you must use one, then choose a natural option, such as stevia or xylitol (or erythritol).
Of interest, many Europeans have called for artificial sweeteners to be banned, and their use has never reached the same levels noticed in the United States. The European appeal for natural food sources, and an abhorrence to the idea of artificial flavors may have saved many people in European countries from being harmed by excessive use of artificial sweeteners.
Functional Medicine Steps to Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome:
- Remove or reduce negative factors such as inflammatory foods (sugar, gluten), infections, use of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, Aleve, Advil), and artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Nutrasweet, and Saccarhin).
- Replace depleted ingredients that promote gut health, such as digestive enzymes and 10 servings of fiber per day.
- Re-inoculate beneficial bacteria to restore a healthy balance in your gut.
- Repair your gut by providing essential ingredients (L-Glutamine is essential).
If you are going to add a probiotic supplement, ideally you need multiple strains (at least types of bacteria), preferably with strains that will survive passage through the stomach, and at ann adequate dosage. After a non-avoidable course of antibiotics, aim for a dosage of at least 50 billion microbes daily for at least two months.
My favorite probiotic supplement to repopulate your gut is: ProbioMed 50, which has the following features:
- HIGH POTENCY 50 BILLION CFU – Featuring ten of the most highly-researched probiotic strains, with each strain and specific CFU count being fully disclosed. These strains are capable of surviving the harsh journey to the intestines, where they can support GI health & immune health.
- DELAYED-RELEASE TECHNOLOGY – These capsules use delayed release technology as well as unique moisture-resistant, desiccant-lined packaging to further enhance survivability.
- SHELF STABLE & DAIRY FREE – This novel packaging removes the need for refrigeration, making this dairy-free probiotic convenient for travelers and anyone on the go.
- HIGHER STANDARDS. BETTER RESULTS – Designs for Health maintains a strict, no-compromises approach to quality raw material selection. We never cut corners with substandard ingredients. This product is Non-GMO.
How does L-Glutamine Repair Leaky Gut?
L-Glutamine is the most common amino acid in your body and a critical building block that your body uses to produce proteins. The cells along the lining of your intestine are higher dependent upon L-Glutamine to repair themselves; this is the primary amino acid that they use.
Regenerate Cells Faster to Restore Your Gut Lining. The great news is that your gut cells naturally turn over every few days, which is why my patients often fully repair their intestinal lining in only 3-4 weeks. L-Glutamine also helps to seal the leaks in your gut (tight junctions that exist between intestinal cells) in your gut and restores your gut lining to a healthy state even faster.
L-glutamine has also been shown to help help to heal stomach ulcers. It also helps support normal gut healing for anyone struggling with irritable bowel syndrome.
To provide your gut with the nutrients it needs, plan to take at 3,000 mg of L-glutamine daily for at least 4 weeks. If you avoid microbiome toxins, and you support your gut properly, the good news is that it only takes about one month to heal your gut. Options are a L-glutamine powder (or use two capsules of 850 mg of L-Glutamine twice per day.
Another product that I have used to heal heartburn, is also useful to heal a leaky gut. It is called GI Revive. It contains a mixture of compounds that help to heal a leaky gut. Notice that if you are also using GI Revive, you’ll only need half the original L-glutamine dosage as this product also provides L-glutamine:
- Glutamine 1,500 mg daily
- Aloe Vera, which supports the intestinal mucosal lining
- Slippery elm and marshmallow root support mucous membrane health
- Licorice extract to soothe the stomach and intestinal lining
The key to preventing leaky gut syndrome is to eat ample fiber from vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts daily, to consume at least 1-2 servings of a probiotic food source daily, and to avoid microbiome toxins, such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and artificial chemical sweeteners.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
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