Before I underwent a protocol to heal leaky gut syndrome, my digestion ruled my life. I had multiple food sensitivities, suffered from IBS-like symptoms, brain fog, bloating, and skin conditions linked to gut health like acne, rosacea, and hidradenitis suppurativa.
Even as a young child I suffered from a "sensitive stomach" as it was delicately put in my family. I know that a humongous contributor to that fact were the countless rounds of antibiotics my pediatrician used on me for every little sniffle, almost killing me (no joke) with chronic antibiotic treatment for 6 months for respiratory infections, which caused an allergic reaction.
A decade ago, I had no idea what course of action to take to heal my gut, or whether that was even possible (it is!). Conventional MDs were of no help and wanted me on chronic courses of Prilosec with antacids as needed every day.
After going Paleo and switching to holistic medicine I used some herbs and supplements and saw improvement, but I knew there was something deeper going on.
Eventually I heard about "leaky gut syndrome" and invested tons of time researching the heck out of it and getting the information I needed to successfully implement a gut-healing protocol.
Should you consider healing leaky gut syndrome? Here are 6 reasons to seriously look at leaky gut syndrome as a root cause condition you need to address. Remember, I am not your doctor and this is not medical advice - use this content for educational purposes so that you can take control of your health!
1. You've taken many rounds of antibiotics in your life
Antibiotics have always come with a warning that they may cause digestive upset and should be taken with food, but it is only in recent years that scientists have begun to uncover JUST how profound of a negative impact they have on our gut health, and subsequently our overall health.
This fact gave me a sinking feeling when I first heard it: one round of antibiotics will permanently wipe out certain strains of bacteria in your gut, and it can take months for other strains to bounce back to normal levels. (source)
So if you are like me - grew up in the 80s when antibiotics prescriptions were like this....
...then you'd be smart to look at leaky gut syndrome as possibility affecting you now.
2. You still have multiple food sensitivities after changing your diet
I see this story far too often: somebody goes on the full Paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP), which eliminates SO MANY FOODS: all grains, legumes, dairy, nuts, seeds, eggs, and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, etc.). During what has been called the "honeymoon period" they feel great, less pain, fewer symptoms, maybe even losing some stubborn weight. But then it all comes crashing down and foods that used to be "safe" are now causing noticeable reactions. That safe food list continues to dwindle and stress related to food is through the roof.
Without going too much into it, this highlights why I believe the smartest, safest way to go AIP is while working with a qualified health practitioner. I also don't think it is a good idea to go AIP without also adding in the proper supplements and lifestyle changes to address gut health.
I did a comprehensive protocol called Repairvite. The diet is somewhat similar, but not the same as AIP, and only works if you take the supplements to eliminate pathogens from the gut + heal the intestinal mucosa so the tight junctions can close up and leaky gut heals.
Also, as you will see further down, the tried true proven functional medicine approach to healing leaky gut recommends an elimination diet that's nothing like AIP. (See my comment at the end of the article too).
This topic deserves its own blog post, but my point is: if you have gone on an elimination diet only to find that you have to keep eliminating or you are unable to reintroduce foods successfully, then leaky gut syndrome may be your root cause.
3. You are chronically stressed out
Let that sink in for a minute.
You could be eating a perfect diet, taking good supplements, and your high-stress lifestyle will sabotage your efforts and continue to contribute to increased permeability (and decreased transit time, aka sluggish digestion).
Major life events count, too, such a death of a loved one, changing jobs, moving, divorce, major illness (yourself or a family member), among others.
Managing the chronic stress of modern life is incredibly challenging and is something I still work on myself. But it is something you MUST do to successfully heal your gut.
Even if you don't have overt symptoms of leaky gut, like bloating, indigestion, loose stools, skin issues, brain fog, food sensitivities, etc. stress is still doing damage to your gut, and you'd be wise to consider supportive actions to prevent the damage progressing to full blown leaky gut.
4. You take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Just like antibiotics used to be considered safe enough to prescribe all the time for every cold, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen were deemed the "better" and safer alternative to acetaminophen (because liver damage!) - but now we know better (none of them are that safe, actually, and significantly increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death). NSAIDs damage the entire digestive tract and cause hyperpermeability of the small intestine - aka they cause leaky gut syndrome. (source, source)
I know some people rely on NSAIDs to function and that sometimes natural alternatives don't cut it. Just please be aware of what they are doing to your digestive system and take action to mitigate the damage with a protocol to address leaky gut syndrome.
I also highly recommend trying acupuncture to manage chronic pain - you may just be able to get off some of your medications! Acupuncture has worked wonders for my fibroid-related pain.
5. You feel like your digestion rules your life
Here's what my reality was before I healed leaky gut:
- I couldn't leave the house without being certain I knew where the bathroom was at my destination
- I often suffered major bloating after eating
- My tummy hurt ALL THE TIME
- My face would flush and sometimes itch after eating certain foods (rosacea flare)
- Certain foods would cause acne breakouts
- Alternating constipation/diarrhea
- Runny nose after eating certain foods
- Low energy and brain fog after eating some foods
If I am also describing your reality, then it's time to look at leaky gut syndrome and work on healing your gut!
How to Heal leaky gut syndrome
Like I said, you need a comprehensive protocol if you want to heal leaky gut syndrome. Functional medicine practitioners have the right idea, with the "5R approach" (some only use 4Rs, but I think 5 is better!) This is what I used while I did the Repairvite protocol.
Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Repair, Rebalance
Remove means not only removing inappropriate and inflammatory foods from the diet, but also removing bacteria, fungus, and/or parasites from the gut, medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which damage the gut, alcohol, environmental stressors and pollutants, and chronic lifestyle-related stress.
Replace refers to giving the body the things it needs to function normally that may be lacking in someone with leaky gut. This can be digestive enzymes, stomach acid, or sufficient fiber for gastrointestinal (GI) tract function.
Reinoculate means, you guessed it, repopulating the gut with the right beneficial bacteria. This means taking large doses of probiotics and including fermented foods in the diet. Prebiotics are also important for this process, since they are what feed the good bacteria in our bellies.
Repair is just what it sounds like — repairing the lining of the small intestine. This is done with nutrients, antioxidants, and herbs. Examples include but are not limited to: l-glutamine, quercetin, ginkgo biloba extract, vitamins A, C, D, and E, zinc, N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), N-acetyl-D-glucosamine (NAG), phosphatidylcholine, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), lactoferrin, carotenoids, curcumin, slippery elm bark, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), colostrum, deglycyrrhizinated licorice extract (DGL), and aloe vera extract.
Rebalance refers to everything lifestyle-related and focuses on de-stressing and slowing down. Relaxation techniques, mindful relaxed eating, yoga, meditation, controlled breathing exercises, prayer, and even psychotherapy are all examples of rebalancing. Remember: stress alone can cause leaky gut, so this is not something that can be overlooked.
A note about the “remove” segment: the Institute for Functional Medicine does recommend an elimination diet to get inflammatory and allergenic foods out of the diet (like gluten, dairy, soy, added sugars, and processed foods), but does not recommend anything at all like the autoimmune protocol. Food (ha!) for thought!
Get started healing leaky gut today
Back when I healed leaky gut, there were very few options supplement-wise that were powerful enough, with the right ingredients in therapeutic doses, to actually heal leaky gut. The Repairvite supplements I took were only available from a practitioner, which meant I paid out the wazoo on supplement pricing markup.
Today, many other companies have stepped up their game. There are other great options available now.
Back then, there also was not a ton of great information online. I had to sift through dozens of scientific studies (even tracking down some study authors to ask questions about a few papers referenced that I didn't have access to via my university).
I worked HARD to get the information I needed and I wished I had had better guidance from trusted experts for the whole process.
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