Introduction

One of the most common problems our female patients report at the Alchemy clinic is gas and bloating. It’s a constant source of discomfort and embarrassment, especially for women, and can signal the onset of deeper chronic conditions that can have long term mental, emotional, and physical health consequences. So it’s important to diagnose and treat as early as possible.

A common cause of gas and bloating is Leaky Gut Syndrome, sometimes known as Intestinal Permeability. In this article we look at what it is, how it impacts women, and what you can do to diagnose and treat it.

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut is a term used to describe increased permeability in the lining of the intestines. Normally, the intestine lining acts as a barrier, allowing only certain substances to pass through and absorb into the bloodstream. However, in cases of leaky gut, this barrier becomes more permeable, allowing larger particles, such as toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria, to leak into the bloodstream.

When these larger particles enter the bloodstream, the immune system may recognize them as foreign invaders and trigger an immune response. This immune response can lead to inflammation and various symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and skin problems.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

Several factors contribute to the development of leaky gut, including a poor diet high in processed foods, chronic stress, certain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and imbalances in gut bacteria.

A poor diet high in processed foods: A diet that is rich in processed foods, refined sugars, artificial additives, and unhealthy fats can contribute to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. These processed foods are often low in fiber and nutrients, which can negatively impact the health of the gut and increase the risk of developing leaky gut.

Gluten sensivity: Tight junctions are protein structures that hold the cells of the intestinal lining together, forming a barrier. Research shows that gluten can trigger the release of a protein called zonulin, which regulates the opening and closing of these tight junctions. Increased levels of zonulin can lead to the loosening of tight junctions resulting in leaky gut.

Chronic stress: Prolonged periods of stress can have a significant impact on the digestive system. Stress triggers the release of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol that can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, impair digestion, and weaken the integrity of the intestinal lining. Over time, chronic stress can contribute to the development or worsening of leaky gut.

Medications: Some medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and aspirin, can damage the lining of the intestines and increase permeability. Prolonged or excessive use of these medications can weaken the protective barrier in the gut, leading to leaky gut.

Imbalances in gut bacteria: The gut is home to a diverse community of bacteria that play a crucial role in maintaining gut health. When there is an imbalance in the gut microbiota, with an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or a decrease in beneficial bacteria, it can disrupt the normal functioning of the intestines and contribute to leaky gut.

If you think about these factors you’ll see that there are a number of simple steps that you can start now to create a healthier gut ecosystem.

For example, you can eliminate gluten from your diet, eat organic unprocessed foods, and look for ways to reduce harmful stress.

Symptoms of Leaky Gut

What are the warning signs that might indicate you’ve got a leaky gut problem? Here are a few of the top symptoms that can make your life a misery.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Chronic digestive issues including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

Food Intolerances: Increased sensitivity to certain foods, often leading to gastrointestinal distress upon ingestion.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Persistent and unexplained tiredness that interferes with daily life and doesn’t improve with rest.

Skin Conditions: The inflammation associated with leaky gut can manifest in skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis, potentially leading to chronic skin issues.

Mood Disorders: Anxiety, depression, and mood swings potentially linked to the gut-brain axis imbalance.

Cognitive Impairments: Memory issues, difficulty concentrating, or brain fog.

Hormonal Imbalances: Irregular menstrual cycles, PMS, or fertility issues not directly attributable to reproductive health disorders.

Often our patients report that they’re experiencing a cocktail of these symptoms. Does this sound like you?

Downstream Impacts

Beyond the immediate symptoms, not treating leaky gut can lead to more serious downstream health consequences which can trigger a slew of systemic problems from chronic pain to degenerative mental conditions.

Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus may be triggered or exacerbated by ongoing gut permeability, as the escape of substances through the gut lining can lead to an immune response against the body’s own tissues.

Chronic Inflammation: Persistent leaky gut can cause ongoing inflammation throughout the body, which is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.

Food Sensitivities and Allergies: If undigested food particles enter the bloodstream, it can lead to an increase in food sensitivities and allergies, further limiting dietary choices and nutritional intake. Less fun!

Nutritional Deficiencies: Leaky gut can impair nutrient absorption, leading to deficiencies that can affect overall health, including anemia from iron deficiency, osteoporosis from poor calcium absorption, brittle nails, hair loss, and a range of other issues related to insufficient vitamin levels.

Worsening Mental Health: The gut-brain axis means that gut health can significantly affect mental health. Untreated leaky gut may contribute to chronic levels of anxiety, depression, brain fog and memory issues.

Increased Susceptibility to Infections: A compromised gut barrier could make an individual more prone to bacterial and viral infections, as the body’s first line of defense is weakened.

Addressing leaky gut syndrome is important to stay ahead of these more serious conditions.

Common Fears

While the symptoms and more serious downstream impacts of a persistent leaky gut condition are upsetting, one of the biggest tolls is on emotional health. Over time, fears can start to creep in and impact family, friends and career.

Visible symptoms like bloating and gas or skin rashes can unconsciously make you feel judged, or body shamed by friends and coworkers.

Food sensitivities can make social situations daunting. You might feel anxious about finding food options that work for you at gatherings or get fixated on needing to be close to a bathroom. Over time you this can lead to self-isolation to avoid the stress of events with family and friends that used to be fun.

You worry that brain fog will make it harder to enjoy success in your career and have secret fears about more serious cognitive decline.

Anxiety and depression are your constant companions, ready to overwhelm even simple situations that used to be routine and enjoyable.

You fear a future of more serious chronic health problems like autoimmune diseases, diabetes, or even cancer, and how this could impact your family and career.

The good news is that leaky gut syndrome can be diagnosed and treated with functional medicine!

How To Diagnose Leaky Gut

It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis of Leaky Gut because there are several other gut conditions that share some of the same symptoms.

Diagnosis with functional medicine involves a combination of patient history, clinical assessments, and specific diagnostic tests. These are some of the key components of the diagnostic process we use at Alchemy:

Comprehensive Patient History: A review of your medical history (even going back to childhood), diet, lifestyle factors, medication use, and symptoms to identify potential contributing factors to gut health issues.

Symptom Analysis: An evaluation of your symptoms vs. those typically associated with leaky gut such as bloating, gas, food sensitivities, and fatigue, as well as less common symptoms that may affect other systems in the body.

Laboratory Tests: Depending on your symptoms and health history a range of functional labs are available to help zero in on an accurate diagnosis. Functional labs focus on measuring the systemic performance of your body rather than just looking at isolated markers. These are some of the most common labs we recommend for gut health diagnosis:

  • Food Sensitivity Tests: To identify immune responses to various foods that could indicate a leaky gut.
  • Stool Analysis: To evaluate the gut microbiome, check for infections, inflammation, or dysbiosis, and to measure zonulin levels to test for permeability
  • Organic Acids Test: To assess metabolic byproducts in the urine that can indicate fungal overgrowth or bacterial imbalances in the gut.
  • Blood Tests: To check for nutritional deficiencies, the presence of certain antibodies (like zonulin or lipopolysaccharides), or markers of inflammation (like CRP or ESR).
  • Autoimmunity Tests: To test for autoimmune antibodies that can appear years before the onset of symptoms

With an accurate diagnosis of Leaky Gut the next step is treatment with a personalized plan that includes dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, supplements, and other therapies tailored to your specific needs.

How to Treat Leaky Gut

Treatment of leaky gut with functional medicine focuses on addressing the underlying causes of the condition. The goal is to support the healing and restoration of the intestinal lining, reduce inflammation, rebalance gut bacteria, and support overall gut health. These are some of the most common approaches we use at Alchemy Radiant Health for treating leaky gut:

Dietary changes: A key aspect of treating leaky gut is adopting a gut-friendly diet. This typically involves avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, artificial additives, and unhealthy fats. Instead, the focus is on consuming whole foods that are nutrient-dense and high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fermented foods. Eliminating potential food sensitivities or allergens like gluten may also be recommended.

Gut-healing supplements: Certain supplements can aid in healing the intestinal lining and reducing inflammation. These may include probiotics to restore healthy gut bacteria, digestive enzymes to improve digestion, and supplements like glutamine, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin D that support gut health and reduce inflammation.

Managing stress: Since chronic stress can contribute to leaky gut, stress management techniques are an important part of treatment. This may involve practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and seeking support from a therapist or counselor. Acupuncture and Network Chiropractic care are also powerful ways to reset the nervous system and reduce stress. Red light therapy and Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM) are tools you can explore with your practitioner too, with the option of buying your own equipment for in-home stress management.

Lifestyle modifications: Making positive lifestyle changes can support overall gut health. This includes getting regular exercise, staying hydrated, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Another big one is minimizing your exposure to toxic people and work situations.

Identifying and addressing underlying factors: Functional medicine practitioners work to identify any underlying factors contributing to leaky gut, such as imbalances in gut bacteria, infections, or other gastrointestinal issues. These underlying factors are addressed through targeted treatments or therapies to promote healing and restore gut health.

Treatment plans are most effective when thay are individualized based on each person’s specific needs and circumstances. Our team can provide personalized guidance and recommendations tailored to your unique situation.

Supplements For Leaky Gut

Practitioner grade supplements and botanicals are prescribed by functional medicine doctors to correct the imbalances that have led to intestinal permeability.

The treatment plan for each patient is unique – depending on their genetics, health history, and lifestyle. How the supplements are combined and sequenced is all-important because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment plan.

Some of the most commonly prescribed supplements are listed below.

L-Glutamine: An amino acid that acts as a primary fuel source for the cells in the intestinal lining, promoting repair and regeneration.

Probiotics: Beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of the gut microbiome, reducing inflammation and improving the gut barrier function.

Prebiotics: Non-digestible fibers that feed the beneficial gut bacteria and support a healthy gut microbiome.

One of our favorite probiotic / prebiotic supplement products is the Microbiome Labs Total Gut Restoration kit – an advanced 3-month protocol to recondition, reinforce, and rebuild gut health.

Digestive Enzymes: These can aid in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, reducing the strain on the gut lining.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil and flaxseed oil, omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties that can help heal the gut lining.

Zinc: This mineral is essential for maintaining a strong intestinal barrier and has been shown to tighten leaky gut junctions.

Licorice Root (DGL): Deglycyrrhizinated licorice can soothe the gastrointestinal tract and may help to restore the mucosal lining.

Collagen Peptides or Bone Broth: These sources of amino acids support the repair of the gut lining and promote overall digestive health. Both are available from your health food store.

Vitamin D: This vitamin is important for immune function and may help maintain the integrity of the gut lining.

Curcumin: The active component of turmeric, curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties that can be beneficial for gut health.

Slippery Elm: Known for its soothing properties, slippery elm can help protect irritated tissues and promote healing.

Marshmallow Root: Similar to slippery elm, marshmallow root can form a protective layer on the gut lining and reduce inflammation.

Quercetin: A flavonoid with antioxidant properties, quercetin can help to stabilize mast cells and reduce gut inflammation.

While these supplements can support gut health, they should be part of a comprehensive approach that includes dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and possibly other interventions under the guidance of your functional medicine practitioner.

There’s no point trying to correct an imbalance with supplements if you’re still feeding it with processed foods or a high-stress lifestyle.

Your Life Can Change

You can heal your leaky gut! It takes commitment and time, but you’ll get there – especially if you stay focused on how amazing your life can be on the other side. Imagine living a life of radiant health where you have…

Vibrant Energy: You exude vitality, feel energized throughout the day and no longer experience the fatigue that plagued you before.

Glowing Complexion: Your skin appears clearer and healthier, with a natural radiance that reflects your improved internal health.

Balanced Digestion: You enjoy comfortable, regular digestion without the discomfort of bloating, gas, or irregular bowel movements.

Emotional Well-being: Your mood is more stable, with reduced anxiety and a greater sense of emotional equilibrium.

Physical Strength and Resilience: You feel strong and able to engage in physical activities you enjoy without being hindered by pain or discomfort.

Optimized Nutrient Absorption: Your body efficiently absorbs essential nutrients, leading to improved overall health and well-being.

Healthy Weight Management: You maintain a healthy weight, no longer battling with unexplained fluctuations or stubborn weight gain.

Enhanced Mental Clarity: You experience improved cognitive function, with sharper focus, better memory, and less brain fog.

It’s taken you a long time (many years in most cases) though to reach this low point in your health journey, and it will take time and commitment to recover. Treatment plans can take six to twelve months or more to be effective, but if you hang in there your life can turn around!

How to Get Started

You can take the first steps on your recovery journey by eating a clean healthy diet of organic unprocessed foods and making a sincere effort to reduce the stressors in your life. Cutting out added sugars and minimizing alcohol intake are also important changes you can manage yourself that will probably change your life for the better in many ways – physically, emotionally, and mentally!

When you’re ready to take the next step, working with a functional medicine practitioner can help you by providing an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan tailored to your unique biology and life circumstances. At Alchemy Radiant Health we’ll work with you to understand the root causes of your leaky gut and put you back on track for a vibrant healthy life!