I am so excited to tell you all about a topic that I’ve been really interested in, which is gut health and leaky gut. I started reading about it when I was thinking about how people can be doing what seems to be everything right with regards to diet and exercise and still be dealing with health issues! Gut health is fundamental for our overall well-being, and I am so excited to share this with you. The following comes from an interview I did in the fall with Cynthia Thurlow, Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist. Her information is at the end of this article if you want to reach out to her for more info!
“What is leaky gut?”
Leaky gut has become kind of a catch-all phrase that describes the impact on your small intestine's hyperpermeability. This is just a fancy way of saying that the tissue in the small intestine has been compromised. When you have compromised cell tissue, you have proteins and foods that will leak directly, and that can lead to a lot of health problems. It’s not something that everyone is dealing with, but it is becoming increasingly common in the United States.
“Can my diet cause leaky gut?”
Absolutely! So much of the sickness we are seeing today is related to, for lack of a better term, the standard American diet. We’re talking about a highly processed diet that is so far removed from years ago when soil had more vitamins and minerals and we weren’t pumping animals full of hormones. Sugary drinks can be culprits, too!
“Antibiotics seem to upset my stomach. Are they related to gut health?”
First of all, antibiotics can play such an important role in medicine, and I do not want to say that they are not valuable. Antibiotics are designed to kill the bacteria that make you sick, but one of the detrimental things that they can do is wipe out your good gut flora (healthy bacteria), especially if you are on them chronically or for prolonged periods of time.
70-80% of our immunity is in the gut, so if we wipe out the good bacteria there, we run the risk of long term impact, including leaky gut. This can lead to things such as Hashimoto’s, eczema, or lupus. Also, when you’ve been on antibiotics heavily at a young age, autoimmune symptoms can emerge later on in life.
“So, if antibiotics can cause symptoms to flare up, does that mean probiotics are a good idea to maintain gut health?”
There is definitely value in probiotics, though purchasing quality products is important. Over the counter probiotics can sometimes have bacteria that is dead before it even makes it to market.
Another thing to keep in mind is variety. Your gut is like a rainforest. Take a moment to think of how many organisms live in a rainforest. A lot, right? Your gut is the same way. That’s why seeking out a specialist is important, so that you can receive a quality product that has enough variety to benefit you.
“What are leaky gut symptoms? Is this something I can self-diagnose?”
A lot of the symptoms are GI related such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Food sensitivities can also be linked to leaky gut. Also, a surprising amount of skin conditions start in the gut, too, ranging from acne all the way to auto-immune issues like psoriasis.
Try to shy away from self-diagnosis, though. Just start with diet. Increase your intake of probiotic-rich foods, such as pickled food, and try to scale back and change up the processed foods that you’re eating. If your symptoms persist, seek out a specialist for testing, which can range from food sensitivity testing to a full blood panel.
“Okay, so properly recommended probiotics and diet change can help. Anything else?”
Yes! So, something we often overlook is how stressed our day-to-day lives can be. No one is immune to it. If your mindset is not in the right place while you are eating, it will affect your digestion. Take a tip from the European way of life. They make an event out of every meal, savoring the food and lingering to enjoy each other’s company. While this may not be practical for every meal every day (especially if you have little ones), try to take 10 or 15 minutes out of your day to just sit, relax, and enjoy a meal.
“So, if I think I should be tested, how should I find a specialist? Is a naturopathic specialist an option?”
As long as health providers are functionally trained, they can administer tests for leaky gut. Naturopathic doctors are an option, but how much freedom that have all relies on state’s laws. There is an organization called The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), and they have a website, IFM.org, that lets you plug in your zip code and look for a functionally trained healthcare provider.
I hope you guys find this information helpful! Gut health is just another aspect of our bodies as a whole. It’s important to gather all the information about ourselves that we can so that we can form the best plan for ourselves and our bodies.
*Information taken from an interview with Cynthia Thurlow.
Cynthia Thurlow, Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist