Understanding Leaky Gut
Today I want to try to explain what it means to have a leaky gut or intestinal permeability. The great Greek physician Hippocrates that lived about 400 B.C, said “All disease begins in the gut”. Many consider him as the Father of modern medicine. I find this very interesting, since over 2,000 years later, some in the modern medicine profession still question much about gut health.
Alternative vs Conventional
It is really fascinating to me to look at how some other countries and cultures look at medicine and treatment. Most of us are familiar with the alternative approach that for instance the Asians have, Chinese medicine. This approach has been around for thousands of years. The basic idea of healing the body and mind thru herbs, acupuncture and dietary changes. But they are not the only culture who practices these methods. Majority of the South American countries still treat patients with what is referred as the alternative health care system. They believe that the diet plays a major factor for all diseases. Even in several of the European countries, many of the healthcare providers encourage more functional medicine in some cases.
Is Leaky Gut a Real Condition?
For years I was only offered pills to help with my gut and all the other symptoms that came along with it. Finally, few years ago I got few diagnosis that helped answer my questions about my symptoms. Since that day, I have made huge improvements, unfortunately not cured, but I can function now. My functional medicine doctor explained and taught me on how leaky gut was one of the causes of my conditions. Leaky gut is a very hot topic, both among patients as well as their care givers. Even though there are plenty of evidence that leaky gut is a condition of the intestinal lining, science has not caught up all the way. In this case I believe that science is just slow (the real question is, who is funding these researchers?). I am not here to prove anyone right or wrong. However by gaining an understanding about my gut and making the necessary changes, it has helped me to control chronic pain in my body.
What is Leaky Gut?
Inside our gut we have what is called intestinal lining. This lining covers an area of thousands of square feet. It helps to protects the bloodstream, by keeping toxins and bacteria out. Inside the lining is also the source for how we retain the nutrition from the food we eat. But occasionally due to hereditary or other factors (which I will bring up here in a minute), the walls of the lining gets small holes and cracks in them. That’s when food particles, bacteria and all other toxins leak into our bloodstream. Once foreign invaders start leaking into our system, we now have created a playground for systemic inflammation. This is where our immune system gets all fired up. In most cases a leaky gut can be controlled. But in few cases if left untreated the body starts gradually breaking down and the immune system can no longer identify the real enemy. At which point it becomes easy for the body to develop an auto-immune disease.
According to Dr. Alex Rinehart some of the first symptoms of a leaky gut are really not obvious. He says “leaky gut is not a medical problem, because it is a functional problem, that may to lead to medical conditions, like Crohn’s, depression or other autoimmune disorders”. Some functional medicine doctors for example Dr. Leo Galland who is a leading physicians in functional medicine and author of several books, such as “The Allergy Solution: The Surprising, Hidden Truth about Why You Are Sick and How to Get Well”, has a list of potential signals. These are some of the signs he lists; chronic constipation or diarrhea, poor immune system, brain fog, skin rashes like eczema and hives. These are just some of the many potential signs. The key thing to remember is that leaky gut is not a medical disease but a functional problem in the gut, which can potentially cause a havoc in the body.
Why Do I have a Leaky Gut?
Nobody has a perfect intestinal lining. But most people have no major symptoms with exception of occasional indigestion or minor heartburn from it. Unfortunately in my family there is a long history of gut problems. This helps me to accepts the first reason for leaky gut syndrome, hereditary. Our DNA plays a major role. But before I start blaming my relatives for all my problems, I have to accept the other factors that matters as much. Lifestyle! What I eat, how I control my stress level, and if I exercise. Sometimes our gut can get permeated due to bacteria. In some circumstances the very food, although a healthy alternative for many, can be the very enemy. Such was the case for me. So in my quest to understand why I had a bad gut, I discovered I had the perfect set up inside of me. Genetics, food intolerance or sensitivity, high levels of stress (partially due to my chronic severe depression) and a history of being treated for bacteria in my gut (thanks to when I traveled to Middle East in my youth), all these things combined created the perfect storm inside of me.
Can I Fix My Gut?
I’ve learned that it is possible to heal the gut to some degree. Finding out what is the root cause of our leaky gut is the first step, and that can be a challenge in of itself. Once you can pinpoint the cause, the next step is to start eliminating the problem. Of course that is easier said than done. The gut is not easy to deal with. It takes time for it to heal. While I was working on healing my gut, I was also at the same time trying to deal with people who still didn’t understand what was wrong with me. And why I was making all the diet and lifestyle changes. For me this just added some fuel to the fire in form of stress. Initially I did take some supplements to help with controlling the inflammation in my body, but now I am able to control my symptoms merely thru diet and by being mindful with my lifestyle. I had to eliminate many foods, because of intolerance and sensitivity. I am a firm believer that our bodies are made to heal themselves, if we become more conscious on how we treat it.
A Mechanics Perspective
Since I am married to a heavy equipment mechanic,(degree in applied science in machinery technology) wow! never though of him as a science man 🙂 , I want to compare our body’s to equipment. Just like all piece of equipment, our bodies need fluid (food and water) to run properly. Robert has told me that frequently he will run into equipment where the owner or driver filled up with the wrong fluid. Gasoline in a diesel machine or oil instead of antifreeze. Obviously this is never intentional. Like my husband will say most of us are on auto-pilot and we just don’t always think about what we are doing. In these cases when he finds the problem with the machine or truck, he has to first get rid of the bad oil or fluid. He then has to determine the damages. Sometimes it’s an easy and cheap fix, while other times it can cost the owner thousands of dollars. He says, it all depends how often they have done the mistake and the severity of it.
Unlike machines, our bodies can handle slightly more. And obviously as the case with my husbands’ experience, most of us don’t consciously try to add the wrong fuel to our bodies. Each machine is unique and different as is our bodies. We all have our own mileage gauge. But machines are so much easier than people and the science part is really clear (although even machinery science is changing all the time). Unfortunately when it comes to leaky gut there is no scientific data to back up this condition. Each person has to seek and receive the best care that is right for them. We have to be very mindful and respectful of people’s situations. Choice of health care is an individual thing. For me it took six months of hard work until I started seeing improvements. But today years later, I feel much better and I don’t have to feel like a 90 year old anymore. And until science figures out what the great Greek physician Hippocrates talked about, we have to try to do the best we can in healing our guts, thru a mindful lifestyle.