Do You Have a Leaky Gut?

Do You Have a Leaky Gut?

While a “leaky gut” has become a popular term, it has yet to become recognized by Western medicine as an actual health condition. It is, however, accepted as a form of intestinal hyperpermeability. In such a case, the tight junctions of the cells that line the intestinal tract loosen up, which allows toxins and incompletely digested proteins, fats, and bacteria to enter the blood and lymph. While this is not a disease, increasing levels of intestinal permeability or leaky gut are linked to a host of health concerns. Let’s break down the potential causes and issues associated with leaky gut.

In This Article

The Ama-Leaky Gut Connection

In Ayurveda, 85% of all diseases are said to start in digestion. Digestion is responsible for both delivering nutrients and detoxification of the body. Any digestive issue, food intolerance, problem with elimination, gas, or bloat should not be ignored. In the upper digestive system, when foods are not completely broken down in the stomach and small intestine, they can act as irritants to the intestinal lining. When the intestinal lining is irritated,  it alters the natural environment of the intestinal tract and causes inflammation. Over time, these undigested foods (known as ama in Ayurveda) can loosen the tract’s tight cellular junctions, allowing ama or toxins to enter the blood and lymphatic system.

The majority of the body’s lymph surrounds the intestinal tract. Studies show that if proteins and fats are incompletely broken down in the stomach and small intestine, the intestinal lymphatic system acts as the ‘garbage can’ to help process the ama away from the intestinal tract. This gut-associated lymphatic system  ultimately controls our gut immunity, which accounts for about 70% of the body’s overall immune system. 

Symptoms of Leaky Gut in the Lymph

The main jobs of the lymphatic system are to carry the body’s immune system, flush the waste products away from the cells, and to deliver nutrients in the form of properly broken-down fat and proteins. One of the main reasons gluten has become such an issue in the west is because it is a protein that is difficult to break down. Without strong stomach acid, the gluten (along with any attached fat-soluble pesticides) will go into the intestines without being completely digested. They can then find their way into the lymphatic system around the intestinal tract. Studies show that congestion of the lymphatic system around the intestinal tract is a leading cause of excess abdominal weight and inflammation. 

See also Should You Eat Wheat? Here’s The Gluten-Free Facts

The other parts of the lymphatic system (the skin-associated lymphatic system and the brain’s glymphatic system) can become dumping grounds for toxins due to lymphatic or liver congestion. Lymphatic congestion can cause skin sensitivity, rashes, eczema, and swelling while congestion of the brain’s glymphatic system can cause brain fog, fatigue and immune-related concerns. When gluten is incompletely broken down and finds its way into the lymph, it’s common to see bloat, swelling, fatigue, brain fog, and skin issues as just a few of the signs of a congested lymphatic system.

For more on the Ayurvedic perspective on gluten, check out Dr. John’s Two-Part Interview with Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain. Watch Part 1 Here.

Leaky Gut and Liver Function

Next, let’s look at how liver health relates to incomplete digestion. Enterohepatic circulation, which is the circulation from the small and large intestines back to the liver, plays an important part in the process of detoxification and maintaining the environment for a healthy microbiome and protection from a leaky gut. 

Some of the ama or intestinal irritants that are small enough to enter the bloodstream can be taken back to the liver via the enterohepatic system which cycles intestinal bile and blood to the liver for detoxification. Whether the ama is directed into the lymph or back to the liver, over time this can overwhelm the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients and detoxify waste and undesirable toxins from your system.  When nutritional fats or fat-soluble chemicals are ingested, bile is secreted from the liver and gallbladder to begin breaking them down. Like a PacMan, bile gobbles up the good and bad fats while scrubbing the intestinal villi. If there is enough fiber in your diet, the bile (with toxins in tow) are taken to the toilet. Without adequate fiber (which is common in the average Western diet) up to 93% of the bile and toxins  are reabsorbed to the liver via enterohepatic circulation. 

Overwhelming the liver with fat-soluble toxins (found in our food and polluted environment)  and not getting enough fiber will not only create congestion in the liver, but will also predispose the lining of the intestines to leaky gut syndrome.

See also How to Detox Your Fat Cells

Addressing the Causes of a Leaky Gut

Step 1: Assess Your Digestion

The coordination between the stomach (making ample acid), the liver (making bile) and the pancreas and duodenum (making digestive enzymes) is step one in the protection of the tight junctions that line our intestinal tract. If you experience food intolerances, there is a good chance some component of this upper-digestive coordination is broken down.

To help troubleshoot which aspect of your digestion may be responsible for your digestive issues, take my free Digestive Health Quiz

Perhaps most important in this assessment of your digestion is properly evaluating liver and gallbladder function. Healthy bile flow is the kingpin of good digestion and detoxification. 

See also For a Sluggish Gallbladder, Try These 4 Ayurvedic Herbs and Foods 

Step 2: Assess Your Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system starts inside the intestinal tract with lymphatic collecting ducts called lacteals. The lacteals depend on those tight junctions of the cells that line the intestinal wall. The tight junctions depend on a microbiome rich in beneficial bacteria. The microbiome depends on a strong upper digestion, a balanced intestinal environment, adequate bile flow, a high-fiber diet rich in organic whole foods that change seasonally, and minimal exposure to chemical and environmental stress.

See also Rev Up Your Gut Immunity and Microbiome with This High-Fiber Protocol

Step 3: Consider Herbal Support

In Ayurveda, there are two primary herbal formulas that are considered to support the tight junctions of the intestinal tract. The first is a berry called amalaki (Phyllanthus emblica)  that is most effective in supporting the integrity of the inner skin that lines the arteries, intestines, and respiratory tract. It is rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and numerous collagen precursors

This herb is best taken with each meal of the day, and can be taken year-round.

The second group of herbs is a formula we call Leaky Gut Support. Leaky Gut Support combines a fruit called bilva (Aegle marmelos)  with a traditional Ayurvedic mix of three fruits called triphala, along with slippery elm, licorice, and a microdose of psyllium. The key ingredient here, perhaps most effective for a leaky gut, is bilva. Studies show it protects the mucus layer of the entire intestinal tract from irritants, boosts gut immunity, and blocks bad bacteria from adhering to the wall of the intestines.

In one such study, researchers gave bilva and bacopa together to patients with a leaky gut. They found that the herbs performed better than a placebo and even matched the effectiveness of the Western therapy they compared it to. Bilva is particularly effective because the intestinal irritation usually results in mucus in the stool or a chronic loose stool. 

Note: If the leaky gut presents with a dry, hard stool, then it’s best to use triphala along with the amalaki initially to balance the stool, eventually followed by Leaky Gut Support if needed.

Step 4: Consider Probiotic Support

LifeSpa’s 4-Step Microbiome Reset protocol uses colonizing probiotics to restore a healthy and robust microbiome.

Read the full article on the probiotic protocol here.

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Dr. John

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