Gut Health and Hormone Imbalance
Leaky Gut, Autoimmunity & Food Sensitivities
If you have food sensitivities then you likely have leaky gut and vice versa. They are one of the same. Autoimmune conditions develop due to a leaky gut. A functional nutritionist experienced in autoimmunity can help.
What is Leaky Gut?
It is known as intestinal permeability. It is a more hidden condition but it affects millions of people and is responsible for a long list of health complications. It is when the tight junctions of the small intestine wall have become loose allowing bacteria, viruses, antigens, toxins, immune complexes and/or large food particles to leak into the bloodstream. Chronic stress, slow metabolism, alcohol abuse and frequent antibiotic/NSAID use are common culprits. Funny enough, what usually is a byproduct of leaky gut tends to cause it or make it worse as well. These are things like parasites, pathogenic bacteria, SIBO, dysbiosis, food allergies/sensitivities, intestinal inflammation, low stomach acid, maldigestion/malabsorption, blood sugar issues, little enzyme production etc.
The intestinal mucosal barrier is not designed to allow foreign invaders in. It’s a physical barrier that is suppose to protect us from the outside environment. It also has these finger like projections called villi and microvilli. These are responsible for absorbing our nutrients. In theory, nothing should be getting through this barrier except for food broken down into really small micronutrient size. When particles or pathogens do get through, an immune and inflammatory reaction will occur causing issues like acne.
The mucosal barrier also contains a chemical layer that produces secretory IgA to protect us against foreign invaders. This is more commonly known as your gut immunity. This is why leaky gut comes with a compromised immune system along with poor absorption of vital nutrients.
We help our clients boost or calm secretory IgA, tighten their intestinal lining, restore metabolic function and increase stomach acid levels. These are four key components to a strong healthy gut and terrain.
What does Leaky Gut Look Like?
Abdominal Weight Gain
Undigested food in stool
Sinus infections or nasal congestion
What Does Leaky Gut Have to do With Food Sensitivites?
If the intestinal barrier is disrupted and loose, then large food particles are able to get into the blood stream which can cause an immune reaction. Your immune system will start creating antibodies and tag food particles in order to attack them in the future. This is how food sensitivities begin.
If you are consistently eating that particular food, your immune system is going to be on hyperdrive causing more inflammation and worsening leaky gut. This inflammation will then shrink and damage the villi and microvilli. This is what we call a blunted brush border. Eventually, your villi and microvilli will no longer be able to wave freely and absorb nutrients because they are so damaged.
The saying “You are what you absorb and digest, not what you eat!” could not be more true here.
Keep in mind, food sensitivities are very different from food allergies. A food sensitivity reaction is usually more mild and produces IgG antibodies whereas a food allergy reaction produces IgE antibodies. Both are harmful to your health but in different ways. Allergies tend to provoke an immediate reaction whereas sensitivities provoke a delayed reaction up to 3-4 days.
Food sensitivity reactions look different on everyone. However, the most common reactions we tend to see are; skin issues, digestive issues, headaches/migraines and muscle/joint pain.
We don’t recommend any food sensitivity testing in our practice as they are not accurate, they do not get to the root cause and they honestly do more harm than good. However, there are specific markers on the GI Map stool test to assess leaky gut which we use frequently (read below). Occasionally, we do mini eliminations of certain foods with some clients but we NEVER do elimination diets or cut out entire macronutrients/food groups as that is not a beneficial way of healing. Most importantly, we always work on restoring metabolic health so food sensitivities don’t come back. The most common sensitivity we see is dairy and that is not because dairy is inflammatory or problematic. Raw grass fed or pasture raised dairy is a superfood when it comes to your metabolism and healing from leaky gut. It contains stable saturated fats which is what we need to reduce inflammation in the body and has plenty of fat soluble vitamins to repair the intestinal wall. The high retinol (active form of Vitamin A) content is most important as most of us are deficient. Lastly, dairy consists of balanced macros which is great for blood sugar regulation and promoting overall balance in the body. So why do people get digestive issues or acne after consuming dairy? It is likely because they are not producing the lactase enzyme. This all comes down to the gut and your metabolic health. We often have to keep dairy out of one's diet for the time being while we address gut imbalances like SIBO, parasites, candida and leaky gut. After these have been dealt with, it's usually safe to start reintroducing dairy. It's important to go really slow during the reintroduction especially if you have been dairy free for a long time. We typically recommend starting with A2 dairy (preferably raw) and/or hard cheeses like parmesan.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity
Everyone with an autoimmune disorder or hyper-stimulated immune system needs to work on repairing their mucosal barrier. This is because 80% of your immune system lives in your gut. A human's tissues have proteins and antigens which can look like large food particles and/or pathogens. When someone has leaky gut, their immune system is generating antibodies to all those large food particles and pathogens that are easily getting in. However, sometimes your immune system generates antibodies to your own healthy tissue by mistake. Now these foreign molecules are circulating in your bloodstream, ending up in different parts of your body. Autoimmune diseases can develop where those antigens end up like your thyroid (hashimotos) for example. If those antibodies end up attacking your gut lining, colitis or chron's may develop. Not to worry- autoimmune disorders are reversible. We help patients become autoimmune free all the time!
Gut health and acne are very closely connected as acne can be caused by bacteria in the gut. As explained above, leaky gut incites constant inflammatory reactions. These inflammatory messengers end up getting to your skin resulting in acne and other skin issues. Acne is known as an inflammatory disease, it is an outward expression of inner inflammation and that inflammation starts in the gut. Inflamed acne tends to be deep, cystic, red and often painful compared to surface level acne. When gut inflammation is present, cortisol will rise and cause an imbalance with your stress and sex hormones leading to not only acne but a further disrupted mucosal barrier. Chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system and actually damage both the enterocytes and the cells in your endocrine glands. When the microbiome in your gut is healthy, chances are your skin microbiome will be healthy too due to the gut skin connection. However, when leaky gut is present, you are more susceptible to pathogenic overgrowths like parasites/candida or SIBO leading to more inflammation and causing acne as explained on those pages.
How Do I Heal Leaky Gut?
It's different for everyone which is why we strongly recommend doing a GI Map test. This will allow us to assess the severity of your compromised mucosal barrier and immune system as well as identify what is triggering it. We often see H Pylori and dysbiotic gut bacteria contributing to a high zonulin marker on the GI Map test. Zonulin is a protein secreted by the intestinal cells that regulates your intercellular tight junctions. Zonulin's role is to open the tight junctions which is necessary but when in excess, it means they are wide open indicating leaky gut is present. In our practice, we have also correlated gluten consumption and glyphosate exposure with high zonulin. Very rarely is zonulin high on a GI Map test without the anti-gliadin marker (gluten sensitivity) high as well. Glyphosate is an herbicide that often gets sprayed on wheat crops which kills the beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome. This causes dysbiosis, making gluten containing products problematic. As you can see it is all very inter-connected. To start healing your mucosal barrier, we recommend reducing conventional gluten from your diet and prioritizing organic for high glyphosate crops like oats/grains, almonds, potatoes, legumes etc. Most of our clients actually need to take a break from all hard to digest foods in the beginning and focus on gut nourishing foods in order to give their mucosal barrier the ability to heal. This means reducing grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, corn, soy, gluten, cruciferous vegetables and greens. We encourage more fruits, raw honey, root vegetables, bone broth, gelatin gummies, raw dairy, coconut, ghee, butter and quality animal protein/fats during this time.
This is very baseline and generalized advice. It is for educational purposes only. If you are looking for an individualized healing protocol, check out our 1:1 membership so we can restore digestive function, keep pathogens out and get rid of those annoying reactions to food! We offer appointments in-person in Toronto, ON and online worldwide!