A little bit about leaky gut (it’s not as gross as it sounds)
If you’re at all interested in holistic health or modern approaches to wellbeing, you will no doubt have heard or read about the term, “leaky gut syndrome”. Essentially, leaky gut syndrome (or “intestinal hyperpermeability”) is a common condition that develops as a consequence of intestinal tight junction malfunction. These “tight junctions” are the gateway between your intestines and what is allowed to pass into your blood stream. Your tight junctions are there to keep nasty things out like toxins, microbes and undigested food particles.
Having a leaky gut is pretty much like having the gates of your intestines broken, allowing many of these particles that are not supposed to be let through, to enter your blood stream. When this happens, it causes inflammation throughout your body leading to all kinds of minor and more serious diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders (like thyroid disease), allergies, food intolerances, IBS, acne, eczema, psoriasis, depression, anxiety and other neurological disorders. Up to 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is situated in your digestive tract. As the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said himself: “all disease begins in the gut.”
As most of us in the modern world are affected by poor diet choices, chronic stress, toxic overload and bacterial imbalances (caused by inter alia the widespread use of antibiotics), the prevalence of leaky gut has reached epidemic proportions.
Before I go any further, please note: I am not a doctor, a medical expert, a nutritionist, reiki master or sangoma, for that matter. What I am, though, is a very curious girl, extremely passionate about health and the undeniable relationship between mind, body and soul; I am someone who continually asks questions, wants to undestand “why” and seeks answers from the world’s leading experts. My write-up here is thus simply to be understood as relaying my own experience with leaky gut syndrome with the honest hope that it might be able to help someone else or, at least, make some of you want to know more or ask more questions.
I came to learn about the overarching importance of a healthy gut when I found out, accidentally, a few years ago that my thyroid antibodies were abnormally high. In a nutshell, what this meant was that my body was in a state of autoimmunity (with my thyroid antibodies attacking my thyroid). The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in one’s neck, just above the collarbone. It is one of the endocrine glands, which produce hormones. Thyroid hormones control the rate of many essential bodily activities, including how fast we burn calories and how fast our hearts beat.
I visited one top endocrinlogist after the other, only to be told that “most doctors don’t usually test for thryoid antibodies, they only look at thyroid functions. Yours is still functioning, so just ignore the antibodies for now.” I was informed that there was in any event nothing that could be done to bring down these antibodies and it would be a “wait and see” game. I was told that it is only once your thryoid eventually becomes diseased, by being overactive or underactive (as a result of the antibodies), that you can be “treated”. Treatment involves surgically removing or chemically destroying the thyroid gland and/or prescribing lifetime hormone replacement medication. Neither the “wait and see” approach nor the eventual treatment options sounded particularly appealing to me and, if I had to pinpoint one moment in time when I started questioning conventional or “pill-popping” medical strategies, and becoming more curious about preventative or functional health, this would have been it.
Through weeks of intensive research, refusing to let my state of autoimmunity be a ticking time bomb, desperately wanting to hold on to my functioning thyroid gland (without taking hormone pills for the rest of my life), I ended up at the offices of Dr Susan Blum, a New York-based functional medicine leader. I had come across her best-selling book The Immune System Recovery Plan wherein she explains the link between gut disease (“leaky gut”) and autoimmunity.
I immediately started a gut health recovery program, which involved inter alia cutting out gluten, dairy and sugar (three rather frequently consumed foods which can significantly contribute to intestinal permeability).
Whilst healing a leaky gut is a multifactorial process (involving dietary changes as well as taking digestive supplements, reducting chronic stress and repairing the gut lining), something dramatic happened when I took the first step and simply cut out gluten, sugar and dairy. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I have the blood tests to prove it. The gut repair process is not yet complete for me, but things are sure looking positive.
Thryoid peroxidase antibodies (they are supposed to be under 10):
- July 2015 | 200.3
- August 2016 | 92.3
I showed the blood tests in question to one of my doctors here in Cape Town and, let’s just say, he was surprised (to put it mildly) that, somehow, my autoimmunity was slowly but surely being “reversed” by a mere change in diet. (Bear in mind that once your thyroid has already been diagnosed as over- or under-active, it’s a different ball game and the damage has been done. I was lucky to have caught the high antibodies in time, albeit by accident, before it irreperably harmed my thyroid.)
Anyway, further to what I said before, this post is not here to serve as a comprehensive textbook on leaky gut syndrome (its causes, signs, symptoms and effects) or a guide on “how to cure whatever illnesses are plaguing you by cutting out gluten, dairy and sugar”. Instead, I am simply sharing a powerful, life-changing series of events that opened my eyes to the very real significance of gut health, beginning with the time when I saw my very own thyroid antibodies drop after a few months of cutting out inflammatory foods.
If you suspect that you might have a leaky gut and are keen to learn more about its effect on your health, I suggest you visit a holistic health expert (either a functional medical practicioner or nutrionist) to help diagnose it and guide you through an extensive gut repair program.
- Functional medical expert Dr Mark Hyman has written several, very intersting articles on the subject;
- Functional medical expert Dr Josh Axe has written an easy to understand article outlining the causes, symptoms and treatment options for leaky gut syndrome;
- Read more about the fascinating gut-brain connection and how a leaky gut can affect your brain.
See a gut repair expert & get healing
- I have found a South African version of Susan;) in the form of integrative health expert Hannah Kaye, who lives and practises as a nutritionist (with a very similar approach to Susan’s) in Cape Town;
- The doctors at Skin Renewal are very holistically-minded and suggested, to my great delight, a full gut repair program for one of our makeover candidates, Bianca, who has been battling acne for years. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
With (non-leaky) love,