Treating leaky gut can start healing

My last article introduced and described leaky-gut syndrome. This article will explain why this is an important health problem, who may be affected and what can be done to heal leaky-gut syndrome.

In leaky-gut syndrome, the intestinal lining has been damaged by inflammation, poor diet, chronic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use, other drug use, stress, infection and other factors. This damage allows substances such as large food molecules, toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The presence of “foreign” substances in the bloodstream provokes an immune system response that continues as long as the intestinal tract remains leaky. Over time, the immune system becomes hyper-reactive and hyper-sensitive, resulting in chronic inflammation and allergic reactions.

One of the basic tenets of naturopathic medicine is that digestive malfunction creates a foundation for disease to begin. Leaky-gut syndrome has serious health consequences and is the root cause of many chronic illnesses.

Problems associated with a leaky gut are celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, thyroid disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases, food and environmental allergies, joint disease, auto-immune conditions, poor immune function, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and complications with chemotherapy, just to name a few. Anyone who has been eating a standard American diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates is at risk for developing a leaky gut. The risk is even higher when stress levels are elevated.

Deep, long-term healing can occur in the body and mind when digestive function is restored. There are several distinctive steps to regaining good intestinal health. The first is dietary and requires elimination of refined foods, mainly flour, sugar and chemical additives. A nutritional plan loaded with fresh veggies, whole grains, organic proteins and good fats is a good place to start. Often, this is enough to turn things around if the gut has not yet been severely damaged.

The second step involves healing the brush border of the intestinal tract. This is essential as it reduces irritation and inflammation, and settles the gut down so that the next steps will be effective. Soothing, anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients are very effective for this step. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice, marshmallow root, slippery elm, aloe vera gel, MSM and glutamine are all good gut healers.

The next step is to identify and clear out bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections that can thrive in a leaky gut. Digestive function testing is useful here to show us exactly what organisms are in the gut, both good and bad. Certain natural medicines are effective for this step without causing further intestinal damage or killing good probiotics.

And finally, the last step is to send in the good bacteria or probiotics now that you have created a good home for them in which to flourish. Diet is very important in the maintenance of a healthy probiotic population, and eating refined sugar and flour products changes the intestinal environment enough to kill good bacteria.

drnancy@durangonatural medicine.com. Nancy Utter is a naturopathic doctor who works in Durango with people of all ages and varying illnesses.