In Functional Medicine, Natural Health & Lifestyle

If you have an autoimmune disease that’s controlling your life you’ll do just about anything to feel better (so you can get your life back).

You may have heard that with functional medicine it’s possible to stop the autoimmune process in your body and even reverse your condition — leaving you with more energy and fewer symptoms.

This may sound too good to be true but… it is true!

Functional medicine works and people with autoimmune disease are getting better because they are addressing the root causes of disease.

When you look for why your body developed autoimmune disease in the first place — and you address those “why’s” — you’ll give your body the best chance to turn things around.

That’s where your leaky gut comes into play.

If you have an autoimmune disease you most likely have a leaky gut (even if it seems like your autoimmune condition isn’t gut related and even if you don’t have digestive symptoms).

In fact, a leaky gut is almost always involved in the development of an autoimmune condition (in other words, it’s part of the root cause).

In his landmark 2009 study, Alessio Fasano, MD, suggested that three things must be present for an autoimmune condition to develop: a genetic predisposition (or a family history of autoimmune disorders), a trigger (like stress, an infection or a toxin), and a leaky gut.

Therefore, according to Dr. Fasano, you must have a leaky gut for an autoimmune condition to develop in the first place. If you want to treat the root causes of your autoimmune condition (and heal your body) you must heal your gut.

When your gut heals you’ll feel better. You’ll have fewer symptoms and you’ll start to feel like yourself again. And, you’ll be slowing down or even reversing autoimmunity in your body. Sounds good, right!?

Here’s what you need to know about your leaky gut (and how to heal it).


What is a Leaky Gut?

When you have a leaky gut the wall of the digestive tract becomes damaged and loses its ability to function properly. “Holes” are created in the lining of the intestines that shouldn’t be there allowing things to “sneak through”.

In a healthy digestive tract, the cells lining the walls of the intestines are “selectively permeable” meaning they let the good stuff (like minerals, vitamins, and nutrients) get through the lining and into the bloodstream for circulation to the body.

And, they keep the bad stuff (like toxins, fungi, yeast, parasites, large undigested food particles and waste products) out of your bloodstream, leaving them in the intestines for elimination.

If you have a leaky gut, particles that aren’t supposed to enter your bloodstream and circulate throughout your body sneak through the intestines. When this happens, the immune system targets these molecules generating an inflammatory response.

Over time, this process continues to activate your immune system creating long-term inflammation which hurts your body.


What Causes a Leaky Gut?

A leaky gut is caused by anything that creates ongoing irritation or inflammation to the digestive tract.

This includes things like: infections (parasites, molds, yeast or bacteria), toxins, pesticides, medications (such as pain medications and antibiotics), inflammatory foods (such as gluten), and high intakes of alcohol, caffeine and sugar.

Physical and emotional stress can also make you more susceptible to a leaky gut. Research suggests that even short-term stressors can cause a leaky gut to develop or worsen.

A functional medicine healthcare provider will help you determine what  may be causing your leaky gut. Sometimes, it’s necessary to order specialize testing (like stool testing, food sensitivity testing or heavy metal testing) to find out what’s irritating your digestive tract.


How do you heal a leaky gut?

Functional medicine providers use a “4 R Approach” to treat a leaky gut. The four R’s are: Remove the Irritants, Restore Digestive Function, Re-inoculate with Probiotics and Repair the Digestive Lining.

Step One: Remove the Irritants.

It’s important to identify and remove anything that causes irritation to your digestive tract. This includes intestinal infections (like parasites or yeast), environmental toxins (like heavy metals, mold or pesticides) or irritating foods.

Common food irritants include: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, legumes, grains, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. While you’re healing your gut it may be necessary for you to adhere to an elimination diet which removes these foods.

A functional medicine provider can help you identify what may be triggering your leaky gut. They may want to order a stool test to determine if you have intestinal parasites or bacterial overgrowth. Additionally, it may be necessary to test for toxins or food sensitivities.

Step Two: Restore Digestive Function

A leaky gut can deplete the body’s ability to properly digest and absorb food. Helping your body optimize its digestive function may be necessary (and it’ll help you feel better).

Stool testing can help determine if your body is digesting and absorbing foods optimally. Additionally, simple blood tests may reveal nutrient deficiencies which further suggest your body isn’t digesting or absorbing properly.

If you’re suspicious your body isn’t digesting food well you may find it helpful to supplement with digestive enzymes while your body is healing. Your functional medicine provider can help determine which ones are best for you.

Additionally, chewing your food thoroughly, eating your food in a calm environment, and sitting upright while you eat will also help improve your digestion.

Step Three: Re-Inoculate with Probiotics.

Another way to help your gut heal is to increase the number of good bacteria in your digestive tract. A healthy balance of beneficial bacteria are very important in the health of your body and immune system.

A high-dose probiotic will help ensure that you continually re-inoculate your gut with good bacteria. Additionally, fermented foods (like sauerkraut or fermented vegetables) and prebiotic foods (such as garlic and onions) can help restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria.

Food has the most powerful influence on your gut bacteria. Supplementing with probiotics isn’t enough on it’s own. You must also feed the good bacteria with a balanced whole-foods diet and avoid foods that disrupt the good bacteria (like sugar, alcohol, and gluten).

Step Four: Repair the Digestive Lining.

When you have a leaky gut your digestive lining has become damaged. Using foods and supplements will help you reduce the inflammation, soothe the intestinal wall and heal the lining of the intestines.

Food is the best medicine when it comes to repairing your gut. Bone broth and collagen are potent gut healers. Spices such as turmeric and ginger are highly anti-inflammatory. Wild fish, steamed vegetables, and healthy fats found in avocados, coconut, and olive oil are also healing for the gut.

Common gut healing supplements include: omega-3 fish oils, glutamine, zinc, quercetin and curcumen. Check with your functional medicine provider to see what’s best for you. You may not need to supplement with these or there may be better options for you specifically.


Parting Thoughts:

If you have an autoimmune disease, you most likely have a leaky gut which is harming your body and reducing your body’s ability to heal.

Thankfully, healing your gut is possible (and it’s often the key to turning your health around). You can discover what’s triggering your leaky gut and heal your body using the “4 R’s Protocol”.

You’ll not only feel better but you’ll be addressing the root causes of your autoimmune condition.

Have you been diagnosed with a leaky gut? Has treating it helped you feel better?

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question below.


Would you like to learn more about functional medicine? Check out my FREE 10-Day Email Series, What You Need to Know About Autoimmune Conditions, you’ll learn:

  • why reversal and remission are possible for you,
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  • and, so much more.
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Showing 2 comments
  • Shara

    I have blastosystis hominis. After 6 months of treatment with a naturopath to heal my gut test show I still have them. The only symptom I had was weight loss and I believe this was/is because I do have a pretty healthy diet. Everything I read says this is a very hard parasite to kill. Have you treated this and had any success by working on healing a leaky gut?

    • Dr. Deborah Anderson

      Hi Shara,
      You’re right. Blastocystis hominis is a challenging parasite to eradicate from the body! I’ve successfully treated it with many patients with a fairly aggressive protocol that I tailor to my patient’s specific needs, goals, and health history. Many aspects of the initial treatment plan include things for leaky gut but many anti-parasite things as well. Once we get a negative B. hominis result on retesting then I tend to focus on more specific gut healing which continues to include things for leaky gut. Does that answer your question?
      All the best to you!
      Dr. Deborah