Beneath the Surface: Exploring Leaky Gut- Part 2Published on Wednesday, October 18, 2023 by
Understanding Leaky Gut: Testing and Steps to Gut Health
The previous article in this series discussed increased intestinal permeability (IP), aka leaky gut. It compared our gut intestinal lining, which is semi-permeable, to that of a strainer, which allows certain elements to pass while blocking others.
It also explored the diverse range of symptoms associated with IP, extending beyond gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort to include cognitive fog, joint discomfort, chronic fatigue, allergies, and skin afflictions. This article focuses on testing for IP and the actionable steps to initiate your path to well-being.
To Test Or Not To Test
As previously mentioned, there is no official diagnosis for leaky gut in traditional medicine; however, it is known and is studied continuously in the scientific and holistic community. While tests do exist, it's essential to recognize that they might not provide foolproof results. Additionally, we must always consider whether testing is necessary. Oftentimes, the diagnosis can be made from your history and symptoms alone.
In my professional experience, when working with clients, I've noted that some degree of IP is evident approximately 80 to 90% of the time. Therefore, I often prioritize addressing this aspect first. When we have a happy and well-functioning gut, the rest of the body functions in harmony.
Testing may include zonulin testing, lactose-mannitol testing, lipopolysaccharide assessment, and intestinal fatty acid binding protein measurement, among others. These tests help identify or reflect the degree of damage to the gut lining.
Zonulin is a protein integral to gut cell permeability, and many people widely use zonulin testing in the functional medicine community. Elevated zonulin is associated with increased inflammation in IP. It's worth noting that since other organs can release zonulin, assessing its levels in stool samples is often recommended for a more direct link to intestinal permeability.
What Can Be Done?
The path to gut optimization often involves a 5-step framework, as explained by Dr. Vincent Pedre. This framework, known as the 5R framework, serves as a roadmap for enhancing gut health, and you should tailor it to meet your specific needs:
1. Identify and Remove Your Triggers: Begin by pinpointing and eliminating the factors contributing to your gut issues. Triggers vary widely among individuals, including food sensitivities (such as gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy), environmental toxins, stressors, and more. You can start on a journey to identify food triggers through either an elimination diet or a Low FODMAP diet for 4 to 6 weeks.
2. Replace Missing Digestive Elements: Address nutrient deficiencies, digestive enzymes, and vitamin inadequacies that may reduce proper digestion. Tailor your approach to suit your specific needs, whether it involves optimizing stomach acid production, introducing digestive enzymes, or ensuring the availability of essential vitamins and amino acids like zinc, vitamin D, and glutamine.
3. Reinoculate Your Microbiome: Restore essential bacteria within your gut through targeted interventions. Probiotics, offering a resurgence of healthy bacterial diversity, play a central role in this step.
4. Repair the Gut Lining: Foster the healing of your gut lining, often with the help of prebiotic foods and potentially supplements that support the mucus membrane of the gut and reduce inflammation.
5. Rebalance Your Life: Achieve equilibrium in mind, body, and soul. Prioritize exercise, quality sleep, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, spiritual connection, and gratitude to sustain your progress.
It is important to remember that imbalances in the body do not operate in isolation. Focusing on one aspect alone may not yield comprehensive results. While all five steps are integral, it's worth emphasizing that step 5, lifestyle management, often receives less attention. Yet, it plays a pivotal role in sustaining changes made in the gut.
Lifestyle Management Interventions for Leaky Gut
Key lifestyle areas of focus include exercise, sleep, and diet.
-Maintain an active lifestyle with gentle exercises like walking, relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, earthing, yoga, and more to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
-Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean and plant-based diets, and avoiding or limiting food and oils that promote inflammation. Studies show that changes in your diet can cause shifts in the microbiome in as little as 24 hours.
-Lastly, learn to prioritize sleep; aim for at least 7 hours per night. Quality Sleep alters the microbiome and affects cognition as we age. Sleep, regular exercise, and a balanced diet are the foundation of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Utilizing the 5R roadmap, you're taking significant strides toward restoring your gut health and enhancing your quality of life. If you are looking for support on this journey, please seek a reputable functional medicine provider.
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- Health Matters. (n.d.). Fecal Zonulin - Lab Results explained. HealthMatters.io. Retrieved September 16, 2023, from https://healthmatters.io/understand-blood-test-results/fecal-zonulin
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- Pedre, V. (n.d.). This video introduction to the 5R framework for treating digestive disorders is presented by Vincent Pedre, MD. The Institute for Functional Medicine. Retrieved August 20, 2023, from https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/5r-framework-gut-health/
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- Singh, R. K., Chang, H.-W., Yan, D., Lee, K. M., Ucmak, D., Wong K, Abrouk M, Farahnik B, Nakamura M, Zhu TH, Bhutani T, Liao W. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. Journal of translational medicine. 2017 Apr 8;15(1):73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385025/
Keydella FullerMSN, APRN, FNP-C