Is Leaky Gut Real?
“Leaky gut”. I want to bring you some clarity about this in case you’ve been reading about it….
You’ll read articles blaming “leaky gut” for a variety of symptoms and conditions like allergies, joint pain, autoimmune diseases…. even your child’s ADHD, aggressive behaviour, hyperactivity or autism might be linked back to it (the gut and the brain are very connected).
Some of your doctors will acknowledge it’s a thing, others will not.
Some practitioners will wave it around like it’s the only thing that matters and use at as a catch-all term when what they really mean is poor digestion.
This confusion and tension is likely because research into what leaky gut actually is, what causes it, how to diagnose it, and what to do about it is still in its infancy.
And that’s important to know… there’s a lot we don’t know about leaky gut. More info is emerging all the time and there are few clear cut answers.
But at the same time, what I have seen happen over and over again is that when you work on a child’s digestion they feel better, focus better, myriad symptoms ranging from skin issues to hyperactivity and self injury dissipate, and they are better able to self regulate.
And it’s those results that are what matters.
So I want to set aside the debate of whether "leaky gut" is an actual condition and focus on what parents need to know… about digestive health.
Think of your intestine as a tube. It’s made of live cells tightly bound together and is layered with a thick layer of mucous to protect it and house the billions of microbes and enzymes that live and work there.
The intestinal tube is actually considered to be ‘outside’ of the body, even though it runs through its middle; it’s the gatekeeper that selectively allows nutrients and fluids to enter into the body while carrying pathogens and waste down for elimination.
When functioning well, the lining of the intestine is supposed to be “leaky”. Nutrients can pass through the intestinal lining itself and also through the tight junctions between the cells that open and close – a process which is turning out to be largely regulated by a protein called Zonulin.
But the key is that a healthy intestinal barrier is intelligent – it’s selective about what it allows through and what it keeps out. It’s like a highly regulated, state of the art, smart security system. And it needs regular maintenance.
When the terrain of the intestine is not as robust and healthy as it should be, any or all of these other things can happen...
- Microbes do not have a healthy environment to live and can not do their jobs effectively (if you’re not yet familiar with what microbes do, watch this video)
- Food is not digested well leading to nutrient deficiency, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea
- Pathogenic bacteria can cause infection
- Motility can slow leading to constipation
- The opening and closing of the tight junctions might get dysregulated (often due to an overproduction of zonulin)
- Intestinal cells can become more permeable than they should be
- The immune system that is housed in the gut can get activated (70-80% of our immune cells live there, collectively known as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT). This in turn can set the entire immune system on high alert
When the security system is not functioning well, bad guys can get in, good guys get sluggish and can’t get to their posts, processes break down, the alarms are raised… basically all hell breaks loose as security forces try to restore order.
So you can imagine the potential impact of this and understand why symptoms of poor digestion can show up in all corners of the body.
When digestion is poor, the body struggles on so many levels.…
So… what to do??
The key is to restore the terrain of the intestinal lining - fix the security system so it can do its job again.
Like everything in the Raising Resilience system I teach, the basic formula any time you want to improve health is to “clean up” (in this case, reduce things that commonly irritate and are hard to digest) and to “build” (ie. flood the body with the nutrients it needs to repair and regenerate)
You can read more about how to do that here.
There are 9 more strategies outlined in my book.
Pick one or 2 things to start with… pick strategies that feel do-able and then layer others on top. Go easy on yourself, incorporating good digestive practices as you can. Keep moving forward.
… and don’t forget water… hydration is key for healthy mucous membranes.
Good digestion is key to your child’s health and could be lying at the root of any troubling health or behaviour issues you’re trying to get a handle on. Working on it is well worth the time and energy.