Did you know that a leaky gut is typically the precursor to an autoimmune condition? And, that your body often presents you with early warning signs before a leaky gut actually occurs? It is important for you to recognize these signs in order to maintain optimal health.
A leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, causes your immune system to work overtime and can result in your body becoming nutrient deficient. Insufficiencies such as maldigestion and malabsorption then start to occur, which can result in inflammation.
Your gut is a great indicator. When you start to see changes for the worse, take notice. If you can make the necessary changes before your gut becomes truly leaky, you can often prevent other illnesses from occurring.
Some early warning signs of a leaky gut include:
- gas, burping, or bloating after eating (indication of disbiosis)
- reflux or heart burn
- stomach pains
- intolerance of eating fats
- undigested food in bowel movements
- fatty bowel movements (sheen in toilet)
- transit time has changed
- sudden diarrhea or constipation
- alternating diarrhea and constipation
The goal is to catch the problem and correct it before it turns into something larger like an autoimmune condition. (Skin issues, like eczema and psoriasis, are other common signs that can show up later.)
Below are a number of things you can do when you start to see irregularities in your gut and bowel movements. It may not be the most pleasant of topics to discuss, but it is important information to know.
1. Check Your Transit Times
Bowel “transit time” is how long it takes for the food you eat to come out the other end, in the toilet. In the past, a good way to check your “transit time” was to eat corn on the cob and check your poop for several days. (Most of you know what I am talking about, when you see the undigested corn kernels in the toilet afterward.)
I don’t typically recommend eating corn since it is a GMO crop (see below). Instead you can eat a large serving (about one cup) of beets or blueberries. After eating one of these, start checking the toilet every time you have a bowel movement. Eventually you will see a red or bluish color (or pieces of blueberry skin) in your poop. Record how long it takes to come out and how long before it stops.
Optimally, transit time should be between 12 and 24 hours. If your bowels move too fast (diarrhea), your body does not have time to absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat and you end up with malabsorption. If the transit time is too slow (constipation), you unnecessarily exposed your body to toxins that can be reabsorbed through the colon into the body. Your colon is suppose to usher the toxins out of the body, not hold them in.
At a minimum, you should have one good bowel movement a day. (It is optimal to have one bowel movement for every large meal you eat but, in my experience, very few people do.) If you have just one daily bowel movement, you need to make sure it is from yesterday’s food, not food from 4 or 5 days ago. That is why you should check your transit time.
Having good bowel movements in a timely manor is a big deal. Many things can affect your specific transit time, as you will see below. See what works for you. In the mean time, if constipation is the issue, taking magnesium citrate and drinking more quality water is useful for loosening the stool.
2. Track Your Food, Mood, and Poop
It is not uncommon for a food to cause gut issues. Gluten and dairy are two of the most universal trigger foods. Other common food triggers include soy, corn, sugar, egg white, grains, and legumes. Some people may have additional triggers like night shades (such as tomatoes and zucchini), oxalates (such as almonds and spinach), or strawberries (which is a crop grown with many pesticides).
Genetically modified (GM or GMO) food is another category of food that modifies your gut. Even one serving can damage your gut bacteria. The reason is that GM foods are specifically engineered to withstand abnormally large amounts of pesticides. Two of the GM foods, corn and cotton, even have a toxin (Bt-toxin) that is added to the seed to purposely kill insects when they try to eat the plant. The same pesticides and toxins used on the GM crops get into your body when you eat the plant, which kills microorganism in your gut and modifies your gut bacteria (or microbiome). (Click here to learn more about GMOs.)
A good way to get a handle on the foods you eat and how they affect your body is to start a journal. No two people are the same so each person will have different “trigger” foods. One way to find yours is to track the foods you eat on a daily basis and your reactions to these foods.
In your journal, record the following:
- Food: Write down the foods you eat at each meal and snack. Look at your lists and see if you are eating healthy fats, fiber and protein in every meal. You can also quickly scan your list to make sure you are eating enough variety of fruits and veggies every day. (You should include a wide array of colors to make sure you are consuming many different nutrients.) Another use is to track your GM foods and use the journal to start replacing these foods with non-GMO.
- Mood: Track and record how you feel throughout the day. Keep track of unusual spikes in emotions, such as flashes of frustration or melt-downs. Also include other changes in your body such as bloating or other physical reactions (see list above). In some cases, a reaction can take up to three days to occur. After a while you begin to see a pattern based on the foods you eat (and possibly other stressors in your life).
- Poop: When you start regularly looking at your bowel movements before you flush, you will start to notice some patterns there as well. Look at the list above and compare what you see to the Bristol Poop Chart as shown in my previous article about poop here. Make note of the changes and look back to see what foods may have made the difference.
If you want faster results, you can work with a health professional to get a blood test to check your food sensitivities. (The older type of scratch test for food sensitivities is not recommended since it is not as accurate.) Muscle testing and bioenergetic assessments are other useful tools to help your figure out food sensitivities, especially when you want to get specific with the foods you eat more regularly. (Note that your sensitivities often change as you improve your health.)
3. Upgrade Your Probiotics and Prebiotics
Every food you eat is either feeding the good bacteria or the bad bacteria in your gut. Junk food and sugars will feed the bad bacteria. Natural fruits and veggies, especially GMO-free and pesticide-free produce, helps to feed good bacteria.
Together the good and bad bacteria make up what is known as your gut microbiome. Believe it or not, bad bacteria can harmoniously live in your gut, but these bacteria must be kept in check by the good bacteria.
Some ways to improve the good bacteria and provide the best balance include:
- Probiotics: Probiotics are good but you need to be careful when using store bought brands. You should not continually use the same brand, whether you are getting it in a commercial yogurt or a supplement. This will create a mono-biome where you are over populating one or more strains of good bacteria to the detriment of the others. If you need to take a probiotic be sure to rotate products and strains. (In some cases, you will need a more potent pharmaceutical brand for optimal results.)
- Fermented (or Cultured) Foods: A better way to get probiotics is to eat more fermented foods, being sure to rotate the ones you eat. Each vegetable, for example, will produce different strains of probiotics and nutrients when fermented. Rotate these and include some other fermented foods like water kefir, kombucha, yogurt (if you can tolerate dairy), etc. Homemade ferments are optimal. One store brand I often recommend is Bubbies (pickles and sauerkraut).
- Prebiotics: Some foods are known as prebiotics which means they help feed the good bacteria already in your gut. These types of foods include asparagus, garlic, onion, root veggies, and tubers (like jicama). Bananas and other fruits with fiber also help feed your good bacteria. Like probiotics, it is important to diversify your prebiotic foods so that you feed a wide variety of good bacteria. (Resistant starches are especially good since they pass through the small intestines to feed bacteria in the large intestines.)
You can also get good microbes from nature. Examples include working in the yard, digging in your garden (if you don’t use pesticides), walking in nature, and even playing with your animals who roam outdoors.
On the other hand, certain medications can disrupt the balance of good bacteria in your gut. Antibiotics are well known for this and should be used sparingly whenever possible. Other medications known to negatively affect your microbiome as well as the integrity of your gut lining include NSAIDs, steroids, chemotherapy, and even birth control pills. If you must use these medications be sure you are replenishing your good bacteria using the suggestions above.
4. Knock Out Harmful Microbes
This is where you may need the help of a health professional. It is not uncommon for parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi to contribute to a leaky gut. (Even toxins like heavy metals can cause problems.) We all get exposed to these on a regular basis.
Parasites and bacteria, for example, can easily come from the foods we eat and the water we drink and/or swim in. In fact, it is a good idea to do a parasite cleanse at least once a year as maintenance to keep your gut in good health. (In Oriental Medicine a parasite cleanse is typically recommended every Spring and Fall.)
We catch colds, get the flu, get exposed to mold, develop Candida overgrowth, etc. It is part of life. Sometimes our body can knock these out on their own, especially if your immune system is working optimally. In other instances, the microbe you thought you got rid of may move deeper into the body and cause low grade infections that you can’t even detect.
You also can pickup a micro-organism while traveling in a foreign country. It may give you severe problems when you are first exposed (think “Montezuma’s Revenge”). You may think it has moved out of your body once the worst of it is over, but sometimes these organisms hide out in the gut until another stressor causes it to show itself again.
Work with a health professional to determine what microbes need to be “knocked out.” It is optimal to use foods, herbals and targeted homeopathics to bring your body back into balance rather than medications that may further alter your good bacteria. However, medications may be necessary in certain instances.
5. Add Digestive Enzymes to Your Meals
Using digestive enzymes is a good way to give your body extra support, especially when you are not eating optimally. When taken with a meal, they help support the enzymes typically made by your pancreas, allowing your body to break down the foods you eat so that your body can better assimilate the nutrients. A full spectrum supplement that has a variety of enzymes including the main ones of amylase, protease, lipase, and lactase is usually best.
Some people need to add an HCL supplement instead. In fact it is becoming more widely known that many people with acid reflux often (but not always) have low stomach acid, not too much stomach acid like they are typically told. Our stomach acid also tends to diminish as we age.
HCL, or hydrochloric acid, is what the stomach produces to digest your food. If you don’t produce enough of it on your own, then food does not get digested properly. It is especially important for proteins. You stomach uses the HCL to convert the proteins into amino acids, which are the building blocks to many things in the body such as muscles, neurotransmitters, hair and nails, etc.
Betaine HCL can be obtained as a supplement to be taken with your meals. (If you currently have acid reflux and/or are on acid reflux medications, be sure to work with a health practitioner to make sure it is right for you.) This book has more information.
The goal is to take enzymes and/or HCL temporarily to help your body jumpstart being able to make more on its own, especially as you start eating better and you work on reducing harmful microbes.
6. Include Exercise and Hydration
It is important to exercise if you want a healthy gut. Your gut needs motion to move the waste through. The gut lining uses what is called paristalsis to move the food and waste through the digestion system. It is the muscles in the digestive tract that push the food through.
When you move your body, you help improve this process. Even walking 30 minutes every other day is a great start. It is better to get more variety and include some high intensity and weight baring exercises. However, don’t overdo it. If you do extreme exercise, especially if your body is run down, you can actually cause more harm then good, creating unnecessary stress on the body.
If you have low mobility, one of the best exercises for your bowls is doing a bicycle motion with your legs. If you can’t ride a bike (or a stationary bike), you can lay on your back on the floor or a bed and pump your legs on your own or with someone’s help. A mini trampoline is also a good option; even a slight bounce helps.
Drinking good quality water is a must for a healthy gut as well. Regular tap water is full of toxins that eventually accumulate in your body. Manufacturered bottle water is not much better as a long-term solution, because the plastic from the bottles leaches into the water and accumulates in your body as well. (See my previous article about good quality water here for more information.)
7. Check Your Stress Levels
Stress and past traumas is a huge one. You can be doing all the right things: eating right, exercising, taking probiotics, etc., but if you are exposed to an unexpected stress or trauma (or even long-term stress) it can make you sick.
In fact, it is not unusual that an unexpected trauma or stressor suddenly change other things in your body. For example, a food might suddenly become an issue for you even though you have been eating it for years, causing new gut problems. The stressor could be anything from a stomach virus to a car accident.
Look for ways to reduce your stress. In the mean time, be sure to take extra time for yourself. Be sure to get a good night sleep each night. Take a bath. Get a message. Pray. Meditate. (For other ideas on how to reduce stress, click here.)
There are several ways to help your body heal from old traumas. Energy clearings and mudding are just two options. In fact, as I learn new ways to use mud packs, I have been seeing even better results with my clients.
8. Love Yourself
Last but not least, love yourself enough to take a pause when you notice that something has changed in your body. This is a big component to staying healthy and often the hardest thing to do. It can be difficult to stop what you are doing and change gears.
Be comfortable enough with yourself to look inwardly to make sure you are not unconsciously sabotaging yourself. Negative thoughts and emotions are known to affect our health. Our emotions are actually seated in our gut and can affect digestion.
Are you holding a grudge against someone you know? Do you have resentment towards a situation you cannot control? Are you angry at a family member?
I know it is not always easy to let go. One way to help resolve these negative emotions is to write a letter to the offending person or situation. Include everything you wish you could tell them in person. Then, instead of sending the letter, burn it. Say a prayer and see all of your anger, resentment, fear, and sadness dissolve as your letter goes up in smoke. It works!
The old saying, “all disease begins in the gut” is still true today. Science is beginning to prove that a change in the gut is often the first sign of a health issue.
Our body usually gives us numerous signs before we “crash.” Take notice. Make the necessary adjustments in your lifestyle when you first notice subtle changes, before it turns into something larger. Use the information above to help you make some positive changes and work with a health professional when necessary.
Making the appropriate corrections can be the difference between early inflammation and eventual full-blown autoimmunity. If you pay attention, you can often catch a health problem before it gets worse.
To learn more about a “leaky gut” go to my previous blog article here.