Contributor and holistic health counselor April Reigart explains the mysteries of leaky gut, what causes it and how you can start feeling (and living!) better.

When I was 18, I lived in Ocean City. I was walking home from work one day and came to an intersection just as a woman in a car next to me came to the stop sign. We made eye contact and I waited while she made her turn onto the street I was waiting to cross. There was an understanding between us based on a complicated system of perception and experience. It’s the experience of how things work.

However, just as she started to make her turn, a young boy on a bike zipped up from behind me on the sidewalk and rode right in to the street. Neither I, nor the lady saw him coming, nor did we expect him. An aberration. The driver and the pedestrian were syncopated. There was no plan for the unknown trajectory of a boy on a sidewalk on his bike.

She ran over him. His bike was crumpled, the boy was screaming and the lady and I were both in shock.

The point of this dramatic story is to illustrate the gravity of a leaky gut, as it concerns your intestinal health. Your intestines and your digestion are working together in a complex and nuanced system. The gut microbiome is a complicated place where things are working together to keep you safe and healthy. Yet, everyday Americans consume an assault of “food” items that increase gut permeability. (A-hem…like, GMOs. We didn’t hear so much about this before GMOs were introduced to consumers in the 90s. Just sayin’. Although, physical and mental stress can increase gut permeability, too.)

Think of your intestinal tract and digestion as that complex system of traffic, roads, stop signs and understanding. The lady and I are examples of food moving through the system properly. The boy on his bike is an example of food particles breaking through the intestinal lining and wreaking havoc on the whole system. Our intestinal health is largely responsible for our immunity.

When the intestinal lining becomes permeable, food molecules escape it directly in to your blood stream. Normally the lining of the intestine protects from the leakage of undigested food particles in to the blood stream. Food is to be broken down, and only the nutrients are meant to flow in to the blood. However, many of the foods we eat today are causing a breakdown.

These unexpected food particles cause shock to the body, and the liver has to spring in to action to try to filter out the toxins. Hello, overload. Then, your immune system has to shift to hyperdrive to attack these foreign invaders. The result is a lot of inflammation and discord in the body.

Now, I know you are sick of hearing the words “gluten-free”- I am, too. Yet, this is a new fad for a good reason. It’s just that new research has come to light, and many people are chosing to follow suit, which means that the “food” companies are trying to make their buck…thus, you see the words “gluten-free” everywhere you look. This is not to be dismissed, though- there is really something to it. And, while we health gurus and woo-woo’s may sound like we are just making this stuff up- we are not. I’m taking a lot of scientific and medical research and presenting it to you in plain terms.

The proteins in wheat (gluten) actually cause gut permeability in everyone. Some people will show signs of the problem and some won’t. If you are on this road, other foods may begin to irritate the intestines, as well. Do you have symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, sugar cravings (a sign of candidiasis/yeast overgrowth), skin rashes, headaches, sore throats, getting sick often, gas, bloating, weight gain or loss, difficulty losing weight, anxiety or just generally not feeling well from day to day? It’s time to look at your diet.

One of the simplest ways to evaluate how your diet is affecting you is to do an “elimination diet”. You simply eliminate a possible offending food for four weeks. Then, slowly reintroduce that food. You do this by having a nibble, then waiting a few hours. If you have no strong reaction, you have a normal serving of that food with your next meal. If you do not have an immediate adverse reaction, go ahead and have more of the food the next day. Meanwhile, be keeping a journal of how you feel before you start the elimination test, during the elimination and after reintroduction. You should be able to see clearly if that type of food makes a difference in your health. (And, of course you can get this type of support and guidance by working with a health coach!)

Two weeks after that accident, I saw the boy zipping around on his bike wearing a cast on his arm. If you have a leaky gut, you can heal it. You must look at what you’re eating and learn to make some adjustments.

I’ll be writing more on gut health and immunity issues in the future! Until then, mind your digestion and intestinal health.

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April Reigart is an Institute for Integrative Nutrition Certified Holistic Health Coach, and also certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. She holds a Master’s Degree from Tyler School of Art, and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and young son. She is available for one-on-one coaching and health strategizing, and offers free initial health consultations. Find her through her website, www.aprildawnreigart.com, on Facebook or follow her on Instagram.