Inflammation and Leaky Gut: Links to Health Issues

Guest post by ‘Leaky Gut Girl’ Jacquie Walburn

About Inflammation and Leaky Gut

Research has identified inflammation as the root cause of many ailments, conditions, and diseases – from heart disease to obesity, diabetes, and many autoimmune diseases. One of the ways inflammation is triggered is the foods we eat. Food ladened with GMOs, pesticides, preservatives, processed flour, and artificial sweeteners will trigger inflammation. So can environmental factors such as polluted water and air, stress, hormone imbalances, personal care products, and toxic heavy metals. Many people make uninformed choices that promote chronic inflammation which, when ignored, leads to numerous health conditions. Food-based inflammation typically starts in the gut, but eventually (if nothing changes), the damage spreads throughout the body to become chronic systemic inflammation. Take note, choices for change can be made!

What Is Leaky Gut?

Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine when he stated back in 412 BC ‘All health starts in the gut’ and ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’

In general, leaky gut is the result of long term chronic inflammation damage to the small intestinal gut lining causing holes in between the individual cells (intestinal permeability) so that the intestinal materials (undigested food, proteins, bacteria, viri) leak out into the blood stream causing an immune response.

Inflammation and Leaky Gut

How leaky gut starts: Leaky gut begins with excessive inflammation in your small intestine triggered by environmental, diet, health history, and lifestyle factors. The small intestine is where most of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the foods we eat are digested and absorbed. The intestinal wall is supposed to be semi-permeable, with pores that only allow certain things to pass through and enter the bloodstream. The pores keep other things like toxins and undigested food particles from entering. When you are young, the lining can keep up with the toxic load and heal, but over time as toxins accumulate it can no longer keep up and the gut becomes ‘hyperpermeable’.

Adding to this picture, the gut also houses most of our immune system. When the gut lining or intestinal wall is damaged, it becomes unable to do its job. This leads to symptoms such as the early warning signs of auto-immune diseases we tend to ignore (see table) and treat symptomatically, not realizing our body is trying to tell us something is wrong. This would include things like acid reflux, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, allergies, food sensitivities, aches and pains, and the list goes on.

These are the beginning stages of inflammation that lead to leaky gut. This leads to malabsorption of key nutrients, leaving the body unable to keep up the repair cycles. Then the downward health cascade ensues. If left unchecked, this problem will lead to more serious issues problems with the immune system. According to several experts, once we have one autoimmune condition, we have a 60% chance of acquiring a second autoimmune condition if you do not heed the body’s cry for help and make some changes. Take note, we have choices. This is reversible!

As a leaky gut slowly loses its integrity, the undigested food particles that are supposed to be kept out of the blood leak into the bloodstream, and then circulate throughout the body. The immune system responds to these perceived invaders. This leads to systemic inflammation (not just in the gut), and an immune reaction occurs as our own immune system makes antibodies to these items (T and B cells in the diagram below). The problem is these larger particles resemble our own tissues (molecular mimicry) and leads to the immune system ‘accidentally’ attacking our cells and tissues. Now we have an autoimmune condition.

inflammation and leaky gut

Health Conditions Caused By Leaky Gut

There are over 160 conditions or diseases that are linked to leaky gut and re-classified as auto-immune conditions caused by inflammation. There are many different views on the major contributor to leaky gut, ranging from gluten and dairy to candida overgrowth and medications, lifestyle choices, and so on. Maybe they are all a part of a toxic concoction in this process. Leading experts discuss candida being the possible primary cause, since 80% of those with auto immune conditions have this overgrowth. The reason candida overgrowth may be a leading contributor to leaky gut and other conditions is because candida can grow through the intestinal lining, causing open junctions for leakage. It can even metastasize throughout the body and cross the blood/brain barrier. Many people with chronic inflammatory diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s test positive for candida and leaky gut. Some argue the chicken and the egg. “Researchers saw the same thing in people with Crohn’s and IBS,” Dr. Ghannoum says.

Candida is also fed in the body by all forms of sugar and carbs. Our high-grain diets over the past 50 years have created the perfect environment for candida. When too much sugar is ingested, the opportunistic Candida yeast multiplies and floods the body with acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct. This is a dangerous toxin that is poisonous to your tissues and accumulates in your brain, spinal cord, organs, and muscles, causing symptoms of brain fog, muscle weakness, and even pain. “Candida overgrowth can also take over your appetite. Candida releases chemicals that signal your brain to feed them what they want, causing relentless sugar cravings that are hard to control.” (JC Rathmell, et al. Glucose metabolism in lymphocytes is a regulated process with significant effects on immune cell function and survival. J Leukoc Biol. 2008 Oct;84(4):949-57)

How Genetics Fit Into This

We may have genes that predispose us to some of these conditions, but your genes are not your destiny. We have all heard “________ runs in my family,” whether it be heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and so on. Epigenetic research (the study of changes in organisms caused by which of the genes express themselves) tells us these genes get turned on and off by our environment, our diet, and our lifestyle. Our microbiome (gut bacteria) actually interacts with our genes. What you inherit is what I term your ‘genetic bucket,’ and our genetics determines the size of that bucket. This is how well the body is genetically able to deal with the onslaught of compromising invaders, and its ability to neutralize, eliminate, and heal from them. If your toxic load is too much for your genetically-determined bucket size, your bucket fills up until it finally overflows and spills out into the system — and then you get symptoms. Those with small ‘genetic buckets’ see symptoms earlier in life. Those with larger ‘genetic buckets’ experience signs of problems much later. Our genetics only determines the size and therefore the time frame. Take note, we can influence how our genes express themselves.

Your Microbiome and Inflammation

You are made up of approximately 50 trillion human cells but you also have 10 times that amount of friendly, symbiotic probiotic bacteria living inside. Face it, they out number ‘us’ and so accordingly, they control a lot of what we consider ‘us’. Their DNA can actually talk to our DNA, and this is where the epigenetics of turning our genes on and off comes in. Bacteria help us by making hormones, converting hormones, making vitamins, producing immune cells, and other things. Unless you have the right friendly environment of the ‘good guys’, the unfriendlies (bad or even ugly) can take over and do harmful things. The problem is we can lose our good friendlies with antibiotic use, alcohol, pesticide foods, medications ….all the inflammatory items kill them, leaving you open to invasion of the unfriendlies that do harm. Take note, we can alter this balance!

How To Reverse Damage From Inflammation

When you work towards healing, many wonderful things can happen. Autoimmune conditions will fade, as will pain and fatigue. Energy will improve, and you’ll lose weight.

Here are some tips that I have accumulated over the last few years:

  1. Collagen bone broth is “a game changer in providing the nutrients to heal your gut as it seals leaky gut and provides nutrients to support healthy metabolism, healthy skin, healthy joints” per I put a scoop in my tea, scoop in my smoothies, make my own for soups and stews, can add it to water you cook with.
  2. Raw cultured dairy – is rich in probiotics if you can handle raw, organic dairy. Commercial dairy contains over 20 different compromising items like hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, medications, and are fed pesticide-laced grains instead of grass. The most tolerated dairy is going to come from grass-fed, raw ‘cow’ products, or goat or even camel dairy products. This would include items like plain, unsweetened organic kefir, yogurt, and even raw cheeses. I recommend no diary for a period of at least 60-90 days to start, so I use coconut yogurt and coconut kefir and no other dairy.
  3. Fermented vegetables – Fermented food is full of probiotics and easily digestible nutrients, plus prebiotics to feed the probiotics. These include raw sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut kefir. Just a couple of spoonsful a day should do the trick.
  4. Healthy fats/Omega 3’s – these have anti-inflammatory properties for both gut and the whole body. Best sources are wild caught salmon & other oily fish like sardines and mackerel (no farmed fish), coconut oil, avocados, egg yolks, and organic olive, canola, and avocado oil… Coconut/MCT oil contains caprylic acid – 1 Tablespoon before each meal is healthy fat and anti-fungal to help balance gut flora and limit candida.
  5. Glutamine powder – is the amino acid that is anti-inflammatory and feeds your intestinal cells to fuel repairs.
  6. Probiotics – 50-100 billion re-inoculates good bacteria, increases absorption of nutrients, aids in producing hormones, vitamins, improves immune function.
  7. Prebiotics/fiber – feed the good bacteria: 6+ servings a day of cooked vegetables, easier to digest than raw to start then slowly adding berry/melon fruits (especially if dealing with candida), sprouted flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and fermented foods. Then, after 90 or so days, add in things like raw cruciferous vegetables.
  8. Aloe vera juice – is healing to the gut lining. I use 2 oz in water every day.
  9. Digestive enzymes – helps break down and process your food reducing workload on intestines. Needs to contain pancreatin, HCL, pepsin, bile, bromalin taken with every meal.
  10. DGL Licorice root/ashwaganda – adaptogenic herbs that helps balance hormones, alleviates adrenal fatigue, aids in cortisol metabolism (stress) and supports your stomach lining, reduces edema, hypertension, and modulate the immune system. Very important for those dealing with high stress. I would also consider adding milk thistle as stress puts extra demands on the liver and gallbladder.
  11. Quercetin – improves gut barrier function by sealing the gut lining, is anti-inflammatory and an anti-histamine to help regulate allergenic responses.
  12. Spices – many ‘superfoods’ are actually spices that can calm inflammation and support the body’s ability to heal. Some of my favorites are turmeric, oregano, cilantro, ginger, and rosemary that all have healing properties.
  13. Essential oils – ginger & peppermint soothe the stomach and intestinal lining and improve digestion
  14. Vitamin D – many estimate a huge deficiency. This actual hormone is responsible for over 100 different functions in the body including immune support.
  15. Removing damaging triggers/foods: Most of these fall under what is known as AIP diet. Many people can reintroduce these foods in small quantities after they heal.
  • Gluten – a protein primarily found in wheat, rye, and barley. These foods can be inflammatory, many are soaked in glyphosate, and stripped of all nutritional value, leading to tears in the gut lining. Damage may be severe enough that all grains may be a problem.
  • Regular dairy – A1 casein can trigger inflammation for many.
  • Processed/Sugar – these highly processed, dead ‘frankenfoods’ made in a lab contain very little quality nutrition, but have many preservatives, pesticides, and toxins. Best to avoid all boxed or packaged items, especially cereals or anything else with sugar added.
  • Other grains – when unsprouted are high in phytic acid which irritate the gut lining.
  • GMOs – Genetically Modified Organisms are typically grown with huge amounts of a pesticide that is a known carcinogen.
  • No more NSAIDs – time to break up with Advil, Motrin, Aleve, even Tylenol and aspirin as it states right in their warnings that these meds can cause internal bleeding and harm your intestinal tract. Period. Good alternatives: white willow bark aspirin, devil’s claw ibuprofen, arnica gel rub.
  • Avoid antibiotics – unless there is a life threatening illness.
  1. Add healing foods: Whole, real, organic vegetables, fruits
  2. Change your lifestyle: Love your body to love you back with real, whole, delicious good food, mild to moderate exercise like yoga, stress reduction like meditation, scheduled ‘me time’, detox baths, and so on.

Last consideration: Candida – if you are still struggling after doing these things, you make have more than a mild case of candida which will require a more aggressive protocol and needs to be individually designed and implemented for you by a holistic, naturopathic, nutrition healthcare professional.

This infographic was created by Factor, a gluten free meal delivery service

Jacquie Walburn

About the author: Jacquie Walburn is a condition-specific nutrition and lifestyle coach, has a BS in Nutrition/Food Science, and a Gastro-Intestinal Mastery Certification from the Integrative Medicine Academy and owner of who has reversed her own health conditions including 4 auto-immune conditions, stage 4 kidney disease, and lost 90 lbs so far to boot following her own advice and now empowering others to do the same.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to inform not diagnose treat, or cure your condition, or to be a substitute for advice from your healthcare professional.