Reverse Leaky Gut

Do you have arthritis and joint pain, acne that will not go away, GERD, or type 2 diabetes? Does your issue continue to plaque you even though you supplement, exercise, eat right and follow your doctor’s advice? It’s possible that you suffer from leaky gut combined with an enzyme deficiency. Most people today have both which causes problems that are difficult to diagnose and therefore impossible to treat.

Let’s start with Leaky Gut. Since everyone has a leaky gut according to the experts, you would think that more people would be aware of the condition. Unfortunately, your doctor probably won’t diagnose you with a leaky gut, and it’s possible that s/he won’t even know what Leaky Gut Syndrome is. I mentioned it to my dentist about 10 years ago and he told me I sounded like a quack. Ouch! But a few years later he asked for my help with an autoimmune disorder stemming from his…..wait for it….Leaky Gut. Ha!  

The bottom line; whether or not your doctor is informed, you have to take the bull by the horns, do the research yourself, and decide whether or not a leaky gut makes sense to you. In this article I am going to revisit the leaky gut phenomenon. I’m also going to explain the relationship between leaky gut, enzyme deficiency, and a plethora of problems that may result.

Leaky Gut

Inside our bellies, we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area (about the size of a football field) that is only one cell thick. Despite its thinness, it forms a tight barrier that determines what gets passed through to the bloodstream. An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs that should stay in the gut, to leak out into the blood stream. Thus, the term Leaky Gut. This can trigger inflammation throughout the body that can cause all manner of problems and diseases, most of which appear to be completely unrelated to each other. If you understand Leaky Gut Syndrome, you understand the connection.

We already know that increased intestinal permeability plays a role in certain gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. The biggest question is whether or not a leaky gut may cause problems elsewhere in the body. Recent studies show that leaky gut may be associated with other autoimmune diseases (lupus, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne, obesity, and even mental illness. Admittedly, we still need more clinical studies, demonstrating cause and effect, when it comes to Leaky Gut Syndrome, but the existing evidence is compelling.

Here is how the gut works when all goes well:

  • Food and drink slide down the esophagus into the stomach, where they break down from stomach acid and digestive enzymes. From there, the content moves into the bowels (the large and the small intestines.)
  • In the 20 ft. long one-inch-wide small intestine, the food and liquids mix with additional digestive juices. The walls of the small intestine, mesh-like and necessarily permeable, allow water and nutrients to move into the bloodstream.
  • What remains after 6 to 8 hours is largely waste, including undigested food, which enters the large intestine also known as the colon. 
  • Over the next 30 to 40 hours more water is absorbed, turning the waste into a semisolid stool before it reaches the rectum, where it hangs out until you, well, poop.

There are several things that can impact this process in a negative way. For example, excessive sugar intake, particularly fructose in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), damages the barrier function of the intestinal wall resulting in leakage. HFCS is found in many processed foods, and certainly in most conventional desserts.

Stress can also harm the gut as well as bad bacteria that overtake the good bacteria. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs aka aspirin) can also damage the gut by increasing intestinal permeability and contributing to leaky gut. 

Even more damaging, though, is alcohol intake, especially beer, which has also been shown to significantly increase intestinal permeability. Finally, there are a number of nutrient deficiencies that have been shown to increase intestinal permeability including vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc deficiencies. This is really important when you consider that 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient. 

How do you know if you have a leaky gut?

According to Dr. Leo Galland, director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, the following symptoms might be signs of leaky gut:

  1. Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
  2. Nutritional deficiencies
  3. Poor immune system
  4. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
  5. Excessive fatigue
  6. Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
  7. Cravings for sugar or carbs
  8. Arthritis or joint pain
  9. Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
  10. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn’s

In terms of contributors, ask yourself the following, do you:

Chew your food too quickly?

Eat on the run?

Eat junk food?

Eat late in the day?

Drink alcohol?

Smoke anything?

If you do any of these things or have the symptoms above, there’s a good chance that you are suffering from a Leaky Gut Syndrome. The reason this is important is that when you have a Leaky Gut, it’s impossible for supplements or medication’s to work effectively on any of the problems mentioned above.

Here is what happens instead; food particles that escape from the gut are targeted as foreign objects or invaders by the immune system. The immune system attacks them just as it would any other threat, by triggering inflammation. The inflammation in turn causes all sorts of problems throughout the body including arthritis and joint pain as well as inflammatory diseases such as the ones mentioned above. 

One very interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that the foods you eat the most will leak out more and become “targets” or foods that trigger an allergic reaction. So all of a sudden you are sensitive (allergic) to something that you have been eating all of your life with no problem.  I cannot tell you how many of my ED (eating disorder) patients have had this experience and ultimately decided to adjust their eating, usually in maladaptive ways, in an attempt to avoid it.

There are so many good supplements to deal with the inflammation that causes these problems.  My favorites are: purluxan, pycnogenol, Magnesium Orotate, ginkgo biloba, fish oil, vitamin E, turmeric, and Green Lipped Muscle Powder. However, these supplements will not work unless you have the secret ingredient. And the secret ingredient is enzymes.

Unfortunately, we lose enzymes as we age. Take the enzyme that converts the omega-3 ALA into the active forms of EPA and DHA, which are so important for good health. In most people this enzyme is gone by the age of 40! What?  Yup, gone. As in for good, unless you supplement. It’s an inevitable sequence of events, that essentially paves the way for disease and ultimately death. 

Well that’s depressing! 

But here’s the good news, enzymes help, a lot. At the most basic level, enzymes are proteins that make life-sustaining chemical reactions happen. They are the life force for cells, organs, bones, muscles and every other living tissue. Enzymes can help combat Leaky Gut, for starters. Especially if you take them at meal time or on an empty stomach before you go to bed. 

Because we eat processed foods which are very low in enzymes to begin with and because we eat too fast, and do not chew our food long enough to release the enzymes, we put all of the pressure on the pancreas to generate the enzymes necessary to eek out even a scrap of nutrition from our food. This, of course, takes away from the energy the pancreas needs to control insulin and blood sugar levels. This may help to explain why  we are seeing so much pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes in the US, even among people who do not appear to be eating too much sugar. 

Why is this problem so prevalent in the US? Because we are the fast food nation! We simply don’t eat enough fresh and raw food. The vast majority of the food we eat is processed which automatically eliminates most of the enzymes. 

Here are 6 telltale signs of enzyme deficiency:

  • Heartburn
  • Bloating and gas
  • Food sensitivities
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains
  • GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Most of my patients with eating disorders suffer from at least one of these conditions. It’s not surprising, even though they are not at that 40-year mark where enzymes disappear. The reason they suffer from these conditions is that they purposely chew their food as little as possible, eat as fast as possible, eat as little as possible or binge and purge their food. They also tend to gravitate towards more processed than whole foods. Finally, because the population I treat tends to be 14-30, I get a lot of binge drinkers.

For the Drinkers

The only form of alcohol found to be of benefit is red wine in limited amounts.  Everything else contributes to the problems described above in significant ways because alcohol has a dramatic impact on the digestive system. This is partly because once alcohol enters the digestive system it also passes into the bloodstream. The liver immediately starts converting the ethanol in alcohol to a substance called acetaldehyde. This stuff really tears up your insides and leaves in it’s wake inflammation and damage. Acetaldehyde is also the substance that leaves you with a hangover.

Alcohol, or rather the acetaldehyde it breaks down into, is responsible for damaging every system in the digestive tract. There are three specific systems within the gut that are impacted:

The Stomach

The first system is the stomach where you release stomach acid for digesting food and killing off bacteria and pathogens. Alcohol impairs this system by shutting down the digestive pathways and the release of hydrochloric acid. We need this acid to digest our food. Instead, alcohol causes a release of cortisol into the body.  Cortisol is the fight or flight hormone. So what? Well it’s job is to tell the brain to stop digesting food and to store fat as it believes that the body is under attack and may need the additional fat reserves. Ever heard the term, “beer belly”? This is part of that.  

Let’s pause to reflect on this for a moment: Alcohol is so damaging to parts of the digestive system that cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone is released when we ingest it because the body assumes that it is under attack.

To recap: chronic alcohol users are found to have low stomach acid and low digestive enzymes, both of which impair their ability to digest food. The typical recommendation is to take an antacid. That makes the problem 10 times worse, since acid is needed for digesting food and because the initial problem was not too little acid, it was too much alcohol. 

Gallstones and gallbladder removal are also very common in those who use/abuse alcohol. Since the solution this time is removal of the gallbladder, we have the same problem as in using antacids. Removing the gallbladder also compromises the digestion of food since the gallbladder produces the bile that is necessary for digesting fats. Again, the gallbladder was not the problem, the alcohol was. 

Pancreatic cancer is another example of an organ severely damaged by alcohol. Acute pancreatitis is almost always caused by alcohol poisoning. The pancreas is responsible for releasing enzymes to digest sugars, carbs, and proteins in our food. As mentioned above, we need the enzymes to get the nutrients. It’s no wonder the digestive system is a mess after alcohol consumption. If the foods cannot be properly broken down, then the nutrients cannot be properly pulled from them.

The Small Intestine

The second system impacted negatively by alcohol is the small intestine. The small intestines’ main job is to absorb and extract nutrients from food. The presence of alcohol in the small intestine damages it by poking holes in it. The small intestine is where Leaky Gut occurs. Alcohol is a major contributor to Leaky Gut. Because it causes such damage, it allows larger particles of food to end up in the bloodstream.  Unfortunately, this causes sensitivities to categories of foods such things as gluten, dairy, corn, or soy and to specific foods as mentioned earlier. 

The Colon

The third system to be impacted by alcohol is the colon and this is primarily where our treasured “gut microbiome” resides. Your gut microbiome is supposed to be made up of millions of diverse bacteria living harmoniously within you, helping with metabolism and even with serotonin production for mood. Did you know that 70% of serotonin is made in the gut? So if we as a nation, have a lot of Leaky Gut, and we do, it is no wonder that we have epidemic levels of anxiety today in the US.

The research supporting the benefits of a healthy gut microbiome are increasing in number every day. Alcohol essentially acts to sterilize or “kill” the beneficial bacteria, leaving us with only the bad bacteria. The research is clear, we need a diverse microbiome.  That is why we take probiotics, because it gives us a more diverse microbiome. But if we keep drinking the alcohol and killing off the good bacteria, we are not going to achieve our goal even with the help of probiotics. Finally, alcohol can also contribute to yeast overgrowth. 

Bottom line: reduce your alcohol intake, stick to red wine, or better yet just stop drinking!

What Else Can You Do? 

The first step is to get as many live enzymes from food as possible. Fresh local seasonal produce is the very best source of enzymes. Get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

The next step is to supplement. If your enzyme reserves are limited, your body uses them for digestion first which means you don’t have any left for other critical functions that enzymes would normally carry out in the body. This is why enzyme supplementation can be so helpful in treating conditions that at least on the surface do not appear to have anything to do with digestion. 

Such conditions are bacterial and viral infections, as well as conditions associated with inflammation, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer just to name a few. I also recommend enzyme supplementation to patients with nausea, diarrhea, ulcers, GERD, acne and hiatal hernia.

Here is a list of the key digestive enzymes that you should be taking with every meal:

  • Papain – from papaya. Helps digest proteins
  • Amylase – aids in the digestion of starches and carbohydrates
  • Lipase – aids in the digestion of fats
  • Cellulase – Helps break down fiber
  • Lactase – helps break down milk sugars in dairy products
  • Bromelain – from pineapples. Helps digest protein

Pure, a good company, makes a supplement with all of the enzymes above. 

Another important thing to mention is fibrin. Fibrin is a key player in the bodies inflammatory response and if left unchecked it can cause a lot of problems. You may have heard of the role it plays in the formation of deadly blood clots and heart attacks. In addition, Fibrin deposits in the joints are also one of the defining traits of arthritis. The two metabolic enzymes that help the most in dissolving fibrin are bromelain and papain. The research in this area suggests that they have been shown to be more effective than any of the leading arthritis medications. I can attest to this personally.

You should start with a low-dose and take it with every meal and at night before you go to sleep, preferably on an empty stomach. You will notice results almost immediately. Some of the things you can expect are more energy, better immunity, less arthritis and joint pain, better sleep and fewer allergic-like and skin reactions. 

Works for me!


  1. Leaky Gut as a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology May 2017

Does someone you love suffer from an eating disorder?

Dr. Renae Norton specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Call 513-205-6543 to schedule an appointment or fill out our online contact form for someone to call you to discuss your concerns. Tele-therapy sessions available. Individual and family sessions also available.

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