Digestive Health Lesson #1: Leaky Gut



I can pinpoint my gut issues all the way back to middle school in the suburban brick rancher I grew up in, and more specifically right down to the bowl of gravy, loaf of bread, my friend Lori, the stomach pain, and the bloating that came along with it. Those problems go way back. This is just one example of the bad food exposure that I subjected myself to growing up. Many of us did, we didn’t know it was that big a deal. What damage could it possibly cause, we were 14, just kids. Yes, well, so is my boy now, and his issues seem to have a similar root cause. Food. The wrong vs. the right… My issues manifested as irritable bowel, asthma, acne, eczema, and eventually fibromyalgia. My boy, Josh has multiple gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms, and has dealt with them most of his life.

stomach painHow do we know it’s food? Those symptoms I just mentioned above, most of those symptoms and years of missing out on enjoying life. Take a moment to think about how your body reacts when you eat certain foods. When I don’t eat right, and this goes back to those middle school gravy days, and if my boy doesn’t eat right, well, same result… we feel bad in more ways than one and it takes days to recuperate. I chat about this more in my post about foods my family avoids.

My interest, passion, obsession with gut health runs deep… It definitely goes back to those early adolescent days and the decades of discomfort and dysfunction. I have struggled w health/neuro/gut issues since I was a kid that have manifested as multiple medical diagnoses. And, Guess what? I have almost completely resolved those medical issues by changing my nutritional intake. When I get the foods I don’t tolerate, such as wheat/gluten and dairy, I notice symptoms. I’m talking symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath, true medical respiratory issues that are related to my asthma, as well as gut issues and other problems like dry skin and hypersensitivities.

My son has neuro and gut issues too. Severe enough to affect his daily functioning. Since removing gluten and dairy, along with artificial sweeteners, fillers etc. from my kids’ diets, I see differences in their health and neurological processing. When they eat the wrong foods, I see the stomach aches, headaches, rashes, brain fog, and lack of daily function in general. I have no explanation but the change in food.

As a pediatric nurse practitioner and holistic wellness coach, I see the results of poor dietary choices in multiple people’s lives on a daily basis. I’ve witnessed dietary and nutritional changes that help people change their health and daily well being. I live it with my immediate family, we are 4 for 4 on feeling better with dietary changes. I support non GMO and no chemical additives whenever I have the opportunity.

I know most of you have heard of the term Leaky Gut, but what does it really mean?

Substances that inflame and irritate the gastrointestinal tract will cause damage, break down the mucosal layer and intestinal lining, allowing foreign molecules to leak into the body. That damage and subsequent leaking WILL lead to other health problems. 

Visualize this for a moment… Think of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract as a tube, there is an entrance and an exit. The inside of that tube is not inside your body, it’s a tube through your body, and there is a barrier to keep things that are not good for your system out. Think of the tube inside a roll of paper towels. The paper towels are your body and the tube is your GI tract. There is a barrier in between. The things that go through this tube are supposed to be broken down into what your body needs and absorbs, the rest is excreted as waste and isn’t supposed to be absorbed into your body.

The lining of our intestines has lots of little peaks and valleys that extend like fingers with a mucosal layer and villi that help digest food and absorb nutrients. When we eat foods that we don’t tolerate, this internal system gets damaged. It starts as inflammation and eventually progresses to breakdown of the mucosal lining. Too much mucosal breakdown allows for absorption of molecules that we are NOT supposed to absorb.  This leaking of substances that we are not supposed to be absorbing is Leaky Gut, aka ‘Intestinal Hyperpermeability’ in the medical textbooks. If you’re interested, here are a few sources to support the connection between leaky gut and health problems like migrainesIrritable Bowel Syndrome and autoimmune related disorders.

dr axe leaky gut junctions

photo credit draxe.com


When those substances that aren’t supposed to be in your body ARE in your body, they do damage and cause inflammation, make you feel bad (bloating, gas, constipation, pain, joint swelling, headaches, acne, eczema, etc.) and cause disease processes to occur.

The lining of the GI tract contains most of our immune function, as well as key building blocks for neurotransmitter and hormone function. When the lining of the GI tract is disturbed, it can affect the whole body in a multitude of ways.

When the lining of the GI tract is damaged, substances that are supposed to stay out of the body leak in. The immune system recognizes these foreign substances as dangerous and starts to defend the body against the invaders. This causes an inflammatory response, creating a disturbance in the gut lining and mucosa. This starts a vicious process of degeneration inside the body. The immune system builds up antibodies against these foreign invaders, this is called an immune response. What the immune system is really fighting is YOU. Most autoimmune diseases processes start with chronic inflammation from leaky gut that stimulates an immune response. Once that immune response is triggered, multiple medical problems start to occur.

dr axe leaky gut affects

photo credit draxe.com

If you aren’t sure what diseases are autoimmune related, let me list a few: Fibromyalgia, Food allergies/intolerances, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Asthma, and the list goes on to include Cancer, mental health issues like Anxiety and Depression, neurological issues like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and even ADHD and Autism. And, I’ve been saying for years that obesity is a result of inflammation for many people, just like it was for me. I chat about that more in my post about gaining 50 pounds. 

Understanding the hows and whys about Leaky Gut are the first step in learning how to take care of our body and be healthier!

This is part 1 in my Digestive Health Series, I hope it has helped you understand a little more about leaky gut and how our food directly impacts our health. Please feel free to ask questions or comment below. Part 2 in my Digestive Health Series is about how inflammation can contribute to chronic disease and obesity.

If you or someone you love may be suffering from symptoms and/or diseases caused by Leaky Gut, reach out to a trusted functional medicine provider to help investigate the root cause. Root causes of leaky gut range from infections, chemical/toxin exposures, medications (especially antibiotics), and more. It is possible to find the source and start on a journey of healing. Healthy people are happier people. Healed people are happier people. Always look for the healing to live your happiest life.


*Additional resources:

3 thoughts on “Digestive Health Lesson #1: Leaky Gut

  1. This is great information Katie. Thank you for writing this. A lot of the doctors want to treat the symptoms, but that never fixes the problem. Changing your diet to the right things fixes the problem


    • Hi Melissa, I don’t follow a specific diet, I try to avoid inflammatory foods and eat foods that help fight chronic inflammation. If you check out the other blog posts under my Choose Wellness Tab, you will find articles about what my family eats and why. I also have a grocery list that I share. Thanks for checking in, if you want to chat more, please feel free to reach out via email or Facebook. 🙂


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