What Causes Leaky Gut?

  • Karen Graham
  • January 31, 2020

First of all, leaky gut is a layman’s term. Scientists and researchers use the term ‘increased intestinal permeability’. So if you are searching for published, peer-reviewed research on the topic do not use ‘leaky gut’ but I will be using it for this article.

Leaky gut is not a new issue. Ayurvedic documents from India, dating back 3,000 years ago describe leaky gut, what causes leaky gut and the chronic illnesses associated with it. Ayurveda is the world’s oldest system of medicine and began 5,000 years ago. It is still widely used in India today and is becoming very popular in the United States. Ayurveda considers the gut to be at the center of our health and now researchers around the world are coming to the same conclusion. Better late than never.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Inside our small intestines are gates that open and close. These gates are called tight junctions. They open and let organisms into our bloodstream and they stay closed when unwanted organisms try to enter. These gates regulate what particles can enter into our bloodstream and which ones are not allowed. When the gates do not work properly, they stay wide open and no longer close. This is a problem because now unwanted particles can freely pass (leak) from the small intestines into our bloodstream. 

Our bloodstream is like a highway system allowing these particles to move freely all around our body and to any organ. When the unwanted particles enter our bloodstream, it triggers our immune system that something is in our body that is not supposed to be there. This can lead to a host of unwanted illnesses and symptoms.

Leaky Gut Syndrome Symptoms

Leaky gut symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Not everyone with leaky gut has gastrointestinal symptoms. They can be neurological, gastrointestinal, autoimmune, mood and behavior, weight gain/loss, insomnia, skin problems, joint pain and in the worst case scenario, someone can have all of these.


Leaky Gut Symptoms

Leaky Gut Symptoms by Karen Graham, RDN

Does Leaky Gut Cause Weight Gain

Yes, leaky gut can definitely cause weight gain but it can also cause an inability to gain weight or muscle.

Leaky gut causes weight gain but indirectly. Leaky gut causes an imbalance of microbes in the gut which leads to weight gain, it creates sensitivities to foods and these food sensitivities lead to weight gain and it creates nutrition deficiencies that are also involved in weight gain.

Conversely, leaky gut can cause unwanted weight loss or the inability to gain muscle via malabsorption of nutrients. The villi that line the inside of the small intestines play an important role in absorbing our vitamins & minerals. When these villi become so unhealthy that they are unable to do this, people can become malnourished and experience unwanted fat and muscle loss.

Can Leaky Gut Be Healed?

Yes! Gut tissue has the ability to heal when given the opportunity. You may have seen the approach called 5R for healing leaky gut. This has been around for a while now but just like diets that are one-size-fits-all, you can’t take one approach and apply it to everyone. We are all individuals and healing is done on a very individual basis. I am trained in the 5R approach but I adjust that process differently for everyone.

Healing leaky gut is a process and this process starts with diet. If you don’t get this part right, then nothing you after this will be effective.

Leaky Gut Syndrome Diet Plan

You may have seen leaky gut diets that tell you to avoid specific foods like dairy, eggs, gluten, etc. Yes, these foods are often big players involved in leaky gut but usually they are not the only foods that need to be avoided. If you don’t identify all the foods that are involved, you won’t experience a full recovery. Food sensitivity testing is crucial in identifying all of the foods that are contributing to your symptoms. 

If you do an online search you will see pages of companies offering food sensitivity testing. Most of them are not backed by science and they are not a valid type if testing. So be very careful before spending your money and getting your hopes up. 

A successful leaky gut diet will require the guidance of a trained professional. You need someone with a trained eye to interpret the results correctly. It is very complex. Functional medicine practitioners are all trained in these matters. It is at the core of their training. 

To find out if you have leaky gut or if you have a concerning gut issue that is impacting your life sign up for my next new patient workshop and take the first step to a healthier you!

Karen Graham, RDN




Food Sensitivity Testing- what to know before you buy

  • Karen Graham
  • September 6, 2019

I have been doing food sensitivity testing in my private practice for 11 years. I have used it for so long because it makes a difference. But, this testing is only one step of several steps that I take to help people feel better, as in; increasing energy, resolving gastrointestinal complaints, improve quality of sleep, enhance mood, reduce or stop medications (with their doctors approval), lose weight, reverse chronic conditions, etc. Food sensitivity testing (FST) is only one part of the healing process and if that is all you do, you won’t reach your full potential and you will not experience all the benefits listed above.

Food Sensitivities Change

In addition to understanding that there is more to healing than just cutting out food sensitivities, it’s also important to understand that your food sensitivities change over time. So re-testing is important. Some food sensitivities are from birth and those will never change. Those are the foods you will always need to avoid but others do resolve. It is very important to know which foods may change and which one will never come back into your diet as you don’t want to cut out foods unnecessarily. And you certainly do not want to eat the foods you have been sensitive to since birth since they can destroy your quality of life and cause disease.

No Standardization

Another key factor is, the lab that you use. There is no standardization when it comes to testing. Results will vary dramatically from lab to lab. I know this because I have sent my own blood to many of these labs only to find completely different results from each one of them. Some of the results looked like a food log of everything I had just eaten days before the test. None of them showed my food sensitivities that I have had since birth. None, except the lab that I use in my practice.

Direct-To-Consumer Testing

Recently, direct-to-consumer testing has flooded the online market. So of course, I wanted to see if these were something useful for my patients. I started looking at all the websites and found that they are not using what I, and the Institute For Functional Medicine, considers the gold standard in FST. Plus, they give you boiler plate plans to follow as if everyone can follow the same advice. I have never prescribe the same recommendations for more than two people. We are all individuals and we need advice that is specific to our conditions, symptoms, genetics, etc.

I found one direct-to-consumer test that uses hair analysis for FST. This is, in no way, an accurate test for food sensitivities. There are very few things you can test for using hair because there are so many limitations. Please don’t waste your money!

It makes me sad when I see so many people spending their money on poor quality testing when all their trying to do is find answers to why they don’t feel well.

Recently, one of my patients who is a doctor that I respect, asked me if I have seen a specific food sensitivity test ( I am not going to name the test). I said, yes, please don’t tell me you want to order it. He replied, no way, I saw someone’s results and they are a joke. People that understand testing know what a good quality test looks like and what is a joke.

The Best Approach

I highly recommend getting food sensitivity testing but you need to be smart about it. First, find a health care practitioner that orders the test. The quality of the test will be better and you will get the advice & guidance that is specific to your issues. A health care practitioner will:

  • Do a complete medical history on you.
  • Review your medications & supplements.
  • Advise you on which medications & supplements should be stopped prior to the blood draw. This is very important for correct food sensitivity results.
  • Guide you through the removal process.
  • Recommend the right time to re-test depending on your symptoms.
  • Take you through the additional steps to heal. Very important!
  • Recommend supplements that may be needed.
  • Recommend additional testing that may be required.

I am not telling you to see a health care practitioner because I am one. I am telling you because you will avoid; 

  • Wasting your money
  • Disappointment 
  • Wasting time in resolving your issues

Cost Of Food Sensitivity Testing

The cost of the testing that I do is equal to or less than the direct-to-consumer tests that I see online.

I personally do not make money on any tests that I order for my patients. I find that most health care practitioners do. They mark up the cost of the test. In my opinion, this is unethical but not everyone sees it that way. Some practitioners tell me they up-charge the tests for the time spent ordering and reviewing the results.

When I recommend a test, I want the patient to know its because I truly believe they need the test, not because it is an income stream. Here is a link to the testing I offer https://www.smartnutritionbykg.com/services/testing/

Karen Graham, RDN- Functional Medicine Dietitian

Circadian Rhythms Play A Significant Role In Healing

I regularly discuss circadian rhythms with my patients. As a functional medicine dietitian, this topic is important as diet for our health and healing. If I only addressed diet and did not discuss circadian rhythms, patients will only get so far in the healing process. They will never reach their full potential with their health.

What is circadian rhythm?

It is the flow or rhythm of our body’s processes. These processes follow patterns in a 24 hour day, monthly patterns and seasonal cycles. When you honor these cycles, you can maintain a high state of health and slow down the aging process. When you go against them, you can expect poor quality of life, chronic disease and accelerated aging.

If something disrupts your circadian rhythm, you will experience:

  • Poor quality sleep
  • Elevated stress levels
  • Weight gain and/or have difficulty losing weight
  • Low energy
  • Poor healing
  • Disrupted gut microbiome
  • Disruption of hormone production
  • Faster aging
  • Higher risk of diabetes
  • Early death

They have proven this through research over the past few decades but many cultures have known about this for thousands of years and honor the cycles.

Sleep Effects our Circadian Rhythm

There are two tiny glands in the brain that play a major role in our circadian rhythms; the hypothalamus and the pineal gland. Light sensitive nerve cells in the retina of the eye, signal the pineal gland, telling the gland if it is day or night. Our body needs these signals to know when to synchronize different activities. When the eye senses sundown or diminishing light, it will signal the pineal gland to make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that gets the body ready for sleep and starts a cascade of important hormonal events that take place during the night. Melatonin also exhibits a strong antioxidant effect, lowers your body temperature while you sleep and reduces your appetite during the night; all things that create a deep, restorative sleep. Our sleep habits, aka, sleep hygiene, can affect these glands negatively and disrupt our circadian rhythms.

light from screens disrupts circadian rhythms


Block Out Light at Night

One of the biggest disruptors of our circadian rhythms is light at night. It is especially critical to avoid all blue, red & green light at night. These lights inhibit melatonin but blue light has the most detrimental effects. Avoid blue light after the sun goes down as it disrupts the signal to make melatonin. Research shows that blue light is detected even through closed eyelids. Blue light comes from screens on phones, computers and TVs . So sitting in bed at night on your phone or tablet contributes to early aging, delayed healing, weight gain, poor energy, etc. 

Block out all sources of light in your bedroom including the light from an alarm clock or light from a streetlight that comes through your window. Cover your alarm clock with a t-shirt, use blackout shades on your windows and keep your phone and tablet out of the bedroom.

This is a big problem for patients that tell me they work on their computer at night after the kids go to bed. These people need to change this habit as the result will be poor health and poor quality of life. 

There are products on the market that claim to block blue light such as orange-tinted glasses and covers for tablet screens but there is no evidence that these work. The problem of light remains. As long as the retina is signaling to the glands that there is still light, the circadian rhythms will not function properly.

Conversely, when the sun comes up in the morning, these same nerve cells in the eye’s retina tell your glands it’s time to wake up. Your body will then be signaled to release cortisol, the hormone that wakes us up and makes us feel energized. The best thing you can do for cortisol production in the morning is to get sun exposure. So grab your coffee or tea and sit outside in the morning sun before you start your day and you will reap the benefits all day long. This is also the time you can be on your phone or tablet causing no hormonal disturbances. 

If your day begins before the sun comes up there are alarm clocks that mimic the sunrise. The light slowly gets brighter over time, usually over a 30-minute time frame until it fills your bedroom with bright yellow light. Some brands have clinical studies that show the benefits. One such brand is Philips Wake-Up Light http://mb.cision.com/Public/MigratedWpy/81617/9077638/80ece083943f51dd.pdf  I have no financial or other connections to this brand, I just like the fact they have conducted clinical trials on their product.

Timing of Meals

Our circadian rhythms also dictate the timing of our meals. Our digestive system is the strongest between 10:00 am – 2:00pm so this is when we would want to have our largest meal of the day. Most countries around the world do this. Our digestive system then slows down in the evening and shuts down at 7:00pm. Therefore, dinner should be a light meal. This is also why it is very important to stop eating after 7:00pm.  At 7:00pm our bodies processes focus on getting ready for sleep. If you eat after 7:00pm the body has to stop the sleep cycle hormones and now focus on digestion. This is the exact reason we don’t sleep well if we eat late. 

When the sleep cycle hormones get disrupted by having to digest food, you also miss out on producing human growth hormone (HGH). We release HGH after the onset of deep sleep. In adults, this hormone helps maintain muscle & bone, breaks down fat, keeps our skin tight and help maintain adequate energy levels. HGH does many positive things for our body but the most significant thing it does for us is, preserves the length of our telomeres. Without getting too technical, long telomeres keep us young, short telomeres accelerate aging. When you don’t produce HGH, your telomeres will shorten accelerating your aging. 

The Results

If you make an effort to honor your circadian rhythms by eating before 7:00pm, avoiding screens in the evening, keeping your bedroom dark you will see a significant difference in the quality of your sleep and you will wake more refreshed. You will see a difference in your mood, a sustained increase in energy and a noticeable improvement in your appearance, especially your skin. Those are the benefits you and others will notice about you but internally, huge strides are being made in the health and healing of tissues. It won’t take you long to see the results. Even after the first few nights, you will see the difference and that will motivate you enough to keep you going.

Karen Graham, RDN – Functional Medicine Dietitian

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