“Leaky Gut’ has been a bit of a buzz word these days and it’s making for a lot of unanswered questions for parents. With so many concerned parents reaching out to me so often about this topic and I’m diving in to compile some of my most common questions with my best answers in simple terms to better empower families to move forward and tackle this increasingly common ailment.
What is “Leaky Gut”?
So let’s begin by defining the term, shall we? Leaky Gut is also known as Increased Intestinal Permeability (IIP). IIP occurs when the intestinal lining becomes cracked or damaged, leaving large holes. Why does this matter? The intestinal lining is designed to tightly lock together, carefully and methodically allowing only certain things to pass through into the tissues beneath it. When there are cracks or damage, larger particles of undigested food, bugs or toxins are able to easily bypass the intestinal lining and dive straight into the body causing an inflammatory response, altering the microflora (gut bacteria) that exists within the microbiome.
Does this condition have long term effects on children?
YES. This condition absolutely will have long term effects on anyone who suffers from it. When the balance in our gut bacteria is off, the entire foundation for our digestive system suffers.
What does this mean?
Studies are finding that this imbalance directly affects our ability to properly absorb nutrients, which can directly impair our nervous system and bodily functions, ultimately presenting as behavioral problems. (1)
A compelling study (2) conducted comparing individuals with Autism showed a clear relationship between digestive issues and behavioral symptoms. When comparing children with Autism both with and without gastrointestinal issues they found that children with ASD GI had:
- Higher levels of inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that promote inflammation
- Higher levels of protein TFG beta 1, which helps the immune system to regulate
- Lower levels of zonulin, the protein which helps regulate the permeability of the intestinal wall.
- They found a distinct increase in autism like behaviors in those with GI
- They found a distinct difference in gut bacteria between the two groups
What are the most common symptoms of Leaky Gut?
While digestive symptoms can easily present themselves when the microbiome is compromised, most parents find themselves surprised to see that behavioral issues are more commonly manifesting for children who live with a leaky gut. Some the most common symptoms that I see in children are as follows:
- Intense cravings for simple carbohydrates and sugars
- Meltdowns (these are very different from your typical toddler tantrum)
- Self harm in the form of hitting, biting. head banging etc.
- Food aversions (refusing to eat most things due to sensory overload in addition to battling intense cravings)
- Behavioral difficulties (aggression, depression, anxiety, defiance etc)
- Bloated belly
Can I do anything to fix it?
You absolutely can! I see parents successfully reverse their child’s Leaky Gut Syndrome on a regular basis and the results are astounding. Providing a solid foundation for your child’s body to thrive on is one of the most crucial first steps to take as you embark on an Internal Healing Regimen.
Some of my tried and true tips for healing:
- Digestive Enzymes Supplements: These little guys are an amazing first step to helping your child begin utilizing all of the nutrients you work so hard to provide to them. Digestive enzyme supplements are comprised of proteins found in saliva and the small intestine that can help break down food particles into nutrients that can be absorbed by the body.
- Probiotics: I will always prefer these in the form of homemade fermented foods to repopulate missing vital micro flora. Sometimes this isn’t an option for families so I would get with your local Functional Medicine Practitioner or Holistic Nutritionist to talk about options for high quality probiotics. (there’s a lot of hype in the “Probiotics” market right now, so be cautious who you spend your hard earned dollars with).
- 30 day Olioantigenic (Elimination) Diet: (3) This is one of my FAVORITE tools to successfully identify trigger foods: Starting with dairy, grains, processed / conventionally farmed meats, food dyes, additives and preservatives.
- Dietary changes. Identifying foods in your diet that disrupt the microbiome. These are typically heavily processed foods that are high in preservatives, sugar, simple carbohydrates, synthetic additives and artificial sweeteners.
As always, consult with your child’s doctor or nutritionist should you have any questions or concerns and please share your experiences in the comments.