leaky gut | Integrative functional medicine blog

"Any fool can Know. The point is to understand" - Albert Einstein

Autoimmunity and leaky gut

Autoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, is one of the most prevalent diseases today, affecting predominantly women. In fact, about 75% of all autoimmune disease occur in women.

Traditionally, autoimmune disease was thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but research increasingly shows that while genetics play a role, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is also an important factor. This means your diet can determine whether you develop autoimmunity.

A great saying in the the “functional medicine” world is
“genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.”

Examples of common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitiligo

Leaky gut triggers autoimmunity

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines become damaged and overly porous, allowing bacteria, yeast, undigested foods, and other pathogens into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation and an over reaction of the immune system.

Leaky gut keeps the immune system in a hyper zealous state. This eventually makes the immune system more likely to start attacking the body tissue it was designed to protect, causing an
autoimmune condition. Think of it kind of like the incredible hulk. Once he turns into that raging green beast he is not selective in who and/or what he destroys. He will attack pretty much whatever is in the way.

People can develop leaky gut for a variety of reasons, but the most common is linked to inflammatory foods in the diet. These can include too much sugar, processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods. Also, many people have undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as to gluten, dairy, egg, or other foods. These can damage the gut lining if you have an inflammatory reaction to them.

Gluten, in particular, is notorious for its ability to cause leaky gut and trigger autoimmunity. In people who have a gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body every time they eat it. In gluten sensitive individuals, gluten also acts on messenger compounds in the intestinal wall to make it more permeable. This allows more inflammatory factors into the bloodstream, including more gluten, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

There are even test we can do to test if you have leaky gut.

For some people, simply going gluten-free can repair a leaky gut and dampen autoimmunity.

Other causes of leaky gut that trigger autoimmunity
Knowing why you have leaky gut is an important strategy in not only in repairing it, but also in dampening autoimmunity. Below are some known causes of leaky gut that can, in turn, trigger autoimmunity:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Inflammatory foods (sugars, junk foods, fast foods, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Medications (corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, some arthritis medications)
  • Infections (poor gut bacteria balance, H. pylori, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, yeast, parasites, and viruses)
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Processed foods, artificial food additives, thickening gums
  • Environmental toxins
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Autoimmunity (although leaky gut triggers autoimmunity, autoimmunity can also cause leaky gut, especially if the immune attack is against tissues of the gut)

If you have an autoimmune disease, you have leaky gut. If you have leaky gut, you have or will get an autoimmune disease. It’s just a matter of time.

I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!

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How to test yourself for leaky gut. The "gaba challenge"

How to test yourself for leaky gut.
The "gaba challenge"

I challenge you to a duel!!

Not really, but this is a challenge that would be great for you to try.
We are talking about the “gaba challenge”.

Gaba is a neurotransmitter. Low levels are linked with anxiety, mood disorders, epilepsy and chronic pain. Gaba supplements are often used to help with anxiety, improving sleep, PMS (premenstrual syndrome), and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

While there is a good amount of controversy and debate on this subject and gaba in general, this is how I use gaba in my practice as both a therapeutic nutracueutical and sometimes as a diagnostic aid.

First, In order to understand a little more about how and why this test works we have to understand what gaba is. So Im going to switch over to my little white board on my Ipad to give you a little narrated drawing to explain things more.

This is a written summary of the video:

A nerve functions in the following way. Your nerve has a point at which the nerve rests, this is call the resting potential. The nerve also has a point at which the nerve fires call the threshold. If a nerve is stimulated but does not reach the threshold it will not fire. What can happen with anxiety is the the resting potential moves much closer to the threshold at which the nerve fires and now it takes a much smaller amount of stimulation to make the nerve fire. This often results in overstimulation which is common with anxiety. Since gaba is an inhibitory neurotransmitter it can lower the resting potential back down to where is it supposed to be and now you can tolerate more input without becoming over stimulated.

You really should watch the video for an explantation that makes sense. Without something to look at its hard to make sense of it all.

Moving on. So now that you have a general idea of what gaba is lets talk about the test specifically.

First, how do we do the test?

A gaba challenge is typically done using pure gaba at a dosage of 600 - 1500 mg. I tend to start on the low side and see how someone does and then possibly retest if I think they need to.

The type of response that would indicate a positive results (not a good one) is a nice calm relaxed type feeling, generally not tired but just kind of chilled out.

Usually clients will feel the effects within the first hour but sometimes up to 3 hours later. I generally recommend doing this test around 3-4pm.

Don’t do it at a time when you are normally getting tired anyway because it will be hard to determine why you are relaxed or tired - such as just having eaten a large meal. Also don’t do the test and then go out for a night on the town or go to work, or whatever else you might want to do. Just stay in for he day in case it hits you later than the 3 hours.

If you think you might have had a response but aren’t really sure just repeat the test at a slightly higher dose in the next day or two. Don’t use too much gaba or do this too often as you can take in too much.

Click here for a good quality gaba that I often use.

So what do the results mean?

This is where things can get a little tricky.

I often use gaba for anxiety in clients but also as a semi “diagnostic” test. This is why, and I understand that nothing is in absolutes and there is some controversy here, but this is what I have found in practice.

Normaly gaba is too big to cross the blood brain barrier.

Meaning if you ingest it, it is too big to be absorbed by the body and it should just pass through you and have no effect.
Now keep in mind there are certain new forms of gaba that are being developed that reportedly are better absorbed. Don’t use those one for this test.

If you have a nice calm relaxed feeling after taking gaba it means that it has crossed the blood brain barrier, and thus there is a good chance that you have some degree of leaky gut. Leaky gut equals leaky brain.

SO…if gaba works for you thats great because you can use it to help you sleep, relax better or help with anxiety.
BUT… it also means that now you probably have a digestive issue that you maybe were not aware of. Or maybe you were.

Now here are a couple of other little tidbits that you need to be aware of.

It has been reported and I have noted that in some of my clients gaba can, in a way, backward convert to glutamic acid, which is an
excitatory neurotransmitter and cause an increase in irritability, anxiety, or the feeling of being overstimulated. We don’t really know in who this will occur, but just know that this is a possible outcome as well.

In my experience it happens in approximately 5-10 of people that do the test. Or I should say that do the test and have a positive result (meaning it crossed the BBB - blood brain barrier)

Keep in mind that this reaction is also a positive result as it means that the gaba still crossed the blood brain barrier. Although now you can’t use it for relaxation or anxiety.

One other tidbit. This test is not 100% sensitive or specific. It can give us a general idea of how things are functioning. This crude home test can often rule in the possibility of leaky gut if it is positive, but it cannot rule out the possibility of leaky gut if it is negative.

So there you have it. How and why you would use “the gaba challenge”.

If you do this test and aren’t really sure how to go about fixing your issues and/or leaky gut,
give my office a call and I would be happy to help you out. Its one of the most common things we see. P.S. - I also now offer virtual visits for those that are not in the area.

I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen

Chill out!


Be healthy, Be happy.

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