Once again, it’s time to put aside our simplistic view of the body.
In my last article, I wrote about the connection between stress, chronic inflammation, and weight gain. Today I’m going to focus on another common, but not often talked about cause of weight gain: leaky gut.
Leaky gut is the general term used for increased intestinal permeability. The lining of the intestine is always going to be permeable to some degree. This is how we absorb nutrients from our food, so the lining has to allow this transfer of nutrients.
The problem occurs when the tight junctions in the lining of the intestine that control what gets absorbed become inflamed and develop holes or cracks. These holes allow endotoxins to leak out into the bloodstream, causing an immune response by the body. When this keeps happening over and over, the immune system is constantly “on.” The endotoxin LPS (lipopolysaccharide) is not usually a problem when the intestinal lining is doing its job. But when allowed to “leak” into the bloodstream, LPS interacts with fat cells and the immune system, causing an increase in pro-inflammatory compounds in the body which disrupt the functioning of the hormone insulin.
Insulin’s job is to get the glucose (sugar) out of your blood and into your cells to be used for energy. When inflammation disrupts the proper signaling and function of insulin, the cells can become insulin resistant. This leads to fat storage and weight gain instead of fat burning.
To make matters worse, LPS in the blood from a leaky gut also increases cortisol (stress hormone) production, further decreasing insulin’s functioning and adding to the storage of fat (besides being a trigger for weight gain, LPS in the blood can also lead to depression, anxiety, and suppressed thyroid activity. awesome).
What we get here is a cycle of inflammation and fat storage that perpetuates itself unless we get in there and make dietary and lifestyle changes that will disrupt this cycle.
To do this we have to focus on allowing the gut to heal by removing foods that are likely playing a role in creating the leaky gut situation. We have to also add in plenty of gut-healthy foods. And we have to provide the intestinal lining the nutrients needed to help heal and seal to prevent further leaking.
You might be wondering what causes leaky gut in the first place and how to know if you have it.
Like most issues with our health, the causes can be varied and nuanced. And usually involve several factors. Some common causes include intestinal infections, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth → often the cause of IBS), food sensitivities or allergies, NSAID drug usage, other medications, stress, low stomach acid, high sugar or refined carb diets, pesticides in food, and alcohol.
Symptoms common to leaky gut range from common digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, reflux, and gas to less obvious symptoms like brain fog, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, hormone imbalances, and – as we’re talking about here – weight gain or a hard time losing weight.
There are various tests that can help determine if you have a leaky gut. It’s unlikely that they are typically run by your family doctor but you can always ask. Stool testing including ones that test for the protein zonulin can show if leaky gut might be a problem, as can a lactulose-mannitol test. Lactulose is a larger sugar that should only partially be absorbed in the small intestine while mannitrol is small and should be fully absorbed. Six hours after consuming a solution with these sugars, the urine is collected to test levels of them. High levels of lactulose indicate that more is getting through the intestinal lining than should. You can also find out if you’re having malabsorption issues if little mannitol is present in the urine. This would indicate that you’re not absorbing nutrients well.
While you certainly can ask about those tests or seek out a functional or integrative doctor who would run them for you, looking at your symptoms is an easier way to determine if this is something that could potentially be a problem. If you are experiencing any of those symptoms I mentioned above, the advice I would give, or what I would recommend if you were my client, is going to be very much the same as it would be if you actually got the tests done. So I say save your money for now and start by making some initial changes. If you embark on a gut health plan and are continuing to struggle, then it might be time to test, but you might as well start with the low hanging fruit!
So, if leaky gut is the cause, or even partly to blame for your weight gain, you can count calories, watch portion size, drop your carbs, and exercise all you want but those standard methods of weight loss aren’t going to do much.
My guess is you’ve probably tried all that already anyway. Maybe now is the time to try a different approach!
I’d love to hear from you – have you struggled to lose weight and keep it off?
Want to chat more about this and learn how you can address your own personal weight gain struggles? Let’s chat! (it’s free!)