Whenever I hear the term “leaky gut”, it makes me cringe. After all, who wants their guts leaking out? The vast majority of migraineurs are not aware of the close link between their stomachs and migraine episodes. Most migraines, in my opinion, develop as a result of what goes on in our digestive system. If you have an unhealthy digestive system, you are likely to suffer from a variety of ailments, not the least of which is repeated migraine attacks. Therefore it is important to understand whether a “leaky gut” could be the cause of migraines in your case.
What is “leaky gut”?
Imagine a sewer system that flows through your city. It is surrounded by concrete. If the concrete develops one or more cracks, eventually the filthy water will seep through and contaminate clean water, in addition to the surroundings. If the sewage water accumulates in one area and festers, it becomes toxic and starts building combustible gases.
Leaky gut occurs when the lining in your intestines has developed larger cavities and undigested foods are allowed to enter the bloodstream. One of the most important functions of your intestine is to take in valuable nutrients and discard harmful agents. These agents can be various toxins, yeast, and other forms of waste that should not get into your blood supply. The intestine protects us from different kinds of diseases and essentially houses our body’s immune system. If certain harmful agents are allowed to enter the bloodstream, as a result of leak gut, your body’s immune system will be compromised. It does not matter what you eat, as particles and molecules that should not enter the bloodstream get through. The longer this is allowed to occur, the higher the likelihood that your body will get contaminated.
It is quite possible that your leaky gut is a result of low stomach acid or hypochlorhydria.
What happens once the foreign agents are in your body as a result of leaky gut?
Your immune system responds, after your liver has failed to clear the vast majority of these agents. However, since the leak is so vast and more and more agents are spewing in, your immune system fails in taking care of all of the issues and the impurities get absorbed into tissue and inflame. Your immune system cannot cope with all of the different areas that are getting inflamed and, eventually, some areas become ignored. In these specific areas, foreign agents accumulate and weaken your body’s immune system. This can then lead to various ailments including irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”), fibromyalgia, and above all else, migraines.
OK, that’s all great but how do I know if leaky gut is behind my migraine episodes?
If you suffer from migraines and get a reaction to most things you are putting into your stomach, you are very likely suffering from leaky gut. If you have been keeping a food journal and find that one particular food affects you one day but does not affect you on the next, it could likely be a positive sign for leaky gut as well – once the impurities build up, you get a migraine episode no matter what you put into your stomach. Do you often feel constipated and/or experience diarrhea? In my case, I developed gas all of the time after ingesting anything. I would belch from sunup to sundown, and in some cases, I would throw up in my mouth. I would wake up and have a glass of water, only to start belching immediately. It felt as if I had stuff sitting at the top of my throat constantly. Something even more worrisome was that I would get sick for two weeks with just a run-of-the-mill cold that should only last 4-5 days. These are signs that your immune system is compromised as it fights off inflammations arising from leaky gut and ignores other, more pressing issues in your body.
Can leaky gut be cured?
Absolutely! It takes time, patience, and discipline but your stomach will heal. You should always first consult with your health care professional in terms of your specific circumstances to identify leaky gut. Your case may be different from that of someone else. In my case, here is what I did in specific sequence to cure leaky gut.
1. Eliminated gluten completely from my diet
– This sounds easier than it is as most things we consume today contain gluten. However, it should be noted that all grains are off limits and anything that could potentially be cross contaminated. If you look at this extensive list and say to yourself, “You got to be kidding!”, I completely understand. However, you will likely come to realize, as I did, that it is best to cut out all of these immediately because this allows you to very quickly find out if you have leaky gut and if gluten is a major factor for you (it was for me).
- Barley (malt)
- Durum (semolina)
- Corn (maize)
- Rice (does not include wild rice varieties but does include brown rice)
- Amaranth (not necessarily a grain but can be cross contaminated)
- Buckwheat (not necessarily a grain but can be cross contaminated)
The following should be avoided to be completely gluten free
- Modified food starch
- Textured vegetable protein
- Hydrolyzed plant protein
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate
- Hydroxypropylated Starch
- Pregelatinized starch
- Vegetable gum
- Vegetable protein
- Extenders and binders
- Non Dairy Creamer
- Natural Flavors
- Smoke flavors
- Artificial Flavors
- Natural Colors
- Artificial Colors
- Caramel color and flavoring
- Soy Sauce
- Bouillon cubes or stock cubes
- Candy (dusted with wheat flour?)
- Canned soups
- Cheese spreads & other processed cheese foods
- Cold cuts, Wieners, Sausages
- Dip mixes
- Dry sauce mixes
- Honey Hams
- Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt – Grass fed dairy recommended or avoid dairy altogether
- Instant Teas & Coffees
- Oil, frying
- Poultry and meats
- Sour cream
- Dry roasted nuts & honey roasted nuts
- French fries in restaurants
- Vitamin supplements (Check for gluten)
- Baking powder
Other items that I stay clear of:
- Oat grass
- Any grain based alcohol
2. Took a comprehensive ALCAT food intolerance test
– I highly recommend this step even though it is expensive. Before I took this test, and after I started keeping a food journal, I found it odd that I would develop a migraine 48 hours (two days) after consuming an offending food. When I mentioned this to a number of doctors, the answer was always that if I didn’t develop an allergic reaction within 3 hours of a meal, it was not a food allergy. We agreed to disagree.
– Most medical practitioners will tell you to take a regular food allergy test which is done by pricking your arm or back with 50 or so different needles containing certain foods known to cause allergies. This test does not work for someone with chronic migraines who may be suffering from leaky gut.
– It can take up to 72 hours for a migraine to develop as the food slowly gets digested and any toxin build-up gets high enough to trigger a migraine. The ALCAT test will show you which specific foods you have mild, moderate, or severe reactions to. I was amazed to see some of the results but felt vindicated when I saw many of the foods I had long suspected of contributing to my migraines.
3. Eliminated most refined sugars and cut down on the amount of carbohydrates that I consume
– Sugars, and carbohydrates that turn into sugars, feed the bad bacteria in your stomach. By cutting down on sugars, you are essentially starving the bad bacteria while allowing the good bacteria to grow.
4. Started taking probiotic supplements (gluten-free of course + non-dairy)
– With leaky gut, your stomach flora is out of balance and the bad bacteria, in many cases, take over. By taking high-quality probiotics, you start building up the good bacteria in your stomach. A word of caution though; not all probiotics are created equally and the cheaper the product, the less likely that it will be of help to you.
– Also remember that if you don’t cut back on sugars, your effort will be wasted. You need to reduce the bad bacteria by cutting off sugars and carbohydrates. Then you can rebuild the good bacteria with probiotics
Things to look for (subject to the approval of your health care professional):
- Raw & gluten-free
- No binders, fillers, or carriers
- Should contain at least 50 billion live cultures
- 30+ probiotic strains
5. Added supplements to my daily diet.
– In my case, I started taking a significant amount of vitamin D, a comprehensive multi-vitamin containing a fair amount of zinc, in addition to fish oil (Omega-3). The multi-vitamin should also contain a significant amount of vitamin C.
– I also started taking L-glutamine in order to strengthen the gastrointestinal tract
Leaky Gut – Conclusion
In terms of curing leaky gut, you should also be aware that changes will not be instantaneous and remember that, in all likelihood, your condition has been developing for years. It will take time for your stomach to heal. If you have leaky gut, and if you feel that your migraines are a result of this condition, then this approach should allow your stomach to improve and heal.
Once healing starts to occur, you will find that your migraines will lessen in severity and frequency. You will likely also be able to start consuming some foods that previously gave you issues.