30

MARCH, 2017

Food
General
Supplements

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut, (AKA Dysbiosis) is the term used to describe what happens when the lining of the gut becomes damaged.  The lining of the gut consists of a semi-permeable membrane that acts like a filter, keeping undigested food particles and toxins from entering the bloodstream.  So leaky gut is exactly what it sounds like.  Damage to the lining of the intestines creates spaces between the cells large enough for undigested pieces of food, toxins and bacteria to pass into the bloodstream. Once these particles enter the bloodstream, the immune system spots them as foreign invaders and goes to work to eliminate them by creating inflammation.

Creating inflammation is an important function of the immune system; however chronic inflammation over a prolonged period of time results in a vicious cycle, ultimately ending in symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, itchy skin, ear infections, bad breath and much more.

Black Dog Chasing Brown Dog (carrying a stick) in the Surf

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Image of Yorkie Dog in Garden

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Identifying leaky gut

Leaky gut syndrome can be difficult to spot early on. While each case is unique, it typically progresses through a similar set of stages:

 

  • Allergy symptoms are usually the first to appear.  Itchy skin, dermatitis, chewing of the paws and ear infections are all classic examples of food sensitivities.  Remember in leaky gut, undigested food particles slip through the lining of the gut and enter the bloodstream causing inflammation in the body.

 

  • Over time, chronic inflammation means the body becomes less capable of absorbing nutrients.  Malabsorption of nutrients can result in excessive shedding and dull coat on the minor end of the spectrum. In more advanced cases malabsorption can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.

 

  • As the organs become increasingly overwhelmed, liver enzymes may become elevated and ultimately, good bacteria are overtaken by bad bacteria.  Once the bad bacteria have taken over, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to re-establish a normal balance and optimal health.

What causes leaky gut?

In general, leaky gut syndrome is usually associated with diet-related injury to the small intestine.  Poor quality commercially processed diets high in carbohydrates (particularly grains) fill the shelves of our stores.  Nutritionally, dogs have no requirement for carbohydrates, yet many commercial dog foods are formulated with high levels of carbohydrates and/or use plant (vs animal) proteins, which are incomplete sources of nutrition for dogs. Many of these same products also contain long lists of food additives, dyes, preservatives and fillers.

The other common cause of dysbiosis is the use of antibiotics.  Antibiotics don’t discriminate, they kill both good and bad bacteria.  While antibiotic use can be life-saving when used properly, western medicine tends to over-prescribe for even minor ailments. Even if your vet doesn’t over-prescribe antibiotics, commercially prepared foods will contain residuals from the feed that was provided to the animals used to make the food.  In addition to antibiotics, corticosteroids and NSAIDS also tend to be over-used and have the same negative effects in the gut.

Many holistic veterinarians also believe ingestion of toxic pesticides (which many believe includes flea & tick remedies as well as parasite controls) and excessive vaccination protocols contribute to leaky gut.

Black and White Dalmation Dog with Steel Blue Eyes

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Dog de bordeaux running in snow

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Why do so many pets have leaky gut?

 

Just as with humans, western medicine tends to treat very minor issues with topical or oral antibiotics.  Cortisone products and NSAIDS are often used alongside antibiotics, which tends to exacerbate the damage caused by the antibiotics.

 

In addition, despite our best efforts to feed our pets well, many of the commercial diets today undergo extreme processing, which chemically alters many of the nutritional components.  Take a close look at the label and notice the very long list of additives and preservatives.  High heat required to make dry kibble destroys much of the original nutrients, which are then re-introduced in what’s referred to as a “pre-mix” in an effort to add back nutrition that was lost in production.  Most commercial “pre-mix” is manufactured in China where quality control measures are much less stringent.

Image of a bowl of freshly ground beef

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Image of fresh brown organic eggs

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Healing leaky gut is essentially a two-step process:  Remove and Replace

Remove – eliminate factors contributing to intestinal damage.

  • Healing the digestive tract involves improving the diet by eliminating grains like soy, corn and wheat, and by providing higher quality animal proteins.

 

  • Environment – to the degree possible, eliminate toxic substances including:

Antibiotics
NSAIDS
Toxins in the form of flea and tick medications

Replace – Probiotics and digestive enzymes along with other supplements can be extremely helpful in speeding recovery and supporting a healthy gut.

 

 

Healing leaky gut

Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates, often referred to as the “Father of Medicine,” cited that disease begins in the gut.  Little did he know how right he was.  Today, scientists cite the gut as the largest immune organ in the body.  Approximately 70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut.  It goes to reason that optimal immune function is associated with a proper balance of good bacteria throughout the entire length of the digestive system.  An imbalance of bacteria (an overgrowth of bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria) is what leads to the problem.  It is this imbalance that leads to inflammation of the lining of the intestine.

Summary Notes

Remove – eliminate factors contributing to intestinal damage.

  • Healing the digestive tract involves improving the diet by eliminating grains like soy, corn and wheat, and by providing higher quality animal proteins.

 

  • Environment – to the degree possible, eliminate toxic substances including:

Antibiotics
NSAIDS
Toxins in the form of flea and tick medications

Replace – Probiotics and digestive enzymes along with other supplements can be extremely helpful in speeding recovery and supporting a healthy gut.

 

 

Image of fresh brown organic eggs

Photograph by Pexels

Image of a bowl of freshly ground beef

Photograph by Pexels

Probiotics

Probiotics – To effectively exert benefits, probiotics must meet strict standards, including:

  1. Live viable bacteria: the product is not a probiotic unless the bacteria are live.
  2. Multiple bacterial strains: different strains of bacteria exert different biological activities.  look for a product containing at least 10 different strains
  3. High potency – when it comes to probiotics the more potent the better. While some products contain one billion CFU per serving, in this case, more is better.
  4. Purity – probiotics are designed to increase gut health, so not all products are created equal. Be sure the probiotic doesn’t contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sugar, salt, corn, wheat, soy or other undesirable ingredients.
  5. A formula created for dogs and/or cats. An animal’s intestinal tracts contain species specific microflora so a probiotic designed for humans isn’t necessarily beneficial for dogs and cats.

 

Enzymes

Enzymes – while it is true that the pancreas produces enzymes to aid in food digestion, additional enzymes found in food also contribute to digestion and absorption.

In particular, natural raw diets contain a number of enzymes not found in processed diets.  However, even relatively low temperature heat processing (120-160 degrees) and temperatures below freezing will break down enzymes.  Adding powdered enzyme supplements to room temperature food at the time of feeding is the best way to ensure adequate enzyme supplementation.

Other Supplements

Other supplements – There are a variety of excellent supplements that can be used to assist in repairing and restoring natural balance to the gut.  A few of the most common include l-glutamine, quercetin and milk thistle.

  • L-Glutamine is an amino acid. While the body does make its own, glutamine plays an important role in the health of the immune system, digestive tract and other bodily systems.  Glutamine is the primary fuel for the mucosal cells which line the intestinal tract so it is a very useful aid in treating leaky gut.
  • Milk Thistle is the favorite herbal liver protector. Valued for its medicinal and nutritional properties for more than 2000 years, milk thistle has been commonly used to treat liver diseases since the Middle Ages. Today, more than 150 clinical studies have shown that milk thistle has a beneficial effect on the liver in humans and in animals. Milk thistle blocks the entrance of harmful toxins and helps to remove these toxins from liver cells. Milk thistle is especially beneficial to animals with liver disease or damage, and to all animals as a protectant against environmental chemicals and pollutants.
  • Quercetin, also called “Natures Benadryl” is a bioflavonoid found in the peel of many fruits and vegetables. Quercetin is a potent anti-inflammatory with the dual benefit of blocking the release of histamines which helps with allergies.
  • Essential Fatty Acids – There are two main classes of fatty acids that are important to the health of your dog (omega-3 and omega-6). Animals can produce some of the fatty acids they need, but not all of them. Those fatty acids they cannot produce themselves, but must be obtained through their diet, and are called ‘essential’ fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are found in different quantities in many plants and cold-water fish. Marine oils are good sources of EPA and DHA.

 

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