leaky gut

Leaky Gut - Yes there could be "holes" in your gut!

red rover.jpg

As a Naturopathic Doctor who sees a lot of gut issues, I get questioned often by people who have heard the term leaky gut, wondering what it is and if it could be the cause of their health issues. This is something I do see often in practice and I find very important to fix in order to treat a number of different issues, such as IBS, eczema, depression and most autoimmune disorders.

What is leaky gut?


Your gut is actually quite fragile as the lining of your intestines is made up of only 1 layer of cells, called enterocytes, lying between your gut lumen and the blood vessels. A border of microvilli on top increases the surface area to aid in absorption of nutrients, water and electrolytes. The intestinal lining also regulates the trafficking of environmental antigens (1) . These enterocytes are held together by tight junctions, like water-way locks, preventing the cells to come apart when inappropriate. Remember the childhood game red-rover? This is the game your gut is always playing. However, damage to the gut lining from inflammation and stress, releases a protein called zonulin which weakens these tight junctions making the lining more permeable (2) and ultimately creating small gaps between the enterocytes that cannot close up. Food particles, or antigens get absorbed between the cells now instead of through the cells, activating an inflammatory and/or immune response in the gut and blood stream.

What health issues can this cause:

  • Local inflammation - IBS symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation

  • Autoimmune conditions (1) - Hashimotos thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus and IBD, MS

  • Systemic conditions - eczema, psoriasis, acne, joint pain, headaches, seasonal allergies

  • Mental/emotional issues - depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue

What causes leaky gut:

  • Gluten - this was the first thing found to increase zonulin levels

  • Bacteria and infections - or bacterial endotoxins also found to increase zonulin levels

  • Stress - this decreases stomach acid and digestive enzymes leaving larger particles of food to descend into the intestines which irritate the gut lining

  • Medications such as proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics and NSAIDs

  • Simple sugars and food additives

How to fix leaky gut:

If you haven’t read my blog post about the 4Rs in gut health, I’d lead you there to shed a little more light on my whole gut healing protocol. Ultimately we need to reestablish the zonulin-dependent intestinal barrier function to close up those gaps between the cells. There are a few favourites of mine that been shown to be very effective at REPAIRING the gut, but don’t forget to REMOVE, REPLACE and REINOCULATE as well.

  • L-glutamine - this is my go-to for any gut issues, from mild to major. Always given in powder form to ensure a high enough dose.

  • Collagen - helps to support and strengthen the gut lining like glutamine. I love the brand Sproos that I carry in my practice.

  • Zinc carnosine - studied to heal the gut, including the stomach lining after H.pylori or an ulcer or after NSAID use

  • Mucilaginous herbs - marshmallow, aloe vera, DGL, slippery elm

If you struggle with any of the conditions listed above do not hesitate to reach out to discuss the best treatment options for you! Heal your gut to heal your body and start feeling yourself again.

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384703/

2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21248165

The 4 R’s in Gut Healing - How to Heal IBS

You have heard it from me time and time again that the gut has a huge influence on the rest of our body, especially our immunity, our hormones, our mental health and skin health. Many common symptoms that I see in my practice start in the gut. Whether you have an issue with depression, eczema, an autoimmune condition or simply been diagnosed with IBS, this system to treat the gut is a great place to start. 

Collagen - The Do-All Protein: Decrease Joint Pain, Firm Skin & Heal the Gut

If you suffer from digestive concerns, joint pain, or aging skin (let’s face it, most people do) listen up. Collagen may be for you! 

Collagen powder really is the do-all protein and I want to explain why. Collagen is the main structural protein in our body, especially in our connective tissue found in the gut, skin, joints, bone, ligaments…well pretty much over our entire body. It is a building block of our bodies comprised of amino acids that make up 25-35% of whole body protein content. Unfortunately, natural collagen production peaks in our early 20s and slowly declines with age. It declines about 1.5% per year and approximately that by age 40 it has decreased by 25%, by age 60 decreased by over 60%! 


We can get collagen from our diets, which is how our ancestors acquired it for the most part, however it is found in animal parts not normally consumed today. These are gelatinous meats, the cartilage on bones, such as chicken drumstick cartilage, and fish and poultry skin. Bone broth is another form in the form on gelatin, when the bones are boiled for over 5 hours, but even this is not as bioavailable as collagen powder. 

How often are you eating these animals parts in a week?? 

What to look for:

As it can be found in various animals parts, collagen powder can be sourced specific for the type of collagen wanted. Type I and III collagen makes up 90% of what is found in our bodies.

  • Marine collagen peptides - from wild fish scales and skin, is type I collagen. It has been shown to have the highest bioavailability and most effective for skin health. This also makes it dissolve very easily in anything. You can even find marine collagen sourced from North Atlantic fish
  • Beef collagen peptides - from bone and hides of cattle, is mostly type III collagen. It is not quite a bioavailable as marine collagen but still very effective. 

How it can benefit you:

  • Skin - Collagen is what gives your skin the elasticity and improves hydration and firmness. If you are worried about aging skin, fine lines and wrinkles, as well as thinning skin from chronic eczema or age collagen is for you. It helps your skin “bounce back!”
  • Joints - Collagen is what maintains joint flexibility and strength. It also helps regenerate cartilage in joints. Because of this it decreases pain due to degeneration. Decreasing inflammation with an anti-inflammatory diet, turmeric and omega 3s would still be advised for a holistic approach to joint pain. 
  • Gut - Suffer from IBS or irritable bowel disease? Collagen peptides maintain the integrity and function if the intestines. It therefore repairs “leaky gut.” I am still waiting on a study linking collagen to decreased zonulin production, a protein released from intestinal cells in severe leaky gut, but I’m sure that will come soon! There is however research showing decreased serum concentrations of collagen in those with IBD, aka Crohns and Colitis. 
  • Mood - Glycine, one key amino acid in collagen, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, therefore decreases feelings of anxiety and helps you sleep. The more you sleep, the more calm our body feels and the less inflammation we have. 

Therefore, considering how much gut health issues, mood issues and joint pain I see in my practice this is a biggy supplement! 

Extra tidbits:

  • Research shows a therapeutic dose of collagen, aka when we start seeing positive benefits, is at a dose of 5-12mg per serving
  • Due to the source of collagen the powder is definitely not vegan, for those out there on a vegan diet. 

If you suffer from any of the issue above or are curious if collagen is right for you don’t hesitate to check with your Naturopathic Doctor, or come in to see me at the clinic.

Questions? Let me know in the comment below 😃

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen

(Photo credit: www.sproos.com, www.renewalliance.com)

Healing the Gut: All about the good bugs

Did you know that our body lives symbiotically with many bugs, called the microbiome? Did you know that many chronic diseases, such as allergies, skin issues, depression, obesity, hypertension and more are linked to a disruption of our microbiome? 

We are seeing a plethora of research today showing the benefits of a healthy microbiome, this being the collection of healthy bacteria in our body. The majority of this microbiome is located in our gut, which is why I discuss gut health with so many of my patients! Many of you may be familiar with the word “acidophilus” but that is only one strain of probiotics, or live bacteria, which lives symbiotically with us. Some other strains that are important are lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and saccromyces boulardii. Sound like gibberish? Luckily, it is helpful gibberish. 

A few important roles of probiotics:

  1. They protect against pathogens: A spectrum of immune conditions, from simple colds and flus to chronic immune deficiencies, such as Hashimotos and Crohns, can occur if we have a deficiency in probiotics. This is due to the fact that more that 70% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract and probiotics help to strengthen it. Some germs are actually good for us in this case. If we wiped out all those bugs, from over sanitization or antibiotics we decrease our bodies ability to protect us from when we need them the most.
  2.  They protect the gut lining itself: Heard of the term “leaky gut?” Our digestive tract is simply one layer of cells, with the blood stream directly beneath it. Therefore, it is quite fragile. An imbalanced flora can lead to permeability of these cells, by up-regulating a protein called zonulin, which has been shown to be correlated with auto-immune conditions, such as celiac disease, and other chronic diseases. This permeability leads to an increase in inflammation in the blood stream. Diagnosed with “IBS”? Probiotics may be the gut protection you need. 
  3. They calm the nervous system and affects the mind: I have spoken before about the correlation of depression and anxiety and an imbalanced microbiome. By protecting the gut lining, probiotics decrease overall inflammation in the body. Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate neurochemical production such as GABA and serotonin, our calming signals, and also communicate directly with the brain through the vagus nerve (one of the largest nerve in the body, connecting the brain and the gut.) 

My tips to help your gut: 

  1. Focus on Diet. The western-style diet of more carbohydrates and more sugar leads to higher levels of inflammation and gut permeability. They also feed the “bad” bugs, such as yeast and an imbalance ensues. By focusing on eating more vegetables and fibre and eliminating sugar and processed carbohydrates, the gut will thank you. 
  2. Get some Vitamin D. This multifunctional vitamin decreases zonulin in the gut, ultimately helping our probiotics to function more affectively. Summer in Nova Scotia is a great time to increase your vitamin D, so get out in the sun...for a reasonable amount of time!
  3. Eat your fermented foods. Kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut are all great ways to improve your gut flora with food.  **A note on kefir: Please read the bottle! All kefir is not the same. Avoid the flavoured versions with added sugar (just negates the effects). If you are sensitive to dairy, try coconut kefir, which actually has more probiotics per tablespoon (15 billion vs 2 billion). Finally, increase the dose slowly, starting with 1/2 tbsp, increasing to only 2 tbsp, added to other yogurt or smoothies. Too much all at once may cause more bloating. 
  4. Take a probiotic supplement. In my practice I usually start my patients on a supplement form as a larger correction is needed or a certain strain is important. The dose and strain depends on their concern. It may be hard to get enough probiotics in food form before the imbalance is corrected. Ask your ND what is right for you. 

So there you have it, probiotics have several important roles in our body, especially in the gut. If you have any questions on these little bugs please don’t hesitate to ask or reach out to me in a 15 minute free consults. Happy to help!

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


(Photo credit: www.mindbodygreen.com)