Archive for February, 2010

Why are “playdates” just for children?

February 6, 2010

I asked myself this question after reading the newest post on a great website that my father turned me on to . . .thanks, Dad!  You must check it out

The author, Gretchen Rubin, wrote a book about a year-long project in which she researched, pondered and questioned thousands of sources about what it meant to be happy.  Personally, I think we all should take such a hiatus.  The book, The Happiness Project (also the name of her site) is now on the NY Times #1 Bestseller list.

The current post is entitled “Schedule Time For Play.”  I like it, actually, I really like it!  In fact, just last night, I was talking to my husband, Jeff, about how we needed to schedule date nights.  The conversation seemed so strange to me in some ways, because we live in the same house and for most working couples, we do spend quite a bit of time together.  The fact is, however, we do not have a whole lot of “quality” time.  Most of our conversations are interrupted by a very enthusiastic 2-year-old who just cannot fathom how anyone would want to hold a conversation that is not entirely focused on and directed towards her.  Those of you with children know exactly what I’m talking about!

Anyway, as Rubin points out, we do live in a time where if we don’t schedule things, they just don’t get done.  A bit sad, but true, so let’s embrace the time we are in, at least that’s how I feel.

One of my favorite parts of Rubin’s recent post is, “[a] reason to schedule time for play is that once you’ve scheduled it, you can look forward to it. Anticipation is one of the four stages of enjoying a happy event (anticipation, reveling, expression, and reflection), and one way to get more happiness bang for the buck is eagerly to anticipate something fun.”

This is what I told Jeff in our conversation about date nights.  Now,  if I can marry my “play time” with “hubby time,” well, now that IS something to look forward to!

Happy Reading!


Wellness, what does this really mean?

February 2, 2010

Just today, I received an email from a very close friend of mine who has lovingly brought 7 amazing children into this world.  Okay, so you have to love and respect her for that alone!

She is frustrated and concerned with her search for answers to some health concerns that her children are having.  She explained in her email her journey with western and holistic practitioners, and highlighted her feelings that in her experience, the naturalists have often come across with an us-versus-them attitude that she has had a tough time taking.  That, in addition, to not being able to pinpoint the source of the health issues even after spending thousands of dollars and many hours of her very precious time.  I felt compelled to share with you a bit of my response to her.

We are all here to help one another, and much of my message is the following . . .

If it helps, this is my take:  I am integrative.  I believe allopathic (ie Western medicine) is great if you have an acute health issue (ex, bleeding on the side of the road or having a seizure, etc) and for medical testing (to rule out and or pinpoint issues – although there are many limitations here).  I am more of a purest when it comes to the actual treatment, but it all depends there as well.  My “specialty” is more about prevention. I have also done extensive research on vaccines and the host of modern illness that have come from them.  The connections are very scary, and I’m not saying this in an us-against-them way at all.  The truth is, we have been given a whole lot of information that is geared to get us to buy pharmaceuticals.  They don’t help with many things that they are prescribed for, and in cases such as vaccines end up creating a whole host of issues that the body is not designed to deal with.

Okay, so take a deep breath.  My “way” is never to overwhelm a person entering this arena for the first time.  We deal with what’s in front of us first, and then little by little, we educate.  People are smart.  If given good, solid, scientifically based information, they will make educated decisions.  The problem is, main-stream medical practice is anything but straightforward and biology- based . . . at least not where the human body is concerned.  The human body is already equipped by nature with what it needs.  The more we “mess” with it, the harder it is for it to do what it is
supposed to do.

I also agree with you about  the cost issue.  It’s a huge problem.  Part of the reason the holistic practitioners you’ve met appear to be on the tear when it comes to modern medicine. Our system has made it this way.  An organic farmer has to pay 2x what a conventional farmer does just to get his crop to market.  Our health care system only supports Western medicine AND we have been educated by the pharmaceutical companies.  It’s incredible to me to count how many drug ads there are on TV in one program sitting. The doctors treating patients are only taught how to manage illness, not how to prevent it in the first place.

To me, however, it is a part of our responsibility to do what we need to do for our bodies.  Clearly, the govt is not going to do it for us, at least not for quite awhile.  If it costs more now, well, we just have to learn ways to find what we need as affordably as we can.  I don’t think it means we have to give in to the system, though.

Our health concerns, and those of our children, is something we have to put time and effort into, whether we like it or not.  We may not find the person who can help us the first 10 go arounds, but if we keep trying and educating ourselves as we go along, the right people will come our way, and they will help us in our journey.  It is a journey.  With medicine and health . ..that’s why we call is “practicing medicine.”  No one ever knows for sure. You just have to keep trying things until you find what works.  I believe you are doing this.  Each time you venture out, you meet someone who gets a bit closer to the answers you need.  The fact is, if you resonated with the nutritionist who wanted you to buy this and that, you’d still be doing it. Something didn’t fit, so you kept looking.  It didn’t have anything to do with what she was prescribing.  It could have all been very good.  You did it in the name of “expense,” but that wasn’t it. Your inner being knows better.  It knows other answers are out there.  It knows it has to keep looking.  When you find it, you’ll know.  That’s what I tell everyone.  I’ve had long-term clients who spent the money to stay with me because they have looked at it as finally getting to know their bodies and buying back their health.  The real reason, however, is that they trust me, and my way “resonates” with them.  It might not with everyone, but for them, it does.  That’s a big reason why they are able to heal.  You see, it’s only 20% good practitioner . . .the other 80% is you.

Just know, my friend, that although you have a lot on your plate, you are capable of finding the answers.  If you’re confused, that’s good.  It means you’re actively searching.  You’re not alone.  You’re on the right path, but all you have to do is ask your gut, and it will tell you that.

Raspberries . . . oh, yum!

February 2, 2010

Okay, so I don’t know about you, but I’ve begun to be curious about the occasional “cravings’ that I have for certain foods.  Perhaps, I don’t fall into the category of “chocoholic” or “fast food junky,” but I do know that all cravings are our bodies speaking to us.
The last few weeks, mine has been saying “more raspberries, please!”  I like to buy the frozen, organic variety for Madison.  We defrost them in the refrigerator and put them over plain yogurt . .. I don’t like the flavored stuff . . . too much sugar!  I recently found myself taking more and more bite-fuls of these berries and then wondering why, at this particular time, I’m I craving them more than usual.  On my search, I found (on the Whole Foods website) some very interesting and wonderful facts about this tasty berry.  Thought you might be interested too . . . especially if you like them as much as I do!
With gratitude and a true passion for you to BE WELL,


Fragrantly sweet with a subtly tart overtone and almost-melt-in-your-mouth texture, raspberries are wonderfully delicious and are usually in limited supply. Most cultivated varieties of raspberries are grown in California from June through October.

A member of the rose family and a bramble fruit like the blackberry, raspberries are delicately structured with a hollow core. Raspberries are known as “aggregate fruits” since they are a compendium of smaller seed-containing fruits, called drupelets, that are arranged around a hollow central cavity.

This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Raspberries provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Raspberries can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Raspberries, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

Health Benefits

Red raspberry is most often the source of a dietary supplement sold in many health food stores called ellagic acid. This substance found naturally in raspberries belongs to the family of phytonutrients called tannins, and it is viewed as being responsible for a good portion of the antioxidant activity of this (and other) berries.

Phytonutrients for Antioxidant, Antimicrobial and Anticarcinogenic Protection

As an antioxidant food containing ellagic acid, raspberries help prevent unwanted damage to cell membranes and other structures in the body by neutralizing free radicals. Ellagic acid is not the only well-researched phytonutrient component of raspberry, however. Raspberry’s flavonoid content is also well documented. Here the key substances are quercetin, kaempferol, and the cyanidin-based molecules called cyanidin-3-glucosylrutinoside and cyanidin-3-rutinoside. These flavonoid molecules are also classified as anthocyanins, and they belong to the group of substances that give raspberries their rich red color. Raspberries’ anthocyanins also give these delectable berries unique antioxidant properties, as well as some antimicrobial ones, including the ability to prevent overgrowth of certain bacteria and fungi in the body (for example, the yeast Candida albicans, which is a frequent culprit in vaginal infections and can be a contributing cause in irritable bowel syndrome).

Additionally, research is suggesting that raspberries may have cancer protective properties. Research with animals has suggested that raspberries have have the potential to inhibit cancer cell proliferation and tumor formation in various parts of the body, including the colon.

Antioxidants Unique to Raspberries Provide Powerful Protection

Raspberries possess almost 50% higher antioxidant activity than strawberries, three times that of kiwis, and ten times the antioxidant activity of tomatoes, shows research conducted in the Netherlands and published in the journal BioFactors.

The biggest contribution to raspberries’ antioxidant capacity is their ellagitannins, a family of compounds almost exclusive to the raspberry, which are reported to have anti-cancer activity. Vitamin C contributes about 20% of the total antioxidant capacity, accounting for up to 30 milligrams in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fruit. Raspberries anthocyanins, especially cyanidin and pelagonidin glycosides, make up another 25%. And more good news: freezing and storing raspberries does not significantly affect their antioxidant activity, although in this study, their concentration of vitamin C was halved by the freezing process.

Plus Vitamin and Mineral Antioxidants

In addition to their unique phytonutrient content, raspberries are filled with traditional nutrients, primarily in the antioxidant and B vitamin categories. Raspberries emerged from our nutrient ranking system as an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C, two critical antioxidant nutrients that help protect the body’s tissue from oxygen-related damage. They also qualified as a good source of riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, potassium and copper. Coupled with this strong B vitamin and mineral content, raspberries qualified as “excellent” in terms of dietary fiber. This combination of nutrients makes raspberries a great fruit choice for having minimal impact on blood sugars.

Promote Optimal Health

Research published in Cancer Letters provides one reason why diets high in fruit help prevent cancer: raspberries, blackberries and muscadine grapes inhibit metalloproteinase enzymes. Although essential for the development and remodeling of tissues, if produced in abnormally high amounts, these enzymes play a significant role in cancer development by providing a mechanism for its invasion and spread.

Protection against Macular Degeneration

Your mother may have told you carrots would keep your eyes bright as a child, but as an adult, it looks like fruit is even more important for keeping your sight. Data reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.

In this study, which involved over 110,000 women and men, researchers evaluated the effect of study participants’ consumption of fruits; vegetables; the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; and carotenoids on the development of early ARMD or neovascular ARMD, a more severe form of the illness associated with vision loss. While, surprisingly, intakes of vegetables, antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids were not strongly related to incidence of either form of ARMD, fruit intake was definitely protective against the severe form of this vision-destroying disease. Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but raspberries can help you reach this goal. Top your morning cereal or lunch time yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh raspberries. Transform the taste and presentation of any green salad with a handful of raspberries and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Blend frozen raspberries with a spoonful of honey and some vanilla soy milk, freeze for 20 minutes, then spoon into serving cups and decorate with a sprig of mint for an elegant, healthy treat.


Raspberries are known as “aggregate fruits” since they are a compendium of smaller seed-containing fruits, called drupelets, which are arranged around a hollow central cavity. Their shape conveys to them a very delicate, almost “melt-in-your-mouth” texture. They are fragrantly sweet with a subtly tart overtone. While the most common type of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is red-pink in color, raspberries actually come in a range of colors including black, purple, orange, yellow and white. Both loganberries and boysenberries are hybrids of raspberries.


Raspberries can trace a long history dating back to prehistoric times. While wild raspberries are thought to have originated in eastern Asia, there are also varieties that are native to the Western Hemisphere. The seeds of these raspberries were likely to have been carried by travelers or animals that came across the Bering Straight during ancient times.

The spread of wild raspberries through the world seems to have occurred via similar means. The early hunter-gatherers traveled to far distances to collect food. On their treks back to the villages they would discard what they considered to be inferior quality foods, including the smaller sized raspberries. Thus began the propagation of these plants in other areas.

There seems to be no evidence that raspberries were cultivated until this millennia, with the first written mention being found in an English book on herbal medicine dated 1548. Raspberries began to be grown more widely in Europe and North America in the 19th century when many new varieties such as the loganberry and boysenberry were developed through either accidental or intentional crossbreeding. Currently, the leading commercial producers of raspberries include Russia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Germany, Chile and the United States.

How to Select and Store

As raspberries are highly perishable, they should only be purchased one or two days prior to use. Choose berries that are firm, plump and deep in color, while avoiding those that are soft, mushy or moldy. If you are buying berries prepackaged in a container, make sure that they are not packed too tightly, since this may cause them to become crushed and damaged, and that the container has no signs of stains or moisture, indication of possible spoilage. Raspberries are generally available from midsummer through early fall.

Raspberries are one of the most perishable fruits, so extreme care should be taken in their storage. Before storing in the refrigerator, remove any berries that are molded or spoiled so that they will not contaminate the others. Place the unwashed berries back in their original container or spread them out on a plate lined with a paper towel, then cover the plate with plastic wrap. Raspberries will keep fresh in the refrigerator for one or two days. Make sure not to leave raspberries at room temperature or exposed to sunlight for too long, as this will cause them to spoil.

Raspberries freeze very well. Wash them gently using the low pressure of the sink sprayer so that they will maintain their delicate shape and then pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange them in a single layer on a flat pan or cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the berries to a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they will keep for up to one year. Adding a bit of lemon juice to the raspberries will help to preserve their color.

Baby foods containing berries are bereft of anthocyanins, the water-soluble plant pigments responsible not only for the blue, purple, and red color of berries, but also for many of their health benefits.

Anthocyanins are found in fresh and frozen berries, but not in processed foods.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found anthocyanins were almost undetectable in canned foods, bread, cereals, and baby foods containing berries, even in baby foods prepared from fruits high in anthocyanins, such as blueberries.

This may be due to anthocyanins’ unique chemical structure, which renders them unstable even at a neutral pH and therefore much more susceptible to destruction during processing than other phytonutrients, such as proanthocyanidins. To give your children the full health benefits of berries, purchase fresh or frozen berries and purée them.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Raspberries:

As raspberries are very delicate, wash them very gently, using the light pressure of the sink sprayer if possible, and then patting them dry. They should be washed right before eating or recipe preparation so that they do not become water-soaked and are not left at room temperature for too long. Do not use any berries that are overly soft and mushy unless you will be puréeing them for a sauce or coulis.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Mix fresh raspberries in with creamy millet porridge for a sweet morning breakfast treat.

While at first glance it may seem unusual, the flavor combination created by sprinkling fresh raspberries with balsamic vinegar will send your palate to heaven.

Plain yogurt mixed with raspberries, honey and freshly ground mint is delicious eaten as is or used as a topping for waffles or pancakes.

Almond butter and raspberry jam are a flavorful alternative to the traditional PB&J sandwich.

Depending upon how much sweetener you use, homemade raspberry coulis can be used as a sauce for either savory poultry dishes or sweet desserts.

Individual Concerns

Raspberries and Oxalates

Raspberries are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating raspberries. Laboratory studies have shown that oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. Yet, in every peer-reviewed research study we’ve seen, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is relatively small and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium to the meal plan. If your digestive tract is healthy, and you do a good job of chewing and relaxing while you enjoy your meals, you will get significant benefits-including absorption of calcium-from calcium-rich foods plant foods that also contain oxalic acid. Ordinarily, a healthcare practitioner would not discourage a person focused on ensuring that they are meeting their calcium requirements from eating these nutrient-rich foods because of their oxalate content. For more on this subject, please see “Can you tell me what oxalates are and in which foods they can be found?”

Nutritional Profile

Raspberries are an excellent source of fiber, manganese and vitamin C. They are a good source of vitamin B2, folate, niacin, magnesium, potassium and copper. In addition, they contain significant amounts of the anti-cancer phytochemical ellagic acid.

For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Raspberries.

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Raspberries is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.

1.00 cup
123.00 grams
60.28 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese 1.24 mg 62.0 18.5 excellent
vitamin C 30.76 mg 51.3 15.3 excellent
dietary fiber 8.34 g 33.4 10.0 excellent
folate 31.98 mcg 8.0 2.4 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.12 mg 7.1 2.1 good
magnesium 22.14 mg 5.5 1.7 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 1.10 mg 5.5 1.6 good
potassium 186.96 mg 5.3 1.6 good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.12 g 5.0 1.5 good
copper 0.10 mg 5.0 1.5 good
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Raspberries


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  • Seeram NP, Momin RA, Nair MG, Bourquin LD. Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries. Phytomedicine 2001 Sep;8(5):362-9 2001. PMID:13780.
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  • Wang SY, Jiao H. Scavenging capacity of berry crops on superoxide radicals, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radicals, and singlet oxygen. J Agric Food Chem 2000 Nov;48(11):5677-84 2000. PMID:13800.
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Leaky gut syndrome . . .something the docs don’t teach you

February 2, 2010

Hi All!
In an effort to pass on some great pearls of wellness advise and information, I’m sharing an article that I believe everyone should read.  Whether or not it applies to you, it offers wonderful insight into just how integrated our bodily systems are.
The article is about “Leaky Gut Syndrome” and the connections between inflammation in the body and a healthy (or unhealthy) intestinal system.  It’s great information for anyone (not just women) and shows so much about how important digestion is to overall health.
I will be adding articles like this from time to time, and would love to know your thoughts.  The purpose is not to preach or annoy (  ; but to educate and give you the power to make conscious and informed decisions regarding your personal health.
You matter to me, and I want you to live a long and vital life!
With gratitude and a true passion for you to BE WELL,

Leaky gut syndrome — how healing your digestive tract promotes total wellness

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

The sheer number of digestive complaints I hear from women is astounding, but I always listen carefully for any clues that can help me isolate the causes of my patients’ symptoms. Clearing up digestive problems is a high priority for me as a practitioner because you simply cannot regain, or maintain, physical health without good digestive function. Often, what seems like just a minor (if embarrassing) digestive inconvenience is instead a waving red flag, telling me that something much bigger is occurring, with potentially wide-ranging health consequences. This is definitely the case with “leaky gut” syndrome.

During a recent appointment, a patient said jokingly, “I can’t wait to get home at night so I can change out of my work clothes and get into my baggy sweatpants!” We had a laugh, but I continued to press her about why she was so uncomfortable during the day. It turns out that her clothes felt too tight due to chronic bloating.

Do you have any of these signs and symptoms of leaky gut (LG)?

  • flatulence
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • diarrhea
  • food sensitivity
  • joint pain
  • muscle pains
  • fatigue
  • unexplained fevers
  • cognitive and memory defects
  • shortness of breath
  • low tolerance for exercise
  • skin outbreaks/rashes
  • urticaria (hives)
  • bone loss

In fact, a lot of my patients say they have “everyday” gas and bloating. But chronic gas and bloating are not normal sensations! They may even be important indicators of intestinal hyperpermeability, or as it is commonly called, “leaky gut syndrome.”

The term “leaky gut” has been around for a while, but in my opinion, the condition itself is still not very well understood, especially in the world of conventional medicine. A leaky gut not only can lead to disruptive symptoms, it has also been connected to other sorts of medical issues, including diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and heart failure, and may even contribute to certain kinds of depression and psychiatric disorders.

Thankfully, leaky gut is something you can heal with the right support. And once we’ve made the connection between a patient’s symptoms and leaky gut, I can tell her with confidence just how much better she will feel as healing progresses. So let’s take a closer look at what’s going on inside a leaky gut, how you can heal it, and what it takes to maintain healthy digestion.

Inflammation and more — what happens when the intestinal barrier is “leaky”

A healthy intestine is lined with permeable mucosal tissues that carefully regulate the passage of nutrient particles from the gut lumen (the space inside the tube of your intestine) into circulation. This “intelligent” lining acts as a kind of safety net that selectively determines which particles are safe and which ones should be barred from crossing and removed from the system altogether. When everything is working correctly, molecules that are too big — or those that could cause other kinds of trouble — are not allowed to cross through the intestinal wall.

When your intestinal lining is unhealthy or compromised, it can “leak” because it is too permeable, or hyperpermeable. This allows larger-than-normal “macro” particles — such as undigested food molecules, microbes, wastes, toxins, and even antigens and pathogens that piggyback onto proteins and amino acids — to push through into the lymphatic system or bloodstream. The escape of these rogue particles alerts your body that something is wrong, and so the immune system tries to come to the rescue by responding with inflammation.

This response is a natural, normal protective mechanism, but if this inflammation continues, it can become chronic, generating a wide array of symptoms throughout your body. Digestive symptoms like gas and bloating can be signs of leaky gut, but many other possible symptoms may be difficult to trace back to the scene of the crime — the intestine — because they don’t seem related to digestion. Women might never imagine that joint and muscle pain, cognition problems, unexplained fevers, poor coordination, and even shortness of breath could be signs and symptoms of leaky gut syndrome. And if there is any type of chronic inflammation, I always look to the digestive system for the source of the problem.

These microscopic intestinal “leaks” occur where two adjacent cells are joined together by tiny strands into what’s called a “tight junction” (zonula occludens). Rows of tight junctions are “stitched” together to form a membrane that is coated with a layer of mucous gel.

In a healthy intestine, the tight junctions prevent certain inappropriate fluid molecules from moving out of the intestine and into circulation. They also control how molecules and substances travel, forcing them through the cells — rather than between them — into the underlying tissues. But an intestinal barrier with faulty tight junctions can allow undigested food particles, bits of waste, excess ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules), and toxins through the safety net and into your body’s circulation.

Beneath the tip of the iceberg

Leaky gut can cause or lead to many health issues, but there are two major effects of intestinal permeability that can cascade rapidly into other problems. First, leaky gut disturbs one of your most fundamental needs — the ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients and electrolytes (substances required to maintain cellular balance) so your body has the required nutrition for optimal function.

Second, a faulty intestinal barrier disrupts healthy immune system function, which is the actual source of most of the symptoms women can feel. Special areas in your intestinal lining called gut-associated lymphatic tissue (GALT) work to protect you from allergy-causing food antigens and disease-carrying microbes. When you have a leaky gut, these harmful entities can elude the GALT and instead are routed through the hepatic portal vein or the lymph system to gain access to your bloodstream, where they can travel far and wide throughout your body.

Is leaky gut the origin of food allergy and intolerance?

Wherever the undesirable particles go, they stimulate the release of cytokines (special immune-signaling substances) and stir up further trouble in the form of symptoms. When the cytokines cycle back to the gut for processing, they cause even more proinflammatory problems in the gut. A true vicious cycle!

In leaky gut syndrome, your body is caught in a self-perpetuating loop of leaky gut, semi-infectious states, and inflammation. As a practitioner of functional medicine, I believe this pattern of digestive disruption lies at the very root of most, if not all, food allergies. If your immune system is continually stimulated by specific food antigens that are leaking into circulation, and you continue to consume those foods, you could easily develop allergic reactions or sensitivities to those foods. Your immune system remembers those foods as triggers and calls up the same inflammatory reaction upon each re-encounter.

Leaky gut has effects on liver function and vice versa

As your liver helps digest and process foods, it’s called upon to handle toxins and other unfriendly particles in a two-stage detoxification process. But leaky gut can cause stress along the liver’s detox pathways, especially during phase II of the process, when highly reactive, intermediate substances left over from phase I are neutralized.

“Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.”
— William Shakespeare

When the liver is overloaded with poisons, it experiences oxidative stress (from free radicals), which generates even more inflammation. This specific reaction may be a kind of “double whammy” that leads to more serious forms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, an increasingly common inflammatory disorder linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. It’s also part of the link between leaky gut and the progression and symptoms of joint pain and arthritis.

Causes of leaky gut

Now that you know what leaky gut is, it’s equally helpful to know what causes it. Essentially, anything that alters or damages the mucosal lining of your GI tract can contribute to leaky gut — and the list is long. Certainly, the food you eat matters. Consuming lots of refined carbs and sugars, along with highly processed foods, may lead to leaky gut. Exposure to heavy metals and toxins, as well as long-term alcohol use, are also thought to be connected.

But factors that contribute to leaky gut may also originate from within your own body. If your system doesn’t produce adequate amounts of the right digestive enzymes, you won’t be able to break down certain foods that you eat. Lactose intolerance is a prime example. Many people have genetic lactase deficiencies that prevent their bodies from being able to break down lactose, the primary sugar in milk products. And if those folks keep consuming dairy foods, the integrity of the mucosal layer becomes compromised, generating inflammation and widening the tight-junction gates.

Medical treatments that can increase intestinal permeability

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Steroid drugs (corticosteroids)
  • NSAID use (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Antibiotic use

Bacterial overgrowth in the gut is another well-known risk factor for intestinal hyperpermeability. An imbalance in gut flora can be caused by chronic infections — as well as by the antibiotics used to treat them! Similarly, systemic yeast (Candida) creates conditions that increase intestinal permeability, and when present in a pregnant woman’s system, may influence the baby’s developing immune “profile” and intestinal function. Supplemental probiotics can rebalance this overgrowth and help regulate digestion.

Many practitioners have suspicions about other factors that may be associated with leaky gut. These include excessive caffeine use, food additives, and chronic stress. We also see certain other digestive conditions occur in conjunction with leaky gut: parasites, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that is traceable to food intolerance. What we can’t always tell is which comes first — the condition, or the leakiness.

But that’s not all: complications of leaky gut

Is there a test for leaky gut?

The most common test is an intestinal permeability test. Also known as the “lactulose-mannitol challenge,” it measures the degree to which these two sugar molecules are able to permeate your intestinal barrier. This helps establish whether there is hyperpermeability or nutrient malabsorption.

If you think you have leaky gut, you may not need to confirm it with a test. The important element is healing your digestion. Try following our leaky gut recommendations for two weeks, and see if that helps you feel better. Visit a practitioner of functional medicine for more in-depth guidance.

Leaky gut isn’t always obvious, and we may not see digestive trouble as the first sign that it’s occurring. Often, another condition or an unpleasant non-digestive symptom brings a patient to the Women to Women Clinic for help. It usually takes some detective work to make the connection between the patient’s complaint and leaky gut. This has been the case with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Currently, researchers are studying whether leaky gut is a starting point for CFS. But there’s good news: we already know that resolving leaky gut can lead to remission of CFS.

The chronic inflammation that is the cornerstone of the leaky gut cycle may lead to heart failure, and scientists think that leaky gut may contribute to certain types of depression. Leaky gut may also be a factor in the development of multiple sclerosis, lupus, vasculitis, and Addison’s disease, as well as these other conditions and illnesses:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • HIV
  • Osteoporosis

What’s really important: you can heal leaky gut

My patients are always relieved to hear that it is entirely possible to heal the gut using nutritional measures and other aids that restore the integrity of the intestinal barrier. I have seen this happen time and again.

But the path to healing may not always be a straight one, and it’s likely you will need to consider other factors that could be integral to healing your damaged intestinal lining and prevent recurrences. In other words, the leaky-gut puzzle may have many pieces that you and your practitioner must fit together to improve the situation.

Targeted nutritional solutions for leaky gut

Ongoing research continues to unveil more useful information about which nutrients support and encourage healing in the gut. These include:

  • Glutamine. This is an amino acid important for maintaining structure and function of the intestine, as well as metabolism. Glutamine has been shown to improve mucosal damage from radiation and chemotherapy, for example.
  • Methionine and N-acetyl cysteine. These are sulfur-containing amino acid precursors to glutathione (GSH), a key antioxidant for protecting cells from free-radical damage.
  • Larch. Derivative nutrients from this conifer have immunologic, metabolic, and growth-factor benefits for healing leaky gut.
  • Kiwifruit. This edible berry encourages the epithelial cells in the mucosal barrier to proliferate, and for this reason helps heal existing damage from leaky gut.
  • Zinc. Research suggests supplementation with this metallic element “tightens up” the leakiness of a hyperpermeable intestine — and helps prevent its recurrence.

Clearly, the goal is to reduce the permeability of your intestine, which will quiet the immune response to any particles that slip through your gut’s safety net. Subsequently, chronic inflammation will diminish, both locally in the GI tract and elsewhere in the body. Reducing gut leakiness also rebalances special immune cells, such as T-helpers, and helps reset and normalize your immune response.

Where do you start?

For patients with leaky gut, we need to both calm the gut environment and repair existing damage to the mucosal lining of the intestine. This dual approach is remarkably effective, and has the welcome side benefit of reducing — or eliminating — the symptoms that brought the patient to our clinic in the first place! Our goals are to eliminate common allergens, reduce inflammation, restore microbial balance throughout the GI tract, and restore optimal nutrition.

Slow down and chew your food well. Take the time to sit down to your meals, and don’t rush through them. Digestive enzyme supplements help, but there’s nothing better than the habit of chewing food slowly and completely, because digestion starts with enzymes in your saliva. Wolfing down meals and swallowing unchewed food makes your digestive system work much harder than necessary.

Undertake an elimination diet. To stabilize and soothe the digestive tract, I recommend a 14-day Quick-Cleanse. The foods in this gentle approach are free of common allergens, such as gluten, dairy and yeast, as well as sugar, and give the gut a break from the major trigger foods that exacerbate leaky gut. By the end of the two-week cleanse, you will find that your whole digestive process runs more smoothly, and there should be a noticeable reduction in symptoms.

Rebalance your gut flora. Reestablishing microfloral balance throughout the GI tract is crucial, and it’s important to maintain that healthy balance. A well-formulated probiotic supplement such as Women to Women’s Balanced Biotic is indispensable for treatment of leaky gut, and can help stabilize your overall digestive environment. While fiber intake is a major ingredient for good microbial balance, some women with leaky gut cannot tolerate additional fiber at first. You can gradually increase dietary fiber by eating more “tender” fruits and vegetables (bananas, pears, applesauce, well-cooked squash, and the like). Once healing is well under way, you can add in more fiber.

Investigate digestive aids. Functional medical providers have been at the forefront of developing methods for healing the gut, based on identifying the true origins of this condition. In my practice, I use a cutting-edge medical food that coats the intestines and protects the lining from further damage. This gives your body’s innate healing powers the opportunity to go to work and recover the integrity that your intestinal mucosal barrier needs to be fully functional.

Understanding leaky gut is the first step toward healing

I’ve found that one of the biggest challenges with leaky gut is just being able to understand what it is. Women are often confounded by the possibility that a digestive problem could be causing symptoms like joint pain or fuzzy thinking. But the digestive system is the foundation for your whole body’s health, so it’s important to resolve digestive issues before other problems arise. Take a step back to look at the big picture of your health, and work with your practitioner to map out possible connections between your symptoms and their sources, no matter how unrelated they might seem.

For many women, putting a name to the problem is the first step in healing, and we’re learning more about leaky gut — or intestinal hyperpermeability — every year. Once you identify the potential causes of your leaky gut, which are unique to each woman, it’s much easier to chart a course for both digestive healing and total wellness.

Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP is the co-founder of the Women to Women Clinic in Yarmouth, Maine, as well as the Women to Women Personal Program.  She is a regular contributor to Women to  Her first book, The Core Balance Diet, has recently been released (2009), and she has a weekly call-in show on Women’s Health for Hay House Radio