Modern medicine is a double-edged sword. While it has helped us in addressing many acute concerns, the most common challenges in healthcare today are chronic issues. Conventional medicine has no true solution for such conditions as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, depression, cancer, and dementia. Instead, the medications relied on for addressing chronic problems treat the symptoms rather than trying to identify and overcome the underlying cause of the condition. Plus, there are some medications linked to leaky gut that could actually be contributing to these health problems.
As I always say, the gut is the gateway to health! Up to 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Ninety-five percent of your neurotransmitters — the molecules responsible for keeping your mood stable — are made there as well.1 If you don’t have a healthy gut, you can’t have a healthy immune system. Fortunately, I have the tools you can use to support your gut.
With the use of many common prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, you could be compromising your gut health without even knowing it, leading to what’s known as leaky gut.2 In this article, we’ll look at what leaky gut is and why it’s harmful to your health. We’ll also explore some of the primary medications linked to leaky gut, as well as the steps you can take to repair your gut and start feeling your best again.
What is Leaky Gut?
Your gut lining is naturally semi-permeable to let the macro- and micronutrients you get from food pass through your intestinal wall. It’s how we absorb these nutrients from our food.
Think of your gut as a drawbridge. Teeny tiny boats (nutrients in food) are able to go under the bridge without a problem. Leaky gut occurs when certain aspects of modern life (inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy, toxins, infections, and stress) cause that drawbridge to go up and stay open. This lets in much larger boats (bacteria, toxins, and partially digested food particles) that were never meant to go through. When these larger particles leak through your intestinal wall and enter your bloodstream, your immune system reacts by attacking them as it would pathogens or other foreign invaders.
Once your gut is leaky, more and more particles are able to escape into your bloodstream. Then your immune system sends out wave after wave of inflammation to get rid of them. This immune response can lead to a number of wide-ranging symptoms such as bloating, chronic fatigue, skin issues, seasonal allergies, and mood imbalance. Over time, your immune system becomes overstressed and begins firing less accurately, attacking your own tissues in a full-blown autoimmune condition.
To make matters worse, many of the substances that enter your bloodstream when your gut is leaky appear similar to your body’s own cells. Your immune system creates antibodies to target these foreign invaders. However, sometimes it ends up mistakenly attacking your own tissues through a process known as molecular mimicry.3 Gluten and dairy proteins, in particular, look a lot like your thyroid cells. That’s why these foods are often the culprits behind autoimmune thyroid conditions.
The work of Harvard researcher Dr. Alessio Fasano proves that leaky gut is a necessary precursor for developing autoimmunity.4 One of the most overlooked causes of leaky gut is medications.
Find out if you have a leaky gut with this free quiz!
Medications Linked to Leaky Gut
You hope that when you go to the doctor, you can trust her advice on the necessity of taking certain drugs. In conventional medicine, however, that’s not always the case, and in some circumstances, those medications could be doing more harm than good.
Below I’ve listed five common medications linked to leaky gut that could be adding to your chronic health issues.
According to the CDC, almost half of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.5 Not only does this lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, it also puts patients at risk for allergic reactions and infections because of the disruption to the complex ecology of the microbiome.
I like to think of the gut as a rainforest, home to a vast and diverse range of living organisms known collectively as your microbiome. Trillions of microflora work together to ensure proper digestive functioning. They also aid in the production of essential vitamins such as B and K and act as a protective barrier for the immune system. All the while they discourage bad bacteria and keep Candida (a form of yeast) from flourishing.
When you take antibiotics, they kill both the bad and the good microorganisms in your stomach, disrupting your gut’s natural balance.6 Without the good bacteria to fight off the overgrowth of other organisms, Candida or SIBO can overgrow and multiply. This can damage the lining of your intestinal walls, and lead to leaky gut and a whole host of other issues.
If you do have a bacterial infection that absolutely requires antibiotics, I recommend increasing your daily probiotic supplementation to 100 billion CFUs. Return to a maintenance dose of 30 billion CFUs once your gut’s good bacteria has been restored. You can also take my ImmunIG™ for further immune support and healthy gut repair.
The class of OTC painkillers known as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Advil and Motrin has some startling side effects. They may be responsible for 107,000 hospital stays and 16,500 deaths every year due to gastrointestinal complications in arthritis patients alone. Studies have also shown that NSAID use can significantly impact the diversity in the gut’s microbiome, causing a bacterial imbalance known as dysbiosis.7 These medicines, which are generally considered safe, can cause stomach and intestinal bleeding even in low doses. They are one of the greatest barriers to recovery for those dealing with leaky gut.
As a safer alternative to NSAIDs, Omega-3 fish oil supplements have been shown to support a healthy inflammatory response without the harsh side effects. Curcumin, another impactful supplement, blocks NF-kB, an important molecule that moves into your cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. Dozens of clinical trials have proven that curcumin modulates your inflammatory response and supports your immune system.
3. Oral Contraceptives
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as 10.6 million women in the U.S. were on “the pill.” With so many women relying on this method of contraception, it’s shocking to learn how severely the pill could be affecting your gut health and your overall well-being.
In fact, the estrogen often used in birth control pills can lead to estrogen dominance, meaning too much estrogen in your body. And research has shown that excess estrogen doubles your risk of developing Candida overgrowth, which is a major cause of leaky gut. In addition, women genetically predisposed to chronic GI troubles may be three times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease after using the pill for at least five years.8
As a safer alternative, I recommend a non-hormonal copper IUD. This device is approved for 10 years of use and may be effective for up to 20 years. You can also use condoms or try the rhythm method, where you track your body’s natural cycles and avoid sex on the days you are fertile.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone and hydrocortisone, work by suppressing your immune system to help control autoimmune conditions. These occur when your immune system becomes overstressed and mistakenly attacks your body’s own tissues. This inhibition of the immune system (located primarily in your gut) can cause your gut to become leaky, which is a primary cause for autoimmunity. This means taking steroids can perpetuate autoimmunity, in addition to leaving you open to infection thanks to a suppressed immune system.
Rather than relying on harmful drugs, the key to reversing autoimmunity is to support rather than suppress your immune system. Then it can return to optimal function naturally.
5. Acid-reducing Drugs
Did you know that medications used to control heartburn and suppress stomach acids, such as Prilosec and Zantac, can actually put you at risk for serious gut infection?
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that those taking medicines to suppress gastric acid had higher rates of recurrent C. difficile infection compared to those not on acid blockers. Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is a bacterial strain that can cause swelling of the colon, life-threatening bleeding and lead to leaky gut. C. diff exists all around us. However, it is most commonly spread in hospitals and other health care facilities, due to antibiotic use that wipes out healthy bacteria combined with the already weakened immune systems of patients.
As with all medications, it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks and to consider whether any less harmful alternatives exist to address your symptoms naturally. In terms of acid reflux, a simple change in diet and lifestyle habits can resolve your heartburn symptoms, and eliminate your reliance on acid-reducing drugs and their harmful side effects. The foods I’ve found that contribute most to acid reflux are gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and fried foods.
Avoiding the foods mentioned above, as well as adopting stress-relieving strategies such as yoga or meditation, can help ease the symptoms of acid reflux. Some people who have acid reflux actually have low stomach acid and may benefit from HCL supplementation for supporting optimal stomach pH.
How to Repair a Leaky Gut and Take Back Your Health
In this world where there is a pill for every ill, it can feel as though medications are a necessary evil. You may be convinced you just have to live with their side effects. Remember that you DO have other options and you are empowered to make informed choices about the types of medications that you take.
You CAN use the safer alternatives and lifestyle changes that I’ve mentioned, plus the steps listed below, to restore your gut health and strengthen your immune system.
If you’ve ever taken or are currently taking any of the medications discussed in this article, I recommend following my 4R approach to repair your gut:
Your goal is to get rid of anything that’s harmful to your gut. I can’t stress enough that a gluten-free diet is critical to your gut health. In addition to avoiding gluten, you’ll also want to ditch dairy, as most adults are lactose intolerant or sensitive to the casein proteins in dairy products. 9,10. Other gut-destroying and inflammatory foods including alcohol, corn, soy, refined sugar, GMOs, and highly processed foods need to be removed from your diet.
You’ll also need to eliminate any gut infections you have, whether caused by Candida overgrowth, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), or parasites. Finally, learning to manage stress and avoiding toxins are pieces of the puzzle you’ll need to address.
Restore what’s missing from your gut. Adding digestive enzymes and HCL to your regimen will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses. Follow a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of organic greens, vegetables, and fruits, healthy fats, quality proteins.
Repopulate the beneficial bacteria in your gut with the help of probiotic supplements to create a healthy gut flora balance that protects your gut wall and your immune system as a whole.
To repair a leaky gut, I custom formulated Leaky Gut Revive® after working with thousands of patients with leaky gut. Leaky Gut Revive® is the perfect supplement for supporting a healthy gut lining.
It is an excellent source of L-Glutamine to nourish your gut cells. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that is not only involved in your immune system, it also has a specific role in helping to build your gut lining. Anyone who is concerned about autoimmunity, food sensitivities, and inflammation, should be paying attention to L-Glutamine to help keep potentially allergenic and inflammatory proteins from entering your bloodstream where they can trigger an immune response.
With these ingredients, Leaky Gut Revive® nourishes and soothes your gut cells, restores your gut’s natural mucosal lining, and maximizes gut-mending fatty acid production. This custom formulation is my most comprehensive weapon against leaky gut. It’s a great supplement for supporting your gut at any time, and an especially good choice when you are taking medications that can impact gut health.
- That Gut Feeling. Siri Carpenter. American Psychological Association. 2012.
- The Influence of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs on the Gut Microbiome. Mary A M Rogers, David M Aronoff. NCBI. 2016.
- Molecular Mimicry As A Mechanism of Autoimmune Disease. Matthre F Cusick, Jane E Libbey, Robert S Fujinami. NCBI. 2012.
- Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases. Alessio Fasano. NCBI. 2012.
- CDC: 1 in 3 Antibiotic Prescriptions Unnecessary. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Facing A New Challenge: The Adverse Effects of Antibiotics On Gut Microbiota and Host Immunity. Sheng Zhang, De-Chang Chen. NCBI. 2019.
- Gut Microbiome Interactions with Drug Metabolism, Efficacy, and Toxicity. Ian D Wilson, Jeremy K Nicholson. NCBI. 2017.
- Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease with Oral Contraceptives and Menopausal Hormone Therapy: Current Evidence and Future Direction. Hamed Khalili. NCBI. 2017.