Holistic Practitioner Spotlight with Dr. Valencia Ray, MD
We are speaking with Dr. Valencia Ray, Functional Medicine Physician, on the topic of Leaky Gut – Its cause and effect it has on the human body.
Describe Leaky Gut and What to Do About It
Intestinal Permeability Syndrome, commonly known as ‘leaky gut’ can be the root cause of many autoimmune and immune system dysfunctions.
Leaky gut is a condition in which the tight junctions between mucosal cells that line the intestinal tract become ‘leaky’ and inflamed.
When this occurs, cells that normally do not have access to the body’s blood circulation can gain access. This, in turn, causes circulating immune complexes which increase inflammation throughout the body. This can lead to:
- Increased risks for autoimmunity development
- Blood brain barrier problems that can lead to cognition issues
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Kidney disease and even kidney failure
It is important to care for your gut since it is the hub of health and well-being. Especially because of our society’s tendency for poor eating habits and stress, a visit to a functional medicine doctor for a nutrition, gut, and stress hormone checkup could be well worth the effort!
What Contributes to Leaky Gut?
- Processed foods – foods that are in packages and are not fresh and often preserved with a variety of chemicals.
- Most breads in general, contains processed wheat and other grains.
- Energy and protein bars
- Artificial vegan ‘cheese and meat’ products – are all processed in general.
Read labels carefully and stick to healthy, fresh nuts or low glycemic snacks as much as possible instead. Healthy eating generally will reduce the need for between meal snacking.
- High sugar – this is a toxin to our system, especially refined sugar. It causes inflammation and can literally trigger stress and adrenal dysfunction over time, in addition to leaky gut!
- This includes cookies, ice cream, soda, fruit juices, and candy bars.
- Fructose is a huge source of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Bad news
Avoiding sugar is a must for good health!
- Medications – particularly notorious are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), steroids, antibiotics, and acetaminophen.
- Eating the wrong fats – polyunsaturated vegetable oils are inflammatory for the gut. Stick with mono-saturated vegetable oils like uncooked olive (never use high heat with olive), avocado, coconut oil in moderation, and good quality omega-3 fish oils. These are anti-inflammatory and important for healthy fat(lipid)/cholesterol levels.
- Excessive stress – which can lead to immune function dysregulation and chronic inflammation – a vicious circle also connected to the above list of triggers.
How Leaky Gut Can Affect Us
Leaky gut can ultimately affect our mood, brain and cognition and even our tendency to gain and hold onto weight. As it affects our adrenal system, it affects our hormones. Most people and doctors do not seem to realize that inflammation is a cause of chronic weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
It is also a contributor to anxiety and depression!
Get to the Cause
While I enjoyed many aspects of my previous primary specialty of Ophthalmology, I learned that Functional Medicine addresses the root cause of symptoms. It is not just about covering symptoms or numbing pain while the body continues to deteriorate, which is generally the path of the traditional, ‘pill for an ill’ system. I find that helping to reverse and prevent problems in the body is more helpful to the patient and more satisfying to me as a clinician.
In this article, I will share the experience I had with Daniel, a patient I worked with who had been under a high amount of stress for the previous few years. Daniel presented with unusual symptoms of the urinary tract. He had been treated traditionally at a major prestigious medical institution where they missed the diagnosis of a fungal infection in his gut – an underlying cause of his urinary tract symptoms.
This infection was causing an extreme immune response that raised secretory IgA (immunoglobulin A) levels (sIgA) – a primary defense response of the gut to infection. If it had not been detected using functional medicine testing, clinically this patient could have been headed toward chronic kidney disease and even kidney failure due to a condition known as ‘Secretory IgA Nephropathy’. ‘Nephropathy’ means kidney disease.
What alerted me to this condition was:
- The patient complained of intermittent amber colored urine, particularly occurring in the first morning void. A couple of times a fibrin-like clot was noticed, and one was captured and shown to me
- Painless urination
- Intermittent lower back pain
Unfortunately, the traditional healthcare system does not ascribe currently to the belief in the diagnosis of ‘leaky gut’ and does not address this condition. Thank goodness for functional medicine testing!
- Functional Medicine Lab tests:
- GI stool test that had shown that he had a yeast infection with Geotrichum species (there was no previous history of bowel disease known)
- sIgA was more than twice normal
- Lactoferrin inflammation marker was significantly elevated to twice normal range – another indicator of leaky gut/lining inflammation apparently due to the fungal infection
- Urinary creatinine levels were higher than ideal from a functional medicine range – in retrospective review had been right at the borderline high level for more than a year previously
- Indications of an unhealthy gut microbiome with the need for greater levels of fiber and short chain fatty acids
- The fungus was noted to be sensitive to a number of herbicidals (of which I had started two)
What I was witnessing from his clinical findings and lab reports was a rarely diagnosed syndrome – ‘secretory IgA nephropathy’. According to my research, there is no known ‘cure’ and the cause is ‘unknown’ but theorized to be related to gut inflammation. The threat of renal failure added extra urgency to resolving the condition.
The Relationship of Leaky Gut and the Kidneys
From my understanding as a Functional Medicine Physician, the lesson is to pay attention to the gut! An inflamed gut, whether it be from an infection, an imbalanced gut bacteria microbiome, processed foods, or other causes of leaky gut, should not be taken lightly.
Based upon the clinical presentation and what we are learning about the mechanism of leaky gut, it is reasonable to assume that the fungal infection created an aggressive triggering of the patient’s immune response, which released high levels of secretory IgA. This immune IgA complex was then able to access the blood stream through the leaky cell membrane junctions and some were ultimately caught in the kidney filtration system which is damaging to kidney tissues. You can read more here regarding the role of IgA in secretory IgA Nephropathy.
Likewise, other connections have been made often enough that as obesity, inflammation and chronic disease have increased, so has chronic kidney disease. There is an emerging connection being made between escalating leaky gut and dramatic increases of chronic kidney disease.
Without functional medicine treatment, the prognosis according to the traditional healthcare system was to simply treat the symptoms (business as usual) and to expect a 1 in 4 risk statistic for ultimately needing a kidney transplant!
Upon completion of treatment according to Functional Medicine protocols and addressing the patient’s leaky gut, not only did Daniel experience a 45-50-pound weight loss, but the urinary tract issue completely disappeared. All lab values returned to a healthy normal range.
For over a year now, Daniel has stuck to the changes he was willing to make in his lifestyle and eating habits. He has great energy levels and has been able to successfully launch into a new career. As a result, Daniel has become an enthusiastic advocate for functional medicine and holistic health.
Why and When Did You Choose the Holistic Path?
I have always been inclined toward personal growth and empowerment, and had holistic mind-body-spirit health hobbies over the years. Early in my career, I experienced an intense period of burnout and this really focused my attention on the holistic path.
I practiced as an ophthalmologist for many years and had my own medical practice which I eventually sold. In 2018 after moving from Chicago to Northern California, I retrained at the Institute of Functional Medicine and opened a membership based private practice January 1, 2019 in Walnut Creek California with telehealth also to Illinois.
What Lessons Have Your Work and Personal Experiences Taught You?
I have learned what stress and burnout is, how dangerous it is, and how it causes most chronic disease. I’ve also learned how to manage stress and to live a more abundant, resilient, and whole life.
VALENCIA RAY, M.D. is a trained Functional Medicine Physician and lifelong learner. She helps busy women to overcome stress and burnout, stop annoying health symptoms without scary drugs, lose weight easier, and experience greater vitality, connection, and confidence.
- Medical School: The University of Illinois, College of Medicine, M.D. degree
- Board-certified by The ABO of Ophthalmology
- Transition to Integrative Mind-Body Medicine: Continuing Medical and Integrative and Functional Medicine Mental/Physical Health Education, ongoing
- Institute of Functional Medicine Training Program and Advanced Certification Graduate – Core and all APM modules
- Medical License: California and Illinois
Valencia Ray, MD
Mind-Body Integrative Medicine
Walnut Creek, CA, USA
See Dr. Ray’s Profile on Explore Holistic Directory
View other holistic practitioners like Dr. Ray in our Holistic Health Directory
As holistic dentists, we've recommended products and services that supported our patients’ health for decades. In experiencing our own health challenges from mercury toxicity, we worked closely with many natural, alternative, and integrative health practitioners who aided our recovery as well as our patients’. We built this site to provide you with a simple-to-use, comprehensive, informational, and functional resource for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health & well-being.