Updated: Mar 30, 2020
If you have been anything about gut health lately I am sure you have heard this phenomenon called leaky gut. What is it? There is so much confusion around this term and what it actually means for your health. As always, I’m here to set the record straight and steer you in the right direction
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut also referred to as increased intestinal permeability is simply when your gut lining is more permeable (leaky) than it should be.
Why does leaky gut happen?
From your lower oesophageal sphincter (the valve between your oesophagus and stomach) to your anus, your gastrointestinal tract is lined with just a single continuous layer of cells that separates the inside of the body from the external environment (1)
Each of these cells long your gut are linked together by tight junction (or TJ) proteins These TJ’s are the gateway between your intestines and your bloodstream. TJ’s are incredibly important as they have to maintain the balance between allowing vital nutrients to enter your bloodstream, while remaining small enough to prevent inflammatory nasties from your diet or lifestyle from entering into the bloodstream and onto the rest of your body. Leaky gut symptoms are a consequence of intestinal tight-junction being compromised (2).
What causes leaky gut?
In a healthy gut, these TJ’s are opening and closing all the time in response to a variety of stimuli including certain foods, bacteria or viruses and signals from your nervous, hormonal or immune systems (1). When there is acute exposure to a particular ‘stress’ the TJ’s can usually recovery, but if there is chronic or high level exposure, recovery may start to become an issue. Some of the underlying causes of leaky gut include:
A highly refined, processed diet.
Chronic stress (3)
Over consumption of ‘toxins’ and inflammatory products, such as alcohol. Learn more about toxins here
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
So many symptoms and conditions are associated with a leaky gut due to the variety of roles and responsibilities your gut has.
Some stand out symptoms:
Food intolerances and sensitivities (histamine, gluten and lactose)
Congested or inflamed skin
Digestive symptoms (bloating, constipated, diarrhoea) (4)
Conditions linked with leaky gut:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis)
Oesophageal and colorectal cancer
Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
Obesity-related metabolic diseases (fatty liver, Type II diabetes, heart disease)
Autoimmune disease (lupus, multiple sclerosis, Type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s, and more).
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
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How do you treat leaky gut?
Supporting the immune system located in and around your gut wall (hence the massive link with autoimmune conditions) via probiotics is a good place to start. There are certain strains that prove better than others for gut healing and may be better suited to you and your health needs, so working with a qualified practitioner with knowledge of this and access to the right probiotics is advised. In the meantime, if broad-spectrum probiotics or fermented foods feel like they are supporting you and do not amplify symptoms then go for it (10).
2. Remove triggers
This can be tricky as some of these triggers (such as dysbiosis) require practitioner support. Assessing potential dietary and lifestyle factors, such as known allergies or sensitive that you are exposing yourself to, is a great place to start. Other potential causes like high alcohol consumption or a highly processed diet may be worth rethinking.
3. Eat a nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory diet
A high fibre, colourful whole foods diet is key. Lots of fruit and vegetables with quality protein will start providing your body with key gut healing essentials like like zinc, vitamin A and glutamine.
4. Stress management
Identify your stressors and find ways to address these. I understand modern day living can be busy and full, but finding a way to incorporate rest and relaxation could be life changing. Find your own groove, whether it be art, yoga, cooking, meditation or daily affirmation, it doesn’t matter, as long it is helps.
Can you diagnose and test for leaky gut?
Yes, you can! If you identify with any of the above symptoms and conditions it would be worth exploring leaky gut with a practitioner. Identifying it’s presence may also be useful, in a preventative sense, for those who may be at risk of developing an autoimmune disease (i.e. a particular autoimmune disease runs in the family and you suspect you have the gene).
Although leaky gut may be assumed, the beauty of testing is that we can be certain of its presence, how much healing is required and is an objective way to measure progress with your individualised, holistic treatment. How awesome is that!