Leaky gut, also known as leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability, causes symptoms such as bloating, gas, food allergies and intolerances, auto immune syndromes, skin conditions (psoriasis, eczema), gastro intestinal conditions, diarrhoea, constipation, cramps and general aches and pains.
Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the lining of your intestine (gut) becomes too porous and allows partially digested food and other molecules through from your intestine into your bloodstream. It is normal for your intestine to be slightly porous in order to allow water and properly digested nutrients to pass into your bloodstream, but when your intestine walls become too porous and allow unwanted molecules to pass into your bloodstream, it is then that your body calls ‘alert’.
Our gut (small intestine) is designed to create a path from our stomach to our bowel (large intestine) and measures approximately 7 metres long in an average adult. As food (digested and partly digested) passes along the intestine, water and fully digested food nutrients pass through the intestine wall into the bloodstream where they can be transported to wherever they are needed. When our intestinal walls are strong and functioning properly our cells are fully nourished and hydrated and produce all the energy we need to live a healthy active life. But when undigested food molecules and other toxins are able to pass through into the bloodstream, this can cause a whole host of minor complications and major health problems for us.
Leaky gut syndrome can commonly lead to coeliac disease (gluten allergy), other serious food allergies as well as autoimmune syndromes.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Some of the more common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include;
- Digestive issues (diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, wind)
- Joint pain and/or inflammation
- General body inflammation
- Headaches & migraines
- Difficulty concentrating & sometimes mental confusion
- Skin problems (acne, rashes, allergies)
- General fatigue (possibly caused by malnutrition)
A sufferer can have all of the above symptoms or maybe just some and may also have other symptoms unique to their physiology. There are also many other medical conditions that have the same or similar symptoms. This makes ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ very difficult to diagnose.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The cause of this syndrome is much debated, with some studies showing possible links to glyphosate and other chemicals, long term over indulgence of sugar, a build up of yeast in the body and many other lifestyle causes. My personal experience is that spraying food crops with chemicals is a main culprit in this syndrome and I found that changing to an organic food diet was highly beneficial in dealing with mine and my family’s leaky gut symptoms.
In this article I will discuss all the proposed causes of leaky gut but I will also strongly rely on my own clinical observances, my personal journey to heal a leaky gut and also the experiences of close family members diagnosed with coeliac disease and other intestinal conditions and food intolerances.
I honestly think that ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ is far more widespread than noted and is the underlying cause of a vast number of conditions.
In the general medical health community, the possible causes of leaky gut are as follows;
- Too much sugar
- Excessive alcohol
- Processed foods
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Too much yeast in the diet
- High stress levels
- Long term use of NSAIDs (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs)
- Long term inflammation
- Lack of good gut bacteria
- Coeliac disease
These standard and accepted causes lead me to ask
- Where does the initial inflammation come from?
- Why does yeast build up in the intestine? (the human race has used yeast in may forms for many centuries without ill effect)
- What is it in processed foods that cause digestive problems?
- Which comes first, coeliac or leaky gut?
It is easy to accept a diagnosis of leaky gut as a fait accompli and then try to make lifestyle and diet changes to accommodate it (which is much easier said than done). My approach would be to discover the root cause of the leaking gut and address that, thereby allowing the intestines to heal themselves and return to full and natural health.
Conditions Linked To Leaky Gut
It is now accepted that the following medical conditions can be linked to ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’;
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: See Cornell University study.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Histamine Intolerance (Histamine is the chemical released during an allergic reaction)
- Coeliac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Food Allergies
- Lactose Intolerance
The Autoimmune Disease & Leaky Gut Link
We all know that we have an immune system. But what exactly IS our immune system? Some of our immunity comes from antibodies, which protect against bacteria and viruses and which we are all familiar with. But did you know that over 70% of your body’s immune function is in your gut? Our intestines contain a Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT), which is responsible for preventing harmful substances passing from your gut into your bloodstream e.g. bacteria, funguses, viruses. If your intestine lining is too porous, these foreign bodies easily pass into your blood vessels where they trigger an immune response. This immune response will stay active for as long as these substances are allowed to keep entering your bloodstream.
Autoimmune syndrome/disease is when your body’s own immune system attacks your body, seeing some part of your body as an enemy that must be destroyed. Autoimmune disease is almost always connected to a leaky gut and may studies exist to show that healing your leaky gut can help reverse your autoimmune syndrome. Therefore to heal the autoimmunity you must first heal your leaky gut, any other approach is merely suppressing the symptoms.
Autoimmune syndromes include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus syndrome, alopecia areata, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroiditis, polymyalgia rheumatica, Sjogren’s syndrome, vitiligo, vasculitis, Chron’s disease, Hashimoto’s disease, Raynaud’s syndrome, ulcerative colitis, urticaria and psoriasis.
Research studies that supports this;
Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity: An Intricate Balance in Individuals Health and the Diseased State
The Institute For Functional Medicine published a very interesting article: Rise Of Autoimmune Disease Linked To Intestinal Permeability
Gut Health & Allergies
Allergies occur when your immune system overacts. Research over the last two decades has shown us that our intestines play a vital role in allergies (See Natropathic Doctor News & Review Study). Our gastrointestinal tract (gut) is home to a host of healthy bacteria and fungi, known as our gut microbiome. However, changes in this microbiome make us susceptible to all kinds of allergies and allergy symptoms. Some of the things than can upset our microbiome balance include antibiotics, sugar, low fibre diets, diets high in saturated fat, food additives, chemical food preservatives, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, environmental toxins and long term high stress levels.
Signs of gut bacteria imbalance can include;
- Weight gain
- Disturbed or insufficient sleep
- Sluggishness (physically & mentally)
- Bowel disturbances (diarrhoea, constipation, gas)
- Heartburn & other stomach issues
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Mood disorders (irritability, anxiety)
How To Improve Your Gut Health
Your gut plays an integral and vital role in your overall health. If you wish to maintain optimum health and live an allergy free life then you need to priortise the health of your digestive system, which starts with eating the correct foods and limiting unhealthy foods and alcohol. In my personal experience, an organic food diet is best to limit allergies as organic crops aren’t sprayed with chemicals and are most often found to contain their full compliment of nutrients and anti oxidants.
The foods your digestive system will thank you for include;
- Fermented foods (kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt, miso, sourdough). These foods increase the microbial diversity in your gut and reduce inflammatory markers.
- Fibre rich foods (vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes). Also limit your intake of artificial sweeteners and sugars.
- Prebiotics (onions, bananas, apples, whole grains, green vegetables, garlic, tomatoes). Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
- Multiflora probiotics
Other activities that improve gut health include;
- Regular and sufficient sleep (8 hours or thereabouts)
- Avoid smoking & consumption of greasy, saturated fatty foods
- Be physically active (20-30 minutes per day)
- Keep an eye on your mental/emotional health
- Avoid stress.
Can A Leaky Gut Be Healed?
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before, “everyone is different”, meaning that there can be no time set on how long it takes to heal your intestine. The extent to which you can heal your leaky gut depends on several factors: How long has the condition been present? How ‘leaky’ is your gut? What ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria are present in your gut? and this is even before you take age, lifestyle, environment and other factors into consideration. But one thing is certain. Once you start to make positive changes, your gut health will start to improve.
The main changes to start your journey to a healthy gut should (in my opinion) include the following;
- Change to an organic diet as much as possible (the more the better)
- Eliminate chemicals and artificial substances from your diet (and your environment if possible)
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake
- Limit gluten intake, it’s good to change to ancient grains foodstuffs but better to leave out processed flour foods altogether
- Consider taking supplements such as L-Glutamine, Vitamin D, prebiotics and probiotics
- Get enough sleep (this alone can work miracles)
- Reduce stress (make life changes to eliminate as much stress as possible)
- If you don’t already do so, take up a gentle exercise, walking, yoga etc
- Consider meditation to reduce stress and fortify your entire body.
Healthy Gut Supplements
The top 3 supplements to help you heal your gut naturally are
- L-Glutamine: Glutamine is an amino acid naturally made in your body to help maintain a healthy gut lining. However, there are times when you cannot produce enough to meet your body’s needs e.g. with certain medical conditions, due to some medications, during extreme stress, overworking or after an accident when the body is repairing itself. Supplementing with l-glutamine can help the speed at which the intestinal lining repairs itself, decrease intestinal permeability and reduce gut inflammation.
- Vitamin D can help maintain the gut’s immune system balance and prevent gut health problems. Studies indicate that low vitamin D is associated with greater intestinal permeability leading to increased symptoms in sufferers. Increasing vitamin D can help reduce these symptoms of leaky gut. Humans naturally produce vitamin D in their skin when exposed to sunlight. But in our modern culture, we tend to get less sun exposure and vitamin D deficiency is common. There also seem to be some synergistic health benefits of vitamin D that can only be obtained by getting actual sun exposure rather than from a supplement.
- Prebiotics & Probiotics: Probiotics are a mixture of beneficial yeast and bacteria living in your gut while prebiotics are the nutrients that feed the probiotics. Prebiotics can be consumed in many forms such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds. However, be aware that many people with digestive issues can have side effects from consuming too many prebiotics at once, so its best to start slow and build up to a full complement. The great benefit of probiotics is that they perform many functions simultaneously i.e. they repair a leaky gut while working on the causes of the problem – inflammation, dysbiosis, bacteria overgrowth or digestive infections.
Many people suffer from gut inflammation, which can sometimes be a precursor to leaky gut, But it may also just be gut inflammation!. Unfortunately our Western diet and lifestyle don’t encourage a healthy digestive system so it’s up to each of us to take charge of our health and show our gut some love. And remember, if in doubt, see your healthcare professional!
Food allergies, food intolerances, leaky gut, digestive health issues, IBS, coeliac disease – it’s a very complex issue and sufferers often spend years (and a lot of money) investigating the myriad of possible causes. This article aims to simplify the issue and give you a starting point in your journey to healing your digestive condition. In this I hope I have succeeded.
If you have any queries please don’t hesitate to contact us or leave a comment below.