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Leaky Gut Syndrome

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Gut illustration

Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is a condition of the digestive system where toxins and bacteria are able to pass through, or ‘leak’ through the intestinal wall. Your digestive tract is where the food you eat is broken down and the nutrients are absorbed from it. It also helps to protect your body from harmful substances. This is because the walls of your intestines are barriers that are able to control what can enter the bloodstream to be transported to your organs. The intestinal wall has lots of small gaps called tight junctions, and these allow water and nutrients to pass through, while stopping harmful toxins and bacteria from being able to pass through. How easily substances can pass through the intestinal wall is called intestinal permeability. However, sometimes these tight junctions in the intestinal walls can become loose, causing the gut to become more permeable, and allowing toxins and bacteria to pass from the gut and out into the bloodstream. This is what leaky gut is. When bacteria and toxins from the gut enter the bloodstream, it can cause widespread inflammation in the body, and can trigger an immune response. Some symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include fatigue, bloating, digestive issues, food sensitivities, and skin problems. It can also lead to more serious issues such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and thyroid abnormalities. 

What causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Medical professionals are still undecided on the exact cause of leaky gut syndrome, but it is likely that there are multiple factors that play a role in increased intestinal permeability. Here are some of the factors that are believed to be involved:

  • Poor gut health: there are millions of bacteria that live in the gut, some of them good, and some of them bad. Some of the good bacteria help to strengthen the gut wall and prevent toxins and harmful bacteria from leaking through. If there is a disruption to the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, it can weaken the barrier of the gut wall and allow harmful substances to pass through. 
  • Nutrient deficiencies: deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc have been known to increase intestinal permeability.  
  • Inflammation: while leaky gut can cause inflammation throughout the body, it may also happen the other way round as well. It is thought that chronic inflammation throughout the body can contribute to leaky gut syndrome. 
  • Stress: chronic stress can do a lot of damage to your body, and is known to be a contributing factor in many gastrointestinal issues, leaky gut being one of these. 
  • Excessive sugar intake: unhealthy diets that are high in sugar, especially fructose, can harm the barrier function of the intestinal wall, and lead to and increase in the permeability of the gut wall. 
  • Excessive alcohol intake: excessive alcohol intake has also been known to increase the permeability of the gut wall. 
  • Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): long term usage of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can increase the permeability of the gut wall and lead to leaky gut syndrome. 
  • Yeast overgrowth: while yeast is naturally present in the gut, and overgrowth of yeast may contribute to increased intestinal permeability. 

What further issues can Leaky Gut Syndrome lead to?

There have been many studies done that link increased intestinal permeability with many chronic diseases. Some of these include:

  • Diabetes: type 1 diabetes is caused by autoimmune destruction of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. It has been suggested that the immune reaction that causes the beta cell destruction to happen may be triggered by harmful substances that have ‘leaked’ though the gut wall. 
  • Celiac disease: several studies have shown that patients with celiac disease have higher intestinal permeability. 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): those with IBS have been shown to have increased intestinal permeability, and it is thought that leaky gut syndrome may be a contributing factor. 
  • Food allergies: a leaky gut may allow food proteins to cross the intestinal barrier, stimulating an immune response to that food. 
  • Crohn’s disease: Crohn’s disease is a digestive disorder characterised by chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract. It has been shown that those with Crohn’s disease tend to have increased intestinal permeability. 

What can you do to help prevent or heal from Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Here are some things you can do to look after your gut health and to help prevent leaky gut syndrome, or help to heal from it if it is already something you are suffering with. 

  • Refrain from taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary: antibiotics can completely throw of the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut and lead to many issues, and this can take months, if not years to fully recover from. While there are some cases that antibiotics are needed, try to only take them if they are absolutely necessary. 
  • Limit non steroidal anti inflammatory drug usage: as mentioned earlier, long term usage of NSAIDs can contribute to leaky gut syndrome, so try to limit your intake and only take them when you really need to. 
  • Limit your refined carb intake: harmful bacteria in your gut thrive off of sugar, and this can harm your gut barrier function. Try to limit your intake of refined carbs to keep your gut barrier nice and strong. 
  • Eat lots of high fibre foods: foods with lots of fibre help to feed the good bacteria in your gut, which will help to keep your gut wall strong. Eat lots of foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes. 
  • Eat fermented foods: probiotics are good bacteria that help to improve your gut health. Fermented foods contain probiotics. Some examples of foods you can eat are kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and plain yogurt. 
  • Take a probiotic supplement: if you don’t think you are getting enough probiotics through the foods you are eating, you can look at taking a probiotic supplement. These will help strengthen the good bacteria in your gut, improve your gut health, and strengthen your gut wall.