What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability and bacterial translocation, is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria to “leak” through the intestines and flood the blood stream, also impairing proper of nutrient absorption into the bloodstream.
Tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, malfunction, allowing foreign substances to enter the bloodstream. This can cause an autoimmune response in the body including inflammatory and allergic reactions such as migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and more. With leaky gut, damaged cells in your intestines don’t produce the enzymes needed for proper digestion. As a result, your body cannot absorb essential nutrients, which can lead to hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system.
Because tight junctions are the gateway between the intestines and what is allowed to pass into the bloodstream they have to maintain a delicate balance between allowing vital nutrients to enter the bloodstream, while remaining small enough to prevent xenobiotics (disease-causing compounds from your diet or lifestyle) from passing out of your digestive system into the rest of the body.
What causes leaky gut?
In many cases, leaky gut is caused by your diet. Certain foods including gluten, soy and dairy, are seen by the body as foreign invaders that had to be fought off. After eating these foods the body goes into battle mode producing antibodies, which triggers an immune response that can included diarrhea, headaches, fatigue and joint pain.
Leaky gut can also be caused by medications including antibiotics, steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and acetaminophen, which can irritate the intestinal lining and damage protective mucus layers. This irritation can start or continue the inflammation cycle that leads to intestinal permeability.
There are many signs of possible leaky gut, these include:
Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating; nutritional deficiencies; poor immune system; headaches, brain fog, memory loss; excessive fatigue; skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea; cravings for sugar or carbs; arthritis or joint pain; depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD; and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn’s. Of course, other more serious problems may be leading to these symptoms so a good medical assessment may be necessary.
How to heal a leaky gut
Diet and lifestyle changes are key. Start with eliminating the foods that your body treats as toxic e.g. gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol etc. Often taking these steps can result in increased energy levels, better sleep, and the elimination or reduction of gut symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, pain and flatulence.
In addition to eliminating certain foods, it is important to eat a good healthy wholefoods diet with the inclusion of healthy fats. Healing and sealing with probiotics to restore the healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; antimicrobials for gut pathogens if present, and supplements including L-glutamine, an amino acid that rejuvenates the lining of the intestinal wall can all help. Vitamin A assists in improving structural integrity of mucous membranes and zinc can help to reverse intestinal permeability.
We are all different, so it is important to discover what may be causing your symptoms and choose a diet and treatment plan that is specific to your needs, so check with your health practitioner if you feel that you may have “leaky gut”.
Pamela Nelson, Naturopath/Nutritionist/Herbalist