Updated: Mar 17
Written by Gerda Venter
Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniela Steyn
Leaky Gut is an interesting phenomenon being diagnosed more commonly than ever before. If you have ever been diagnosed with leaky gut or wondered if you might have it, this article is for you! For some people, it is obvious that they have a leaky gut. They come to us with abdominal discomfort, bloating or generally feeling blah. Other people have no idea. They might have a seemingly unrelated concern. With testing we might establish a nutrient deficiency in someone with a healthy diet, however, due to their intestines not being able to absorb all the nutrients in their diet adequately, we diagnose a leaky gut. For some people, the only symptom might be a headache or brain fog, other people with a leaky gut experiences fatigue, joint pain or skin issues.
Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) refers to the increased permeability of the intestinal wall. The human digestive system includes the gastrointestinal tract that helps the process of digestion or breakdown of food molecules into small components. The intestines are crucial when it comes to protecting the body from harmful bacteria and toxins.
The large intestine and small intestine are two critical parts that form part of your gastrointestinal tract. The Large intestine is around 1.5 m in length. It is also known as the colon or large bowel. The large intestine starts where the small intestine ends. The primary function of the large intestine is to absorb water and salts from digested products and store the remaining product as feces. It cannot absorb nutrients.
The small intestine, on the other hand, measures around 4.5 to 7 m in length. It has a tube-like structure and is the link between the large intestine and stomach. Digestive enzymes within the stomach and small intestine break down nutrients in food and drink. The body then uses these smaller molecules for energy, growth, and repair.
Your small intestine is where most of the absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals happen. Along it is the intestinal wall with small, tight gaps that allow nutrients and water to pass through and combine with the bloodstream while keeping the harmful substances inside the intestines. With leaky gut syndrome, these openings become wider, resulting in hyperpermeability, allowing food particles, bacteria, and toxins to enter the bloodstream.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
It is important to note that a certain level of controversy exists about whether leaky gut syndrome exists. The reason for this is that the symptoms associated with leaky gut syndrome generally are symptoms associated with many other diseases, making diagnosing the disorder incredibly difficult.
While many doctors and healthcare professionals do not recognize leaky gut syndrome as a diagnosable condition, current scientific evidence suggests that it may contribute to many medical conditions. Some of the possible symptoms associated with leaky gut include:
Chronic diarrhea, constipation, or bloating
Difficulty concentrating, confusion or brain fog
Skin problems, such as acne, rashes, or eczema
Who is at risk of getting Leaky Gut Syndrome?
A leaky gut may involve imbalances in the microbiota, which can trigger the body’s immune response, resulting in gut inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. While experts do not know with certainty what causes leaky gut syndrome, various risk factors can disrupt the gut microbiota and contribute to increased intestinal permeability. People at risk of having a leaky gut might have:
Suffered from Gastrointestinal tract infections in the past
An existing autoimmune disorder
High stress levels
High alcohol consumption
Treatment of Leaky Gut Syndrome
It is possible to test for leaky gut syndrome through a urine test. It is important to note that this test indicates small intestine permeability and cannot conclusively diagnose leaky gut with complete certainty. Since increased intestinal permeability is a symptom of many other diseases, a urine test should not be used exclusively to diagnose leaky gut syndrome. This could prevent treatment for a more severe condition that you may have. Seeking the advice of your doctor is always advised before commencing any treatment.
The treatment recommendations you are likely to receive, if your doctor concluded that you suffer from a leaky gut, will focus on the underlying condition you have been diagnosed with initially. Suppose you have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, for example. In that case, the treatment will likely be anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics, pain relievers, and supplements to help the lining of your gut recover.
Additionally, a standard recommendation would be to change your diet. A low FODMAP diet is, for example, recommended for people with IBS or celiac disease, but due to symptom overlap, it may help relieve some of the symptoms from leaky gut as well. You will most likely be advised to adjust your diet to remove inflammatory foods that could impact gut flora. Inflammatory foods include:
Foods that may trigger allergies or sensitivities, such as gluten or dairy
Because external factors may also play a role in leaky gut syndrome, removing these foods from your diet naturally goes hand in hand with changes to your lifestyle as well. The following measures will help you on your road to recovering from Leaky Gut Syndrome and even preventing it all together:
1. Promote friendly gut bacteria
When food enters the intestines from the stomach, it is broken down by good bacteria, and your body then gets access to even more nutrients and energy. Many digestive diseases have, however, been linked to an imbalance in gut bacteria. The balance of good and bad bacteria is, therefore, crucial in achieving optimal health.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are composed of many strains of “good” bacteria. When you have Leaky Gut Syndrome, you may have more bad microorganisms than good ones. You need to nourish the good bacteria by eating foods with high probiotic content, such as fermented foods. Fermentation is when microorganisms (i.e., yeast or bacteria) are converted from carbohydrates into alcohols or acids. This process creates an ideal environment for probiotics to thrive. Food and drinks rich in probiotics include:
2. Reduce Stress
Stress can cause all sorts of changes in the way the body behaves. Stress impacts the gut directly. Stressful situations might result in a stomachache, feeling bloated, or having unexplained chronic diarrhea. It affects not only the gut secretions but also the permeability of the intestine walls. People who are chronically stressed may not have a healthy lifestyle as well. They may lack sleep or may not eat suitable types of food, which increases the risk of having a leaky gut.
3. Cut Back on Gluten
Gluten is a type of protein found in some grains, such as rye and wheat. It makes bread chewy and allows the dough to rise. When consumed in large quantities, gluten irritates the lining of the intestine walls, resulting in the immune system acting out. It may then affect the strength of the intestinal wall, which leads to a leaky gut.
4. Avoid sugar
Consuming excessive artificial sugar is a risk factor for obesity and increased intestinal permeability. Your intestines have thousands of different types of bacteria, including yeast. This bacterium (good or bad) has its respective roles in ensuring harmony and balance in your gastrointestinal tract. Yeast, though, loves to feast on sugar, so eating more sugar means feeding the yeast. In turn, yeast can develop long branches that may eventually penetrate or destroy your small intestine wall, leading to increased permeability.
5. Add supplements to your diet
One of the best ways to heal leaky gut syndrome is to get help from leaky gut supplements. Supplements that are helpful include:
Collagen peptides - Collagen is a structural protein that provides strength and integrity in many body parts, such as the skin and connective tissues like the gut. When the intestines become permeable, it means the structural integrity also weakens. Consuming bone broth is one of the best ways to supplement your tissue with more collagen.
Probiotics introduced to your diet, not only through food but also as a supplement, could significantly accelerate healing time.
Zinc supplementation aids in strengthening the gut lining. Zinc can modify the tight junctions of the intestinal lining, limiting intestine wall permeability.
L-glutamine plays a key in restoring the gut lining and regenerating newer, healthier cells naturally. These new cells are the key to repairing the intestines and eliminating leaky gut.
6. Feed Your Gut Bacteria nutritious food
Since a leaky gut involves the small intestines, paying close attention to your food intake is always advisable. When you have a leaky gut, you can consider:
Increasing your fiber intake
Nourishing your body with plenty of greens to reduce inflammation and improve immune function
Staying away from processed and junk food, which is usually high in sugar and boosts inflammation risks
Eating healthy or good fats such as avocados, olive oil, and some nuts
Adding sprouted seeds to introduce essential nutrients such as zinc
7. Sleep more
Sleep affects the microbiome, and the microbiome affects sleep. If one isn’t functioning well, the other will be impacted too. Likewise, improving the health of the gut microbiome can have a direct impact on your sleep, and getting enough rest can promote a healthy gut. Not sleeping well does not only affect the next day, but also the following couple of days. It can make you experience brain fog, feel depressed and even feel sick. Sleep deprivation has been linked to developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, and many more. It is therefore imperative to foster healthy sleep habits, especially if you suffer from Leaky Gut Syndrome.
For each one of us, it is essential to eat a nutritious, unprocessed diet that includes foods that help lessen inflammation (and avoid foods known to trigger inflammation). Implementing the above measures in your life, while consuming nutritious whole foods and sleeping enough. will help rebuild the gut lining and bring more balance to the gut flora.
Multiple chronic diseases are driven by gut health. You might have IBS, IBD, SIBO, bloating, diverticulitis, food intolerances or even a leaky gut. At WellnessMD, we address gut dysfunction with advanced testing and create treatment protocols that include an elimination diet and supplements. Let us help you on your road to wellness.
*Legal Disclaimer: This educational article is intended for educational purposes only. For your individual medical advice, please contact your own Health Care provider. Never ignore medical advice because of something you have read on the internet.
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