What is a Leaky Gut?

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A leaky gut is a digestive condition of increased intestinal permeability, that allows toxins, food particles and bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the mucous lining of the gut. 


Leaky Gut Syndrome 

The existence of leaky gut syndrome as a distinct medical condition is not yet established, but increased intestinal permeability is a real phenomenon. It has been found that a leaky gut can be the underlying cause of certain diseases, but there is still a lack of evidence. More research needs to be done to clarify if leaky gut is a disease or just the cause of other diseases. 


Gut Lining And Permeability 

The intestinal lining in the stomach and small intestines have small openings that allow water and nutrients to enter the bloodstream through the intestinal wall. Digestive enzymes in the gut break down the food in the stomach into nutrients the body can use for energy and functions. Another factor that is part of the gut lining is microbiota. Microbiota consists of a range of bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut that help to keep your gut healthy, known as ‘gut flora’. When the digestive enzymes and gut flora are disrupted and not functioning as they should, it can also lead to a leaky gut. 

If the intestinal lining is damaged, undesirable particles enter the bloodstream through the “leaks” in the gut's mucosal lining. This is known as increased permeability. A leaky gut can potentially be toxic and a potential factor in various health issues, like certain gastrointestinal diseases and inflammation in the body.


What Causes A Leaky Gut? 

It is important to understand that everyone has a leaky gut, to some degree. The mucosal lining in its healthy state is permeable to let nutrients and water through into the bloodstream. A leaky gut as described above as a digestional condition, is when undesirable particles are let through the gut lining, meaning the permeability is increased to a fault. It is uncertain what factors are directly related to increased intestinal permeability. Some potential contributors that can lead to a leaky gut include the following:


Genetic Predisposition

Some people may have a genetic predisposition that can make their gut more sensitive to digestive conditions, but this is not to be accepted as the only contributing factor. This can include autoimmune diseases that can be triggered by environmental factors. 


Poor Diet

Our lifestyle and diet may be the biggest trigger for a leaky gut. This refers to processed foods, low fibre intake, high sugar intake, saturated fats, gluten and inflammatory foods. A lot of GMO food is available and sometimes the only option that we have in our diet. Studies have shown that preservatives and additives in our food can impact the gut microbiota, and these changes are related to some diseases. 


Food Allergies

Gluten and dairy food sensitivities have been linked to a leaky gut. The increased permeability of the mucosal lining can cause an immune response to several antibodies. This can make one more sensitive to antigens in food, leading to an allergic reaction. 


High Stress

Including emotional stress, physical stress, and work-related stress. Chronic stress stimulates the immune system to a state where the immune system is overactive. The immune function is closely related to the gut microflora. 


Medications and Toxins

Stressors such as alcohol and medication, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin, can disrupt the balance of the gut flora. Antibiotics can also affect the mycobacteria in the gut, which can contribute to gut microbiota dysbiosis, meaning there is an imbalance in gut flora. Furthermore, toxins in pesticides and even tap water can be harmful to the gut. 


Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

It is proven that the intestinal lining is damaged through these cancer therapies


Conditions Associated With Leaky Gut 

A leaky gut appears in certain medical conditions, but research still has to be done to determine whether a leaky gut is a symptom or cause of the disease. The presentation of a leaky gut may be associated with the following diseases: Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, acute and chronic inflammation, chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s), fibromyalgia, allergies, asthma, obesity and metabolic disease, arthritis, acne, irritable bowel syndrome, and thyroid dysfunction.  There is a clear correlation found between a leaky gut and auto-immune diseases, but the exact mechanism is still investigated and debatable. 

The gut microbiota lives in the digestional tract and acts as the biggest part of the body’s immune system. It also helps with energy production and digestion. An immune response can be triggered by imbalances in the gut microbiota (dysbiosis). This immune response also causes inflammation in the body, and is thus related to auto-immune diseases. 


The Symptoms Of A Leaky Gut

The most general symptoms of a leaky gut include the following: 

  • A feeling of burning or acidity in your gut 
  • Diarrhea or constipation 
  • Difficult indigestion
  • Bloating and gas 
  • Fatigue 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Skin problems: acne and eczema 
  • Joint pain 

Other symptoms that may be related to leaky gut syndrome include hormonal changes, candida overgrowth, a weakened immune system and autoimmune diseases. More research needs to be done on the link between leaky gut and mental health. 


How Can A Leaky Gut Be Treated? 

There is no specific solution for a healthy gut, but modifying your lifestyle and diet can help your gut to be balanced and decrease inflammation. 

  • Use probiotics and pre-biotics to restore the microbiota in the gut
  • Avoid foods that can damage the gut. This includes preservatives, processed foods, gluten, dairy, inflammatory foods like alcohol, sugar, and high-fat foods. 
  • Reduce sugar intake
  • Stop smoking


Food To Help Heal Your Gut 

  • Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet like turmeric, curcumin, berries, leafy greens  
  • Supplements: Vitamin D, L-glutamine amino acid, calcium and iron
  • Whole foods: Fruits and vegetables and healthy fat
  • Fermented foods 
  • Lean meat and fish
  • Kefir
  • High-fibre foods: vegetables, fruits, legumes 


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