When it comes to digestive issues, you might have heard of the term” leaky gut”. It’s an rather unpleasant name for a condition believed to occur when the health and function of your gut is compromised. Although many practitioners are convinced about the existence of “leaky gut”, there currently isn’t a lot of valid scientific research around the condition.
It’s believed that people suffering with “leaky gut” can end up with a host of unwanted symptoms and side effects which can range from mild discomfort to prolonged pain.
So, what supposedly causes “leaky gut”? Can it be treated? And what should you eat, or avoid, to help put the balance back?
What is “leaky gut”?
The digestive tract is where our food is broken down so that nutrients can be absorbed. Many important functions happen during this process, including protecting the body from harmful substances.
Acting as barriers, the intestine walls control what enters the bloodstream to be transported to your organs. Small gaps in the intestinal wall allow water and nutrients to pass through while keeping harmful substances out.
When the gaps in the intestinal walls become loose, the gut becomes more permeable, which can make it easier for bacteria and toxins to pass from the gut into the bloodstream. When the gut is “leaky” and bacteria and toxins enter the bloodstream, it can lead to inflammation, possibly triggering a reaction from the immune system.
Currently “leaky gut” isn’t a recognised medical condition. However medical professionals do agree that increased intestinal permeability exists in certain chronic diseases.
What causes “leaky gut”?
“Leaky gut” is still a relative mystery to many medical professionals and there isn’t an official diagnosis as to what exactly causes it. However, there are many contributing factors which are likely to play a role, including:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs. Long-term use of medications like ibuprofen can increase intestinal permeability.
- Excessive sugar intake: A diet high in sugar, particularly fructose, can harm the barrier function of the
- intestinal wall
- Excessive alcohol intake: Consuming too alcohol may increase intestinal permeability
- Inflammation: Chronic inflammation throughout the body is believed to contribute to gut permeability
- Nutrient deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc have each been linked to increased intestinal permeability
- Poor gut health: The gut contains millions of bacteria, both good and bad. When the balance between the two is disrupted, it can affect the barrier function of the intestinal wall
- Stress: Chronic stress is a contributing factor to multiple gastrointestinal disorders
- Yeast overgrowth: Yeast is naturally present in the gut, but too much may contribute to leaky gut
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
There are a range of symptoms commonly thought to result from “leaky gut”. These can range from digestive complaints to skin disorders, including:
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, or Crohn’s
- Chronic diarrhoea, constipation, gas, or bloating
- Cravings for sugar or carbs
- Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
- Excessive fatigue
- Headaches, brain fog or memory loss
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Poor immune system
- Skin rashes and problems such as acne or eczema
If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your GP to rule out any other serious conditions which could be associated.
How can I improve my gut health?
As “leaky gut” isn’t officially recognised as a medical diagnosis, there’s isn’t a recommended treatment. However, there are plenty of steps you can take to help improve the health of your gut which you may find has a positive impact on the symptoms commonly associated with “leaky gut”.
There are a few things you can try to help restore balance to your gut:
- Reduce refined carbs: Bad bacteria thrives on sugar and eating too much of it can harm gut barrier function
- Try a probiotic supplement: Probiotics are good bacteria that can improve your gut health.
- Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods, such as plain yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha, contain natural probiotics that can improve gut health
- Get plenty of fibre. Soluble fibre, found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut
- Limit certain medications. The long-term use of medications such as ibuprofen can contributes to gut permeability.
- Find your trigger foods. Repeated eating foods which trigger intolerances can cause repeated inflammation and stress to the gut.
Find out more about trigger foods and how they can affect your gut.