Leaky Gut Syndrome is a health condition in which there is damage to your intestinal lining, allowing toxins to enter your bloodstream. Leaky Gut compromises your digestive system and overall health, leading to unpleasant symptoms such as pain, fatigue, digestive issues, brain fog, and all sorts of other health complications, such as mental health conditions, autoimmune disease, inflamed bowels, and cancer.
In this post I want to discuss Leaky Gut in depth so you can have a greater understanding of the disease, how it affects the body, what you can do to treat it, and how to best work with your doctor to find healing and support.
What You Need To Know About Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky Gut is also known as ‘intestinal permeability’. It is a condition where there are damaged cells in your small intestine lining. As a result, undigested food particles, bacteria, and toxic waste products can easily ‘leak’ through into your blood stream.
Your gut is the most vulnerable part of your body to intruders as there is a one-cell layer between your digestive lining and your bloodstream.
Your gut is designed to take nutrients in from the food you eat for energy, healing, building blocks for cells, etc. It naturally absorbs very specific vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients from real foods. Anything else that enters the body is basically unrecognizable and labeled as such.
When you eat heavily processed foods, refined sugars, preservatives, and other unnatural ingredients, your body does not know what to do with them. There may not be any problems if you eat it once or twice, but when you eat it over and over again the body will act defensively and mount an inflammatory response.
As you continue to eat the foods, the inflammation will continue and slowly damage the cell layer of your intestinal lining.
On a microscopic level your cells start to split apart and eventually leave gaps in your intestinal wall. When there are gaps in the intestinal wall, foods can leak through into your blood stream undigested.
As these foreign and toxic substances enters your bloodstream, your body recognizes the problem and answers with an immune response, including inflammatory and allergic reactions, resulting in symptoms such as chronic fatigue, migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, and abdominal pain. In some cases of a leaky gut, your body often cannot have proper digestion, your body may not absorb essential nutrients, your immune system weakens, and your hormones may become imbalanced. (1)
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Though you may think that the symptoms of leaky gut are all related to intestinal problems, this is not the case. Leaky gut can affect your entire body and its signs are wide ranging. (1)
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Weakened immune system
- Brain fog
- Memory trouble
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Gas and bloating
- Skin breakouts, rashes, eczema, rosacea
- Mood disorders
- Intense cravings, especially for sugar and carbs
- Autoimmune disease (3)
- Joint pain and arthritis
- Thyroid conditions
Will Leaky Gut Heal?
Leaky Gut is a condition that you need to take seriously as it can lead to a multitude of health issues down the road. The good news is that your intestinal lining can replace itself, and with proper treatment and lifestyle changes you can recover from Leaky Gut.
Are Leaky Gut And Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) The Same Thing?
Though symptoms can be similar, IBS and Leaky Gut are not the same thing. However, there is a connection between IBS and Leaky Gut. IBS is associated with inflammation in the gut and digestive disturbances. Over time this can damage the lining of your intestines and lead to leaky gut. On the other hand, in some cases, your body develops Leaky Gut first. Left untreated it can lead to further damage and IBS symptoms. Which one comes first can be difficult and sometimes impossible to tell. Healing these conditions requires the right tests and diagnosis to develop a sound treatment plan. (2)
Complications of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Acne: Acne is more than just pimples, it means that hair follicles plug with oil and dead skin cells. A gut flora imbalance can be the cause.
Constipation: Constipation is when you have trouble releasing your bowels regularly. About 4 million people in the US experience constipation. Leaky Gut may be one of the reasons. (9)
Anemia: People with anemia do not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is usually a temporary and treatable condition. (10)
Headaches and Migraines: Most people have experienced headaches in the lives, and an increasing number of people are suffering from chronic headaches and migraines. The reasons for headaches can vary from stress, structural issues, food allergies, environmental triggers, bacteria overgrowth, Leaky Gut, and other issues.
Hives: Hives are skin rashes. They are triggered by irritants, including food, medication, etc. Leaky Gut makes your system more compromised, and your body may react more harshly to irritants around you.
Depression/Anxiety: There is increasing evidence to the gut-brain connection. A gut flora imbalance and Leaky Gut can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. (12)
Allergies: When you have Leaky Gut, your body is compromised by becoming loaded with bad bugs and toxins, making you more susceptible to develop allergies.
Diarrhea: Diarrhea is associated with watery and loose stools and stomach pain. It can be caused by a gut flora imbalance and Leaky Gut.
Insomnia: Deficiencies in melatonin, which helps your sleep cycles has been associated with Leaky Gut. Your sleep-wake cycle is also affected by your gut health. (14)
Fertility/Infertility: About 10% of women at a childbearing age have a difficult time getting pregnant. Inflammation and Leaky Gut can be the hidden cause of some cases of infertility. (15)
Brain Fog: If your gut health is compromised, bacteria in your system may release histamine, a substance that can lead to brain fog, a feeling of fogginess, lack of coordination, slowness, and slurred speech. (16)
Type 1 Diabetes: Research has found a connection between Type 1 Diabetes and Leaky Gut affecting each other. (17)
Lupus: Leaky Gut makes your body more compromised and more susceptible to autoimmune conditions, such as Lupus. Leaky Gut can also worsen your symptoms of autoimmune diseases. (18)
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The four main causes of Leaky Gut include:
- An unhealthy diet
- Toxic overload
- Chronic Stress
- Bacterial imbalance
Let’s take a closer look.
Generally speaking, your body needs healthy, whole foods, preferably organic, to function properly instead of processed foods with little nutrient value.
Proteins found in conventional dairy, sugar, un-sprouted grains, and GMOs are thought to be the most common culprit of intestinal lining damage and Leaky Gut. What is the issue with un-sprouted grains, you may wonder? They contain phytates and lectins. Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that are essential for plants to protect them from mold, parasites, and other invaders. However, while this is great for plants, it may not be that great for the human body, as lectins attach to your digestive lining and may cause damage. In small amounts, this can be okay. However, if you are eating a large amount of food containing lectins, such as rice, wheat, soy, and spelt, you may be in trouble. Sprouting and fermenting can reduce this issue making these foods more gut friendly.
Gluten is another compound that can lead to Leaky Gut in people who have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. For some sticking with gluten-free foods is the best choice. (4)
Another protein that often leads to Leaky Gut and other health issues is A1 in cow’s milk. Conventional milk can be particularly difficult for your body as the pasteurization process destroys enzymes essential for digestion. If you notice dairy causes digestive distress, consider buying raw milk from A2 cows, sheep, and goats.
Foods high in processed sugar can also compromise your digestive system and lead to Leaky Gut. Bad bacteria, yeast, and candida feed on sugar. This lead to an imbalance in your microbiome that can lead to damage to your intestinal wall.
The average person comes to contact with tens of thousands of chemicals and other toxic every year. Antibiotics, pesticides, tap water with fluoride and chlorine, aspirin, NSAIDS, steroids, smoking, and environmental pollution are common culprits. (5, 6) Sticking with organics, staying away from overusing medication, using natural products, filtering your water, and staying far from chemicals as much as possible is essential for your gut health.
If you are experiencing chronic stress in your life, your immune system weakens making your body less able to fight off bacteria, viruses, and other invaders. And an overload of these bad bugs can lead to inflammation and Leaky Gut. Taking care of yourself, sleeping and resting plenty, reducing stress, adding more fun to your life, meditation, and good company is essential for your health. (7)
Dysbiosis is an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in your good. Eating probiotic and prebiotic rich foods, a whole foods diet, avoiding the overuse of medication, and sticking with organic are all necessary for creating balance again.
How To Treat Leaky Gut Syndrome
The first step to healing leaky gut is diagnosis.
Diagnosing Leaky Gut
Zonulin or Lactulose Tests
Zonulin is responsible the size of the opening between your gut linings and your bloodstream. In a healthy body, these openings are normal. In a compromised body, often due to gluten, yeast, candida, parasites, and bad bacteria, zonulin levels become abnormally high suggesting these openings too large. Testing for zonulin levels is done with ELISA tests. Intestinal permeability assessment can also test for Leaky Gut by measuring your how lactulose and mannitol, two sugar molecules can permeate your gut lining. (19, 20)
IgG Food Intolerance Testing
Leaky Gut can lead to food sensitivities and food allergies by raising your body’s immune response. A multitude of food intolerances and intolerances to gluten and pasteurized dairy can indicate Leaky Gut. (20)
Stool tests check your beneficial bacteria levels and can look at your overall intestinal immune function, intestinal health, inflammation markers, yeast, parasites, and other ‘bad bugs’. (22)
Organic Acid Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies Tests
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies and nutrient malabsorption are common warning signs of Leaky Gut and intestinal issues. Unabsorbed nutrients back your system up, they cannot help in detoxification, and can then damage your microvilli. Organic acid tests through urine can look for vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies and bacteria levels to detect imbalance and help with supplementation and dietary changes. (23)
Lifestyle Treatments For Leaky Gut
Lifestyle treatments for Leaky Gut Include the 4 R-s:
- REMOVE foods and other substances that can damage your gut
- REPLACE them with healthy foods
- REPAIR with vitamins and supplements
- REBALANCE with probiotics
Step One: Remove foods and other substances that can damage your gut
This is essentially damage control. Remove processed sugars, processed food in general, food with additives, GMOs, and non-organic food. Keep a food journal, try an elimination diet, or get tested for food allergies and sensitivities. If you suspect a sensitivity, remove gluten and dairy, as well as any foods you are allergic to or find potentially triggering an adverse reaction. Eliminate unnecessary medication, toxic products, and stress from your life. Always consult your doctor if reducing your medication to make sure it is medically recommended.
Step Two: Replace them with healthy foods
Removing harm and triggers is essential, but not enough. Adding healthy foods into your diet is where healing begins. Eat plenty of organic, whole foods: lots of greens, vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Top foods that can help to heal your Leaky Gut:
- fermented vegetables
- sprouted seeds
- coconut products
- steamed veggies
- ginger and turmeric
Besides adding healthy foods to your diet, it is important to nourish your mind as well. You want to remove stress from your life as much as possible and replace it with stress-lowering, relaxing activities, including meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, coloring, nature walks, art, dance, meaningful connections, positive thinking, and healthy sleep.
Step Three: Repair With Helpful Supplements
L-Glutamine: This is an essential amino acid supplement that can help your body to grow and repair your intestinal lining and to reduce inflammation.
Digestive enzymes: Taking digestive enzymes at the beginning of each meal can help your body to fully digest your foods so undigested particles cannot damage your gut.
Licorice Root: This herb can improve the acid production in your gut and balance your cortisol levels to lower emotional stress as a trigger for Leaky Gut.
Quercetin: This supplement supports the creation of tight junction proteins helping to repair the intestinal lining.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s in the form of fish oil or vegan algae oil can lower inflammation and help to rebuild your healthy cell walls.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: Temporary use of vitamin and mineral supplements can help with any deficiencies you may have. Supplementation with Vitamin D3 is recommended long-term for everyone, and supplementation with B12 and magnesium may be beneficial for most.
Step Four: Replenish With Probiotics
Probiotics are by far the most important supplements you can take for your gut health. They replenish good bacteria in your gut, crowding out bad bacteria and creating balance in your microbiome again. Besides taking probiotics, make sure to eat probiotic-rich foods, such as saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir.
Which probiotics is best for leaky gut?
When shopping for probiotics, saving money by buying cheap brands is no way to go. Buy high-quality brands with AT LEAST 50 billion units of probiotics per daily dose.
After you are healed maintain an 80/20 diet. Eat a healthy, whole foods diet 80% of the time, and relax a bit, eating less healthy 20% of the time. Remember, it is okay if 80/20 becomes 90/10 or healthier in any way, but try not to make it 70/30 or let unhealthy habits sneak back in too much. Eat mindfully. Chew your food well. Continue to lower stress and add relaxing and uplifting activities to your life. You have worked hard for your health, you do not want to sacrifice it again.
Conventional Treatments for Leaky Gut
Conventional medicine does not recognize Leaky Gut as a condition. Treatment methods for symptoms usually include prescription medications that may mask the symptoms for a while. In some cases, these medications bring no results. In other cases, they seem to ease symptoms for a while, then stop working. Long-term they tend to contribute to the degrading intestinal lining. (24)
Frequently Asked Questions About Leaky Gut Syndrome
Q. How do I know when my Leaky Gut is healed?
A. Your symptoms (or lack thereof) is the best indication of healing. When Leaky Gut is healed, your digestive issues decrease, food sensitivities go away, your skin clears up, you feel energetic in mind and body, your autoimmune labs improve, and you overall feel your optimal self again.
Q. Is Leaky Gut an autoimmune disease?
A. No, but there is a connection between the two. Leaky Gut can lead to autoimmune disease, and healing Leaky Gut can improve your autoimmune symptoms.
Q. Is Leaky Gut celiac disease?
A. They are not, but untreated celiac disease can lead to Leaky Gut.
Q. What doctors can treat Leaky Gut syndrome?
A. Functional medicine, integrative medicine, holistic medicine, naturopathic and some traditional doctors are your best choices to seek treatment for Leaky Gut.
Q. Will leaky gut heal on its own?
A. If you continue living the same lifestyle that has contributes to Leaky Gut, such as an unhealthy diet, stress, and loads of medication, your Leaky Gut will not magically disappear. Making necessary changes in your lifestyle with the help of your doctor, such as eating a healthy whole foods diet, staying away from processed foods, reducing toxins, de-stressing, taking probiotics, and using supportive herbs and supplements, your body has the ability to heal itself.
Q. Can leaky gut cause hair loss?
A. Yes, symptoms of Leaky Gut may include hair loss.
Q. What is Leaky Gut in babies?
A. All babies are born with Leaky Gut. In their case, this is healthy and natural so they can fully benefit from the nourishment of their mother’s colostrum. Soon after birth, however, the gut lining starts to connect and thicken to place an essential barrier between needed for life outside with solid food.
Q. Are leaky gut and candida related?
A. Candida naturally present in your body. An unhealthy diet of processed sugar and processed foods, overuse of antibiotics can lead to candida overgrowth that can cause digestive issues as well as Leaky Gut.
Q. Is leaky gut common in people with autism?
A. Leaky Gut is very common in those with autism, 9 out of 10 suffer from a gastrointestinal issue, including Leaky Gut. Though some believe that Leaky Gut can worsen the symptoms of autism, there is no clear scientific evidence at this point. (8)
If you think you might have Leaky Gut, I suggest scheduling an appointment with your healthcare professional.
You will create the best results in your life and health goals if you commit to being your own #HealthHero. This means that you are committed to your well-being and will do what it takes to live a life of health and vitality. When you feel your best, you can make the most impact in the lives of those you love and in the community you live in.
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