Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that is brought on by intestinal permeability. While some doctors disagree on it being a real condition, many other doctors believe that it can cause serious health problems. While we can’t say for certain one way or another, there is ton’s of new information on leaky gut coming out each year. This has lead to many people wondering just what is leaky gut?
What Is Leaky Gut?
Anything that is leaking must not be working correctly? Right?
Yes and no!
Our guts are supposed to pass nutrients into our bloodstream, but when it starts to “leak” too much, significant problems can arise!
Leaky gut might be a very straightforward name, but there is much more to it than just the name.
In fact, if you have IBS, you might have what they call "leaky gut syndrome.”
In fact, my IBS symptoms were attributed to leaky gut syndrome, and I didn’t even know it. Even my doctor at the time just wrote my issues off an IBS (which in my opinion is just a generic diagnosis).
So you might have leaky gut and might not even know it, or a doctor might have told you that you might have leaky gut syndrome.
Either which way, it is essential to know what leaky gut is and what you can potentially do about it. So let's find out what is leaky gut!
Leaky Gut Background Information
Before we get too far into the science behind leaky gut, it’s important to understand that despite what you may or may not have heard, leaky gut syndrome is a medically recognized condition. Meaning that most doctors and institutions do not accept it as a “real” condition or syndrome.
In recent years science has been catching up, and more and more doctors and experts believe that leaky gut is real and is attributed to many different conditions and diseases in the body. Some mainstream institutions have also picked up on and are taking it seriously.
The important thing to remember is back and forth like this is a part of the scientific process, and while we may not know all of the answers today, we hopefully will have a clearer understanding in the future.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is a condition that causes bacteria, toxins, and other harmful proteins to pass through the intestinal wall. As a result, these, bacteria and toxins enter the bloodstream and cause damage - primarily inflammation.
You see, our intestines are covered by a single layer of cells called the epithelial cell layer. This layer act as the first line of defense for our intestines.
This layer is composed of tiny gaps in the intestinal wall that allow these particles to pass through. These gaps are called “tight junctions,” and they do precisely what their name implies. They are designed to keep the gaps as tight as possible so that only healthy nutrients can pass through.
Think of it as a gatekeeper. It is designed to let some particles through - such as water and nutrients while stopping harmful toxins from entering.
If you take a step back and think about it, that is what we want our bodies to do right? We want the proper nutrients, vitamins, etc. to enter into our systems while making sure bad bacteria, toxins, etc. do not.
The epithelial cells are connected by tight junction proteins which act like border guards controlling what is allowed into your system.
Now in a healthy gut, these tight junctions work correctly, however, in an unhealthy gut, they start allowing the wrong things into the bloodstream. Think of the border guards just allowing anyone through the gate! (Source)
So what does this mean?
When all of these extra toxins, food particles, and bacteria pass through the tight junction barrier and into the bloodstream, it can cause the following issues:
- Inflammation in the gut
- Changes in gut flora and the gut microbiome
Both of these can then lead to a variety symptoms both in the gut as well as other symptoms that include:
- Food sensitivities
- Digestive Issues
- Skin Problems
Remember, leaky gut is still not recognized as a disease just yet, but some doctors and experts believe that it can lead to and cause many chronic diseases. The debate remains whether leaky gut is the cause or effect of some of these disease states,
- IBS - as mentioned at the beginning of this article many experts seem to believe that IBS and leaky gut are interconnected. Some doctors I have spoken to in the gut-brain connection community think that IBS and leaky gut are just one in the same.
- Food Allergies - People with leaky gut can be more prone to food allergies. With increased gut permeability, the more particles are being passed through the gut lining - causing an increased likelihood of allergic reactions.
- Crohn’s Disease - Crohn's patients have been shown to have increased intestinal permeability.
- Diabetes - Studies have shown that intestinal permeability can play a role in diabetes
- Celiac - several studies have shown that patient with celiac disease is more likely to have leaky gut / intestinal permeability. In fact, studies show that after eating gluten there is an increase in gut permeability.
Causes of leaky gut
Remember, the body is supposed to “leak” some nutrients into the bloodstream, but when too many particles are allowed to pass through into the bloodstream, it starts to cause significant issues. There are many causes of leaky gut and there may not be one particular cause for it.
There are many potential causes for leaky gut including:
- Genetics - some of us may be more predisposed to having leaky gut than others. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn't anything you can do about it.
- Diet - Diet, especially the American diet lacks fiber, high in saturated fats, and high in sugar does no favors for your gut. Also, processed foods, GMO’s, etc. can have adverse effects. These types of foods can cause other gastrointestinal issues outside of leaky gut.
- Gut Microbiome Imbalance - The wrong types and ratios of bacteria in the gut have been shown to cause issues within the gut.
- Toxins / Chemicals - Antibiotics, pesticides, tap water (Chlorine), etc. can all have harmful effects on the gut lining and have a direct impact on intestinal permeability.
- Stress - Stress does more damage to the gut than you might think. It has been shown to cause issues with many gastrointestinal problems including leaky gut
How Do I Know If I Have Leaky Gut?
Knowing if you have leaky gut can be quite a challenge. The first step would be to understand why symptoms and gut issues that you are currently having. The next step would be to go to your doctor and speak about leaky gut. As mentioned before some doctors may not recognize leaky gut, but more are warming up to the idea.
When you do speak to a doctor, they will more than likely ask you about your symptoms and particular problems.
Some of the signs that doctors look for when diagnosing leaky gut include:
- IBD - those with colitis, IBS, and Crohn’s might be more at risk
- Anxiety, Depression, and other mood issues - leaky gut has been shown to affect mood, brain fog, as well as anxiety
- Nutritional deficiencies - those having issue absorbing specific nutrients might be more apt to have leaky gut
- Thyroid problems - studies have shown a link between hypothyroidism and leaky gut
- Autoimmune diseases - as mentioned above leaky gut plays a role in many autoimmune diseases
- Food sensitivities - because the gut is allowing more toxins into the bloodstream certain foods such as gluten, dairy, fructose might cause more sensitivity than normal
Just because you have these symptoms does not mean you have leaky gut. Furthermore, you might have leaky gut without some of these symptoms.
As always a good doctor can recognize these issues and help you to determine if you have leaky gut.
What treatments are available?
Talk to your doctor about the best course of action. However, there are many different ways to treat leaky gut syndrome. The critical thing to remember is that it might require doing a few different changes to your diet, lifestyle, etc.
There isn’t one thing you can do to treat leaky gut!
A few common options are:
- Diet changes - removing foods that damage the gut, focusing on non-processed foods. One of the best things you can do is to eat fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt. The low FODMAP diet is also a good a diet to follow.
- Supplements - There are many things you can take to help with leaky gut. These include Digestive Enzymes, L-Glutamine, and many others. Be sure that you speak with a doctor before trying any new supplements and be sure to order only high-quality supplements! (Source) Another new interesting supplement that has shown promise is CBD oil. We use CBD oil for IBS and have found it can work for some people - the same can be said for leaky gut.
- Probiotics - Probiotics can help improve overall gut health as it helps to promote beneficial gut bacteria.
- Managing Stress - Practicing mindfulness, medication, etc to reduce stress. A few ways that I do this include regular exercise, transcendental meditation, and breathing properly
Working on gut health is not an easy task! Most of the time to see results you are going to have to work on an entire lifestyle change.
When I first was diagnosed with leaky gut, I didn’t know what to. I was scared, felt hopeless and alone.
However, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to feel the same way for the rest of my life and that there were things I could do about it!
While there may not be a “cure” for leaky gut or IBS, there are many ways to manage it and see a significant reduction in symptoms.
Again while everyone is different, I was able to manage my gut with a good balance of the low FODMAP diet, managing stress levels and eating healthier.
I realized that I had to make some significant changes in my life if I wanted to get better. After some deep thinking and introspection, I realized a few things in my life where negatively impacting me - both on an emotional level as well as a physical level.
This included both my diet and stress levels.
I then was able to commit to starting the low FODMAP diet as well as working on my stress levels on a day to day basis.
It was hard at first, but now I can say that it was worth it!
To Recap - What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability is when tight junction barriers (the border guards of your gut) allow bacteria and toxins to pass through into your bloodstream which can cause inflammation and a host of other issues if left untreated.
Remember that while leaky gut may not be recognized by many health practitioners at the moment, the trend is changing. If you think you have leaky gut, you should speak with your doctor.
Leaky gut isn’t the end of the world, nor should it be. I like many others have been able to create a lifestyle that helps to manage the symptoms of leaky gut.
Follow your doctor's advice and review this article for more helpful tips for leaky gut. I hope this helps you understand exactly what is leaky gut!
About The Author: Drew is the founder of The Gut Program and a gut health expert. His work has been featured on The Gut Program, CbdOilForIBS.com, Ask Men and The Gut BrainConnection Community. Learn more at his personal site.