Leaky gut syndrome isn’t a diagnosis that physicians are taught in medical school—it’s still considered a medically unrecognized condition, which makes it difficult to diagnose.
Many health practitioners say leaky gut syndrome is the cause of numerous conditions, including food allergies/sensitivities, low energy, bloating, thyroid disease, cramps, joint pain, slow metabolism, and autoimmune conditions.
In fact, according to research published in the Journal of Diabetes, leaky gut syndrome is a major cause of autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes.
Scientifically Speaking, What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Regulating intestinal leaking is one of the basic functions of the cells that line the intestinal wall. For people with sensitive stomachs, gluten could cause gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that breaks down tight junctions in the intestinal lining. Anything from toxins, infections, or even stress can cause these junctions to break apart.
Once the junctions are broken apart, you will have a leaky gut. At this point, toxins, undigested food particles, proteins, bad microbes, etc., can “leak” from the intestines and travel through the body through the bloodstream. This can lead to inflammation throughout the immune system.
What Causes a Leaky Gut?
Anything from toxins to a poor diet to a bacterial imbalance can cause a leaky gut. When it comes to food choices, common food components that can damage the intestinal lining include sugar, dairy products, gluten, excessive alcohol, genetically modified organisms, and un-sprouted grains (they contain nutrient blockers known as lectins and phytates—lectins, in particular, are sugar-binding proteins.)
Other factors that can cause a leaky gut include:
- Chronic stress: If you are experiencing chronic stress, it can weaken your immune system over time, which reduces your body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders, such as bad bacteria and viruses. This can lead to inflammation and leaky gut symptoms. To reduce stress, aim to get more sleep, schedule fun activities into your day, and surround yourself with positive people.
- Dysbiosis: This condition most commonly occurs in the digestive tract—it means that there is an imbalance between beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria in the gut. Dysbiosis is generally associated with chronic fatigue, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), cancer, colitis, and bacterial vaginosis. This condition can begin at birth, typically as a result of the mother having a C-section or because the mother did not have a healthy gut. Overuse of prescription drugs, drinking tap water with chlorine and fluoride, and consuming a lack of probiotic foods in your diet can also contribute to this imbalance.
Leaky Gut Symptoms
If you experience the following symptoms, it is possible that you have a leaky gut.
- Allergies or asthma
- Fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Mental issues, such as depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or anxiety
- A hormonal imbalance, such as PMS or PCOS
- Skin issues such as eczema, acne or rosacea
- Digestive problems, such as gas, diarrhea, bloating, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food allergies or food intolerance
Leaky Gut and the Brain
Did you know that a leaky gut can also affect the brain? For example, there is a link between autistic children who experience mood swings and a leaky gut.
Since proteins can leak through the gut, circulate through the bloodstream, and act on the brain, gluten-free diets have proven to be very effective for many autistic children, as well as people with psychological and cognitive disorders.
Treating Leaky Gut Syndrome Naturally
There are four (relatively) easy ways to heal leaky gut symptoms:
1. Remove: Remove foods that are damaging to the gut, including toxic foods or anything that will negatively affect the environment of the gastrointestinal tract.
2. Replace: Replace toxic foods with healthy food. Add essential ingredients for proper digestion (i.e. bile acids and digestive enzymes).
3. Restore: Restore beneficial bacteria in order to reestablish a healthy balance of good bacteria.
4. Repair: Repair the gut with essential nutrients, including L-glutamine, an amino acid that helps to rejuvenate the lining of the gut wall.
The Leaky Gut Diet
To heal your gut, make sure to include the following food components in your diet:
1. Raw cultured dairy: Raw, cultured dairy products, as opposed to regular dairy products, contain probiotics that will help heal the gut. Examples include kefir, yogurt, butter, and raw cheese.
2. Bone broth: Contains collagen, praline, and glycine—amino acids that will help rebuild the damaged cell walls.
3. Coconut products: The medium chain fatty acids found in coconuts are easier to digest than other fats—and more beneficial for a leaky gut.
4. Fermented vegetables: Organic acids will help balance the intestinal pH and probiotics in support of the gut.
5. Sprouted seeds: Examples include chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds. They are great sources of fiber and can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria. If you have a severe case of leaky gut, you might want to get your fiber from steamed vegetables and fruits instead.
Make sure to consult your family doctor before embarking on a new nutrition program.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Myers, A. “9 Signs You Have A Leaky Gut,” MindBodyGreen web site, September 12, 2013; http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10908/9-signs-you-have-a-leaky-gut.html.
McMillen, M. “Leaky Gut Syndrome: What Is It?” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/leaky-gut-syndrome, last accessed August 20, 2015.