Leaky Gut Key Points
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut, also known as “increased intestinal permeability,” is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged and permeable.
This allows undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria to “leak” through the intestines and flood the blood stream, activating the immune system and causing inflammation.
Leaky gut has been associated with inflammatory symptoms throughout the body including brain fog, skin conditions, and the development of auto-immune diseases (although we aren’t yet sure whether leaky gut causes auto-immune disease or the other way round).
The state of health or the state of disease is the combination between what we are – meaning what genetically makes us the way we’re engineered – and the environment that’s around us.
And the gut is the point of entry in which these two elements meet.
Alessio Fasano, MD
Leaky gut has been associated with these health conditions:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (1) and auto-immune conditions
- Joint pain (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and brain fog
- Skin problems like eczema or psoriasis
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – PCOS has been associated with increased zonulin, a biomarker of increased intestinal permeability (2)
- Chronic Fatigue – Inflammatory compounds, called cytokines are associated with increased intestinal permeability and can lead to fatigue (3)
- Nutrient malabsorption – This may also be associated with fatigue
- Allergies (4)
The science of leaky gut
The digestive system has two purposes.. The first we are familiar with: the break down of food into smaller and smaller components in order to be absorbed.
But importantly, the digestive system also maintains a selectively permeable gut barrier that is designed to only let through the smaller digested food molecules, and not the larger toxins and bacterial fragments.
These food particles are taken into the bloodstream and will be burnt for energy and will provide essential nutrients.
The underlying causes of leaky gut
Sugar, processed foods and alcohol increase inflammation in the gut and can worsen leaky gut.
These foods can also cause an imbalance of bacteria and yeast in the gut, leading to leaky gut.
Psychological and emotional stress increase cortisol which contributes to leaky gut.
Stress has a surprisingly powerful effect on the gut and our digestion and can be the cause of leaky gut.
Not enough, or poor quality, sleep can affect your gut health and cause leaky gut, particularly where sleep is an ongoing issue.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol, and many other prescription medications have been found to increase intestinal permeability.
The use of antibiotics, particularly when used regularly or over extended periods, can lead to an imbalance of bacteria and fungi in the gut and can lead to leaky gut.
Intestinal dysbiosis, an imbalance of bacteria or fungi in the gut, or a parasite can cause leaky gut by triggering the release of zonulin, and reducing the protective mucus layer which lines the gut.
Poor sleep, alcohol, stress, medications and poor diet also contribute to dysbiosis.
How to heal leaky gut
Any strategy to improve your overall gut health will also reduce leaky gut.
There are 3 components that should be part of a leaky gut healing strategy:
- Food and nutrition
- Foundational lifestyle habits
- Key supplements
Food and Nutrition
How to eat for leaky gut
A diet for leaky gut should avoid processed foods (such as packaged foods or those made from refined flour or sugar), and alcohol.
Simply thinking about what you are eating, listening to your body, and cleaning up the basics is a great foundation and may be enough to see results.
If you are looking at taking the next step, there are several named diets that can be helpful:
- Low Fodmap – see here for our guide to this way of eating
- Paleo diet
- Elemental diet (for short periods)
Working with a nutritionist can help you find the right diet for you..
Foods to include
Certain foods can also help to repair leaky gut:
- Aloe Vera juice and collagen
- Cabbage juice (rich in glutamine)
- Bone broth and collagen
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut
- Strong homemade ginger tea
Foods to consider avoiding
- Gluten as it has been found to increase intestinal permeability
- High FODMAP foods – the sugars in these foods can worsen gut issues, particularly if there is an imbalance of bacteria or yeast
- Processed or packaged foods – anything at the supermarket that has a long list of ingredients you have never heard of
- Any food that you have found that you are intolerant too e.g. dairy
It’s important to reflect on how our lifestyle may be affecting our health. Even if you have a perfect diet, but you are only sleeping 5 hours a night, it may be difficult to heal.
Consider how these habits may be affecting your health:
- Getting enough good quality sleep
- Working on how you handle stress
- Slowing down and chewing your food well (this stimulates the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes needed to break down food)
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Exercise over-training can also cause or worsen leaky gut
Gut Healing Nutrients
There are several key supplements that can help to heal leaky gut. They should be used together with dietary change and focusing on healthy habits. Working with a practitioner such as myself is recommended to create a plan that works for your situation but generally these supplements can include:
- Probiotics, particularly Sacchromyces Boulardii improve the balance gut microbiota, can reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy intestinal barrier
- L-Glutamine is an amino acid that is particularly effective for strengthening and rebuilding the gut lining.
- Vitamin D helps maintain immune system balance in the gut. It should be combined with Vitamins A and K.
- Zinc Carnosine stabilises the gut lining
Leaky gut goes hand in hand with other digestive complaints and your gut is likely to be leaky if you are frequently bloated, nauseous, digestive discomfort or diarrhoea / constipation.
Leaky gut may also be the cause of other health issues such as brain fog and skin complaints. It is also common when auto-immunity is present.
There are some basic steps that you can take right now to heal your gut and reduce leaky gut
- An anti-inflammatory diet that works for you
- Focus on sleeping well and managing stress
- Try the recommended nutrients to repair your gut
If your gut health isn’t improved following these steps, there may be something else that is causing inflammation and leaky gut. This can include an imbalance of bacteria and yeast, or parasites, in the gut.
For further help with healing leaky gut and other gut complaints, and to get help identifying the root causes of your health issues, you can arrange for a free call with myself.