What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The intestines are protected by proteins known as tight junctions and act as barriers between the intestine and bloodstream. Tight junctions are responsible for allowing beneficial nutrients into the bloodstream while simultaneously keeping xenobiotics (compounds that cause disease) and other harmful substances contained in the digestive tract.
Leaky gut is the result of tight junction failure wherein unwanted toxins, antigens, bacteria, etc. are able to pass through the protein barrier and enter the bloodstream. This can lead to sustained immune activation resulting in chronic inflammation and severe systemwide dysfunction.
Signs and Symptoms
Because the gut wields broad influence over many bodily processes, leaky gut has the potential to present a wide range of symptoms. However, there are several specific symptoms that are particularly indicative of leaky gut. If you experience some or all of the following symptoms, testing for intestinal dysfunction such as leaky gut may be appropriate:
- Food sensitivities
- Food allergies
- Mood disorders
- Inflammatory skin conditions (e.g. rashes)
- Autoimmune disease
- Thyroid issues
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic liver disease
- Joint pain
A variety of factors can cause leaky gut including:
Certain foods such as dairy, gluten, and refined sugar can cause an immune reaction, triggering an inflammatory response. Inflammation in the gut can cause problems with the gut lining, which can lead to a host of other issues. More specifically, the gut is protected by a single layer of cells maintained by proteins called tight junctions. When working as intended, tight junctions allow micronutrients to pass between the GI tract and bloodstream while keeping larger harmful substances contained within the gut to be safely expelled later. Chronic inflammation can lead to the breakage of these tight junctions, making them overly permeable and allowing partially digested foods, toxins, bacteria, pathogens, and harmful particulates to pass from the gut and into the bloodstream, which leads to leaky gut syndrome.
Chronic stress can weaken the intestinal barrier and allow for gut bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Additionally, stress can increase food cravings, decrease food motility, and decrease microflora diversity, all of which can worsen leaky gut syndrome.
Despite their common use for treating various forms of infection, regular or inappropriate use of antibiotics can actually ravage the gut and prompt the occurrence of leaky gut. The intestine requires a healthy balance of bacteria to facilitate digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. Antibiotics indiscriminately destroy all bacteria in the gut regardless if they are harmful or helpful. Reckless use of antibiotics can leave the gut defenseless which increases the risk of bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome. Learn more about medications that can lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Environmental toxins such as heavy metals can impact gut health by irritating the gut lining. This is because one of the primary ways our body tries to process heavy metals is through the gut lining. However, as the gut has developed to optimize the digestion of food and not heavy metals, these toxins irritate the sensitive gut lining. This gut irritation can then lead to gut inflammation. Both gut irritation and inflammation are precursors to the development of leaky gut syndrome.
Other contributors to leaky gut syndrome include gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in intestinal bacteria), parasites, yeast, and low glutathione levels (an antioxidant that is necessary to repair and defend gut lining). Additionally, while a leaky gut can cause an autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder can be the cause of leaky gut.
Combatting Leaky Gut
Leaky gut impacts many different systems and may contribute to the development of several seemingly disconnected conditions. Therefore, the resolution of these issues may require resolving an underlying cause of leaky gut. Treatment of leaky gut should be done in a manner that addresses unique patient factors and individual needs. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leaky gut. However, effective treatment typically includes the four following components.
Eliminating Contributing Factors
Alleviating stress on the gut is an essential part of resolving leaky gut syndrome. When starting treatment, one should eliminate inflammatory and allergenic foods from their diet (alcohol, gluten, grains, dairy, etc.), avoid exposure to toxins, and reduce physical and mental stress. Taking these actions helps take the strain off the gut allowing it the time to regenerate.
Adopting a Gut-Friendly Diet
Supplying the gut with whole foods packed with gut supporting nutrients goes a long way in repairing leaky gut. Consider including more fruits and vegetables into every meal, eating pasture-raised animal products, and enjoying foods full of healthy fats such as nuts, fish, olives, and coconut oil. Perhaps the most important part of a gut-friendly diet is to avoid unnecessary sugars, processed or packaged foods, and unhealthy fats.
Using a Probiotic
Bacterial imbalance or dysbiosis is a common component of poor gut health. Supplying the body with a healthy supply of beneficial bacteria through the use of a quality probiotic can help resolve imbalances and support better gut function. Probiotics may also strengthen the intestinal lining which may help reduce the number of particles escaping into the bloodstream.
Nutrient absorption typically declines in the presence of leaky gut. Therefore, supplementing with vitamins and minerals to resolve existing deficiencies may be hugely beneficial for patients suffering from leaky gut. Additionally, supplementing with natural substances including glutamine (an amino acid), curcumin (found in turmeric), and butyric acid (found in butter and animal fat), may provide notable gut support and reduce intestinal permeability.
Get Good with the Gut
Chronic gastrointestinal conditions such as leaky gut can have a dramatic effect on overall health and wellness. Resolving leaky gut demands an individualized treatment plan that often includes lifestyle changes such as eliminating gut stressors and providing appropriate nutritional support through diet and supplementation. If you suffer from some or all of the indicators of leaky gut mentioned above, seek out a doctor who is familiar with identifying and treating this complex gastrointestinal condition.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to utilize cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to uncover and address leaky gut syndrome. If you are experiencing chronic gastrointestinal disruption and suspect you may have leaky gut or if you’ve been diagnosed with leaky gut, but aren’t getting the treatment you need, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!