If you're wondering if you or a loved one have leaky gut symptoms, you're not alone. A simple Google search for this term pulls up over 16,000 results in 0.54 seconds.
The sheer volume of search results speaks to the prevalence of leaky gut syndrome and its widely varied symptoms and related conditions.
But before delving into the symptoms, we need to define leaky gut.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The term 'leaky gut syndrome' refers to a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are allowed to enter the bloodstream due to increased permeability of the intestinal lining.
The gastrointestinal tract is lined by small epithelial cells connected by tight junctions that act as a barrier between the circulatory system and the gut. This intestinal barrier is semi-permeable, allowing water and nutrients to enter the gastrointestinal system while blocking the exit of harmful substances into the bloodstream. It also keeps bacteria, undigested food particles, and other toxic substances from entering the bloodstream.
But if the barrier is damaged, it creates a condition of increased intestinal permeability in which the tight junctions become loose, allowing harmful substances to travel to and from the GI tract and the circulatory system. This state of increased intestinal permeability is called "Leaky Gut Syndrome."
Though Leaky Gut Syndrome is not a recognized medical condition, many health practitioners consider it to be a significant cause of numerous chronic health issues. This is because the toxins that "leak" into the bloodstream can trigger a major immune system response, resulting in widespread inflammation that can negatively impact all areas of your health. An increasing number of experts now believe chronic inflammation to be the underlying cause of most of our most common mental and physical health conditions.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome are varied and may include:
Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
Sluggish immune system
Gas and bloating
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth
What can we expect when we heal the gut. Better moods, hormone balance, stronger immune system, clearer skin, less food sensitivities, less anxiety and depression.
End Explanatory Text
Conditions Associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome
Chronic diseases and conditions associated with leaky gut syndrome include: (1, 2)
Autoimmune disorders, i.e., multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus, psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis, Addison's disease, Hashimoto's disease, etc.
"Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers. These foods include frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs and cold cuts, fast food, packaged cookies, cakes, and salty snacks." (3)
In other words, ultra-processed foods are primarily made in a lab. They are food-like products with no fiber or nutritional value and have been found to increase the growth of harmful gut bacteria. (4) These microorganisms can trigger an inflammatory response in the gut, stretching the intestinal barrier and potentially leading to a leaky gut.
The popularity and prevalence of ultra-processed foods almost guarantee that leaky gut syndrome will become increasingly common in the coming decades. Statistics show that "Ultra-processed foods are the main source (nearly 58%) of calories eaten in the US, and contribute almost 90% of the energy we get from added sugars." (5)
And that leads us to the next common cause of leaky gut syndrome -- sugar.
Consuming Too Much Sugar
Between 2020 and 2022, Americans consumed an estimated 11 million metric tons of sugar. (6) In 2017-2018, the average daily sugar intake for children and adults in the U.S. was 17 teaspoons (7) ... and most of this sugar comes from ultra-processed foods.
Sugar is a highly inflammatory substance that, if consumed excessively, can lead to numerous conditions, including leaky gut.
For example, a few animal studies show that a diet high in added sugar leads to insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation, and increased intestinal permeability, (8). In contrast, human studies show that a diet high in sugar can promote insulin resistance and increase inflammatory markers. (9)
Like ultra-processed foods, excessive sugar intake causes a severe disturbance in the balance of gut microbes, a condition called gut dysbiosis that triggers an inflammatory response. It also damages the gut barrier, leading to increased intestinal permeability and leaky gut. (10)
Research shows chronic stress can damage your health and affect gastrointestinal (GI) tract functions. For example, stress alters the communication between the brain and the gut (brain-gut axis), increasing the risk of poor gastrointestinal motility, gut dysbiosis, and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut).
Its negative effect on the brain-gut axis and the intestinal barrier function can lead to a wide variety of GI disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), peptic ulcer, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), etc.
How to Have a Healthy Gut and Fix Leaky Gut Syndrome
You can improve your gut health and fix a leaky gut by implementing a few dietary and lifestyle changes. Here are just a few of them.
Enjoy a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is one in which most of your calories come from whole foods as close to their natural state as possible without all those preservatives, chemicals, etc.
This diet is nutritious, anti-inflammatory, low in sugar, and tastes great. It also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut and supports gut health.
Reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods, foods with added sugar, and fast foods while eating more of the following food groups:
Nonstarchy veggies are loaded with nutrients and fiber, which fill you up fast and keep you full for a long time. It also promotes bowel regularity.
Protein is essential to health.
Humanely raised chicken
Plain nonfat Greek yogurt
Whey protein powder
It is not true that eating fat makes you sick or leads to obesity. We need a certain amount of dietary fat to survive. The key is eating healthy whole-food fats instead of just their oils, as you also get fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
Limit your fruit to 0-3 servings per day, and choose low-sugar varieties as much as possible.
Examples of low-sugar fruits include:
Try a Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is a protein in certain grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye.
Research suggests that gluten causes leaky gut. For example, several studies found that glutin intake activates zonulin, a protein that modulates the tight junctions, leading to increased intestinal permeability and potentially leaky gut syndrome. (11, 12, 13)
To decrease your gluten intake, avoid grain products. You can purchase gluten-free foods. Read the ingredient list carefully if the product doesn't say "gluten-free" on the label. Many processed foods contain gluten in their sauces, gravies, etc.
Eat More Fermented Foods
Fermented foods add healthy bacteria to your digestive system, helping to rebalance your gut microbiota.
Fermented foods include:
Manage Stress Levels
As discussed above, chronic stress impairs your gut barrier function, increasing intestinal permeability, which can lead to a leaky gut.
You cannot eliminate all stress from your life; stress is beneficial in some circumstances. For example, it gives you the drive to finish that project at work or give a phenomenal speech.
But chronic stress is terrible for your health and your gut.
The solution? Find ways to de-stress daily. Here are a few techniques to relax your mind and your body, thus supporting a strong, healthy intestinal barrier.
Go for regular leisurely walks
Practice deep breathing exercises
Play with your dog or cat
Go out to dinner or a movie with friends
Binge-watch comedies on Netflix
Do aerobic exercises
Take up a hobby
Help someone out. (Studies show that helping others lowers our stress levels.)
Get More Quality Sleep
Numerous research studies suggest that lack of sleep affects your gut health and can lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Here are a few tips for getting more quality sleep.
Go to bed at the same time each night, and arise at the same time each more. A sleep schedule trains your body to get tired close to your bedtime.
Avoid drinking liquids a few hours before bedtime. Waking up for bathroom runs several times a night is no way to get quality sleep.
Relax with meditation or deep breathing exercises an hour before going to bed.
Put away your devices. The light from your computer, smartphone, tablet, and other devices disrupts your brain's production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Try not to eat a large meal close to bedtime. The digestive process may disrupt sleep.
Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Any light can negatively affect melatonin production, so if street lights shine through your window at night, you may need to block it with black drapes or wear a sleep mask.
Avoid caffeine four hours before bedtime. This stimulating compound can keep you from getting a night of restful sleep.
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