Leaky gut syndrome or increased intestinal permeability is a digestive condition in which gaps in the intestinal wall allow toxins and other harmful substances to leak into the bloodstream.
In this way, a leaky gut can cause many health issues and affect overall health.
Though leaky gut is a popular subject in articles and social media, its very existence is hotly debated among medical professionals.
Indeed, mainstream medicine does not recognize it as a condition, and it is certainly not taught in medical school.
But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that leaky gut syndrome is a thing and that it can affect your health in many ways.
Stopping or preventing it depends upon the strength of the intestinal lining.
The Intestinal Lining and Leaky Gut Syndrome
A single layer of epithelial cells lines your small and large intestines. This lining is the gut barrier, and its purpose is two-fold: absorb valuable nutrients and other substances into the body, and restrict the entry of harmful substances.
Thus, the gut barrier function is said to be "semi-permeable." Yes, this means we all have a leaky gut.
The difference is in the types of substances it allows into the digestive system and those it restricts.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Most experts believe gut dysbiosis -- an imbalance in the number and diversity of the microbial communities in your gut -- is a significant factor in developing the leaky gut syndrome.
This microbial imbalance leads to inflammation of the intestinal lining, increasing intestinal permeability and allowing harmful substances to enter the bloodstream.
Factors That Cause Gut Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut
Numerous factors may cause gut dysbiosis and the resulting leaky gut syndrome. Here are just a few of them.
Poor Quality Diet
The typical Western diet is a recipe for leaky gut syndrome.
A low-fiber diet of processed foods, sugars, fried foods, and trans fats kills the beneficial gut bacteria while feeding the harmful kind, resulting in gut dysbiosis that damages the gut lining. (1, 2)
Food allergies and intolerances -- meaning that your body does not digest them well -- can damage the gut lining if consumed often.
This is more common than you may think because many people aren't aware of their food allergies or intolerances.
They usually have minor symptoms that they shrug off as a little digestive upset.
Consequently, those with gluten or lactose intolerance with minor symptoms are often unaware of this issue and the damage they may be doing to their intestinal lining.
Psychological stress can increase the risk of leaky gut syndrome in several ways. First, stress promotes consuming "comfort foods," usually of the starchy, sugary carb variety.
Stress causes harmful bacteria to release substances, promoting the consumption of these foods. As previously discussed, this type of diet can lead to gut dysbiosis and increase the risk of intestinal inflammation and permeability.
Second, chronic stress results in chronically high cortisol levels. This stress hormone has been shown to reshape the gut's bacterial composition, triggering inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. (4)
Numerous research studies suggest that sleep deprivation leads to elevated cortisol levels and inflammatory markers in the body. These markers can lead to gut inflammation, increasing the risk of the leaky gut syndrome. (5)
Research suggests that the risk of gut inflammation and increased intestinal permeability increase with age.
Nobody knows for sure, but researchers theorize that declining stomach acid that occurs with age may be at least partly responsible for leaky gut. Stomach acid is crucial for maintaining the proper Ph level in the gut, thereby helping to balance intestinal microbes. (6)
Exposure to Toxins
We don't know if all environmental toxins increase the risk of leaky gut, but science strongly suggests chemical exposure of troops in the Gulf War did.
After all, many of the symptoms of Gulf War Illness -- such as neuroinflammation, extreme fatigue, and digestive issues -- was traced to such exposure.
But what happened inside their bodies to cause these symptoms?
A 2017 study published in PLoS ONE revealed the answer. Using a rodent model of Gulf War illness, researchers discovered that exposure to that chemical caused "significant dysbiosis in the gut."
Further, the altered microbiome significantly decreased a crucial tight junction protein, the signature of a leaky gut. (7)
Several types of medication can lead to the leaky gut syndrome.
For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and Motrin reduce inflammation. Still, research suggests that they can also cause gut dysbiosis if taken too often or in large doses.
And antibiotics, taken for bacterial infections, can destroy beneficial gut bacteria and promote yeast growth, often triggering gut inflammation with resulting leaky gut.
How Do You Know If You Have Leaky Gut?
Symptoms of leaky gut are varied and may include:
Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
Sluggish immune system
Gas and bloating
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth
Chronic diseases (Please see below)
Conditions Associated With Leaky Gut
Chronic diseases and conditions associated with the leaky gut syndrome include: (8,9)
Chronic inflammatory conditions (such as arthritis)
How Do You Fix a Leaky Gut?
There are many natural ways to fix or prevent a leaky gut. Here are just a few of them.
Improve the Quality of Your Diet
Improving the quality of your diet can have a significantly positive impact on the leaky gut. Why? A high-quality diet feeds the beneficial gut bacteria needed to heal the intestinal lining. It also helps rebalance the gut microbiome, helping reduce digestive inflammation.
Leaky Gut Diet?
Though an official leaky gut diet doesn't yet exist, there are a few dietary changes you can make today to heal your gut, reduce intestinal inflammation, and fix leaky gut.
Reduce or eliminate your intake of processed foods and sugars as both can trigger inflammation.
Increase your intake of fiber foods. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the lower colon, producing gut-healing, health-promoting postbiotic metabolites — more about postbioics in a minute.
Eat a wide variety of nonstarchy vegetables, at least ten servings a day. They not only provide the nutrients your body needs to heal the gut, but it provides delicious fiber for your good bacteria!
Add some lean protein to each meal. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient that can keep you from craving and consuming gut-damaging processed carbs and sugary foods. Plus, animal protein has been shown to increase microbial diversity in the gut!
Eat more fermented foods. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt contain live bacteria to help rebalance your gut microbiome.
Don't forget healthy fats.
Though dietary fat has been demonized the past few decades, it is not true that it causes weight gain or heart disease. (Trans and saturated fats can cause inflammation, so you should stay away from them.)
Healthy fats, though, are crucial to alleviating the risk of chronic disease. In addition, studies suggest that unsaturated fats may increase certain types of beneficial gut bacteria.
Manage Stress Levels
Let's face it; we live in a high-stress world, which may help explain the spiraling rates of various chronic diseases.
After all, stress has been linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
But while you can't remove all stress from your life, it is possible to control it, so it doesn't control you!
Here are a few methods proven to reduce stress.
Take up a hobby. Any activity you enjoy doing can relieve stress.
Practice meditation. Research suggests that this ancient practice not only reduces stress but also strengthens natural immunity, supporting overall health.
Regularly perform aerobic exercises. While exercise does stress your body in the short term, it releases hormones like endorphins that reduce stress and improve mood. Examples of aerobic exercises include running, jogging, cycling, swimming, and kickboxing.
Take tai chi classes
Go to lunch with good friends
Practice deep breathing exercises
Get a dog or cat. Numerous studies show that pet ownership reduces stress and strengthens the immune system.
Laugh. That's right. Laughter is one of the best ways to relieve stress.
Get More Sleep
Experts recommend that most people get at least seven or eight hours of sleep a night. Getting adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do for your gut and overall health.
Here are a few tips for getting a better night's sleep.
Go to bed at the same time each night. (When you create a sleep schedule, you're training your body to start getting tired an hour or so before bedtime.)
Avoid napping during the day.
Put away your devices at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light of the device screens interferes with your brain's production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Avoid caffeine foods and beverages at least four hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with sleep.
Try not to eat a heavy meal right before bed. The digestive process can interfere with a good night's sleep.
What about Probiotics?
Probiotics are a popular gut health remedy. However, there are a few problems.
First, most probiotics only contain a couple of strains of bacteria, which may not be sufficient to help fix leaky gut syndrome.
Second, probiotic supplements may dissolve in the digestive process long before they get to the lower colon, making them worthless for gut health.
But there is something better than a probiotic for gut health.
What's Better Than a Probiotic?
In a word: POSTBiotics!
POSTbiotics are essentially the “waste” product of pre and probiotics. (When beneficial bacteria eat (ferment) fiber, they excrete postbiotic metabolites. They come in organic acids, short-chain fatty acids, enzymes, proteins, and metabolites.
Many health experts suggest it’s actually the POSTbiotics producing the benefits we attribute to probiotics, such as improved digestive health. But POSTbiotics offer gut-healing benefits directly, whereas probiotics require prebiotics to ferment in the gut to be of any use.
The newest research around POSTbiotics also suggests significant weight loss, inflammation, and immunity benefits along with hope for people suffering from today’s most common and severe diseases.
And what is the BEST postbiotic metabolite? BUTYRATE!!!
Numerous research studies show that Butyrate provides the most gut-healing and health-promoting than other postbiotic metabolites. It can make probiotics obsolete!
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