The Far-Reaching Effects of Leaky Gut
In the past century, our agricultural, dietary and lifestyle choices have changed significantly. These changes can irritate the delicate balance of your gut’s ecosystem, which can adversely impact overall digestive function by creating deficiencies or imbalances due to leaky gut.
Harvard Health calls it a “medical mystery” and “mysterious ailment.” It’s been linked to everything from gut troubles, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health concerns.
I’m talking about “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”—have you heard of it?
In the past century, our agricultural, dietary and lifestyle choices have changed significantly. These changes can irritate the delicate balance of your gut’s ecosystem, which can adversely impact overall digestive function by creating deficiencies or imbalances.
So, what exactly is leaky gut, and could it be affecting you? Let’s explore the intricacies of this condition.
Understanding Leaky Gut
Your gut (gastrointestinal system) is not just a 30-foot-long muscular tube (tract) that starts at your mouth and ends with you going to the bathroom. It’s, in fact, a vast and complex system with many functions. Its responsibilities include breaking down food into digestible fragments, facilitating the transit of matter through the gastrointestinal tract, and absorbing water and nutrients while excluding the entry to harmful substances. More and more research show that these vital gut functions are interconnected throughout your entire body, influencing everything from cardiac health to cognitive function.
Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of cells, all side-by-side in a single layer. Astonishingly, this layer, if spread out flat, covers 400 square meters of surface area! These intestinal cells play a role in nutrient absorption from food and beverages, while simultaneously preventing harmful substances from entering your body. This selective process of allowing beneficial substances to pass while preventing the rest relies on the proper functioning and tight connection of these cells, known as “tight junctions.”
Indicators of Leaky Gut
The symptoms of leaky gut often resemble other digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps, and bloating.
Since the absorbed food particles, toxins, waste products, and bacteria disseminate throughout your body via the bloodstream, symptoms can appear anywhere! Therefore, many people may not experience conventional gut-related symptoms but instead they may suffer from the following:
- Allergies and Asthma
- Autoimmune diseases
- Chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Skin issues like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis
- Psychological distress including anxiety and brain fog
The gut is connected to every system in the body. Everything that happens to your body is dependent on the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients and keep the bad things out. The gut plays a role in everything from your mental health and immune function to weight management, skin health, energy levels and more. Having a healthy gut is so important for optimal health.
Underlying Causes of Leaky Gut
The exact triggers that cause the loosening of tight junctions and result in tiny perforations in the gut barrier remain unclear. Nevertheless, the dramatic changes over the past century in our agricultural, dietary and lifestyle choices have the potential to disturb the sensitive equilibrium of the gut ecosystem. Some of these disruptions include:
- Consumption of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.)
- Infections such as bacteria overgrowth, yeast, and/or parasites
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Medications such as antibiotics
- and Stress!
Chronic exposure to these irritants can compromise overall digestive function by triggering deficiencies or imbalances in various components such as digestive enzymes, stomach acid, bile acids, the microbiome (ratio of beneficial to harmful bacteria), and intestinal motility.
Leaky gut has also been associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic inflammation. Moreover, more than 75% of individuals with IBS may have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This emphasizes that the gut serves not only as a potential source of inflammation in the body, but it can also be the focus for reversing that inflammation.
Addressing Leaky Gut
If you suspect leaky gut, the initial step is to alleviate inflammation by embracing a gut-friendly or anti-inflammatory diet. Those with mild symptoms can enjoy:
- Whole, unprocessed foods
- Abundant fruits and vegetables
- High-fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates
- Omega-3 fats
- Fermented foods
- Lean, high quality, animal proteins
On the flip side, you should steer clear of:
- Processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Excess alcohol, fat, sugar, and caffeine
- Known food allergies or sensitivity like gluten or dairy.
While making dietary and lifestyle changes, consider keeping a journal to evaluate the impact on your symptoms.
There are some common food triggers. For instance, removing wheat, dairy, and foods high in fermentable fibers (FODMAPs) suck as cauliflower, asparagus, garlic, onion, and apples may offer relief for more severe symptoms.
When it comes to leaky gut, a few simple shifts toward a gut-friendly diet can pave the way to enhanced well-being. Leaky gut’s symptoms extend beyond gut-related symptoms, including a variety of health conditions including metabolic disorders, autoimmune ailments, and mental health concerns.
In the meantime, if you have symptoms that suggest a leaky gut, you can move toward a more gut-friendly diet. Try cutting down on alcohol, processed foods, and any that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Replace these foods and drinks with ones with real food that is high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, fermented foods, high quality protein and omega-3 fats. And remember that regular exercise, stress management, and quality sleep are great lifestyle strategies for your gut and the rest of your body.
For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan. This meal plan is 75% plant-based and promotes healthy digestion and reduces inflammation. To learn more about optimizing your digestive health, book a free discovery call with a gut health nutritionist.