Leaky Gut Syndrome has the unfortunate distinction of being both common and confusing to many people. So many individuals are living with varying levels of impaired digestion due to poor eating habits, lifestyle choices, stress, and busy lives. Concurrently, few seem to fully understand the cascade of imbalance and illness that can result from such factors. Illnesses in the gut and the suppressed immunity that follows lie at the centre of so many health issues today and Leaky Gut is at the top of the list. I hope to shed some light on this potentially destructive condition and offer some basics to both protect and heal yourself from it.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
A common manifestation of digestive stress is known as leaky gut syndrome. This term is used to describe the condition of intestinal permeability – meaning that the intestinal lining has become more porous, causing the screening process to malfunction. In leaky gut a trigger substance. such as undigested food, yeast, toxins and various forms of waste, damages the lining of the small intestine. As a result, large molecules from these substances are allowed to leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and engage the immune system.
Optimal immunity hinges on the health and strength of the intestines. The outer layers of intestinal cells are connected by structures called tight junctions. During a healthy digestion process these junctions stay closed, forcing all molecules to be screened before being allowed to pass into the bloodstream. In Leaky Gut, these junctions become open, or permeable, allowing large, un-screened molecules to flow directly into the blood.
The immune system recognizes these un-screened molecules as invaders and creates antibodies to destroy them. As the body aggressively fights these invaders the liver is kicked into overdrive in order to screen out all the particles that a healthy intestinal lining would normally be taking care of. This is incredibly hard on the liver. In most cases, this organ has little to no chance of keeping up with the constant flow of waste into the blood. Once the liver becomes overworked these substances accumulate and deposit throughout the body, causing a variety of inflammation.
With the body overwhelmed fighting this larger battle of screening damaging substances, the smaller battles, like calming inflammation, fighting bacteria, and regulating the gut, begin to be overlooked. All of this results in additional stress and overtime, and oftentimes, this can lead to the body attacking itself. This may result in an array of autoimmune diseases such as Chronic Fatigue, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, and Fibromyalgia.
Overall the single most common trigger substance is an irritating food. This entire process of Leaky Gut begins with poor digestion. When food is being improperly broken down it significantly increases the chance of it damaging the intestines and eventually being leaked into the bloodstream. Once in the blood, the immune system will react and lead to food intolerances.
For instance, if you are sensitive to wheat, every time you eat it, it will irritate the lining of your intestine, leak through, create antibodies, and consequently create more symptoms. If you give up wheat for a week or so, you will likely notice a considerable reduction or complete elimination of symptoms. Other common trigger foods are dairy, eggs, peanuts, corn, soy, citrus, chocolate, coffee, shellfish, and various food additives and preservatives found in processed foods. Non-food triggers include alcohol, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin ibuprofen), intestinal parasites, and candida. The problem can often be easily fixed once you identify your trigger. When irritation is no longer occurring, your intestinal lining is one of the fastest healing regions of your body.
Leaky Gut Syndrome Symptoms
The symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome can vary greatly depending on the individual and based on the level of damage that has been inflicted on the intestines. Generally, if you find that you have any sensitivities when consuming certain foods, there is a very good chance that your immune system is reacting to what you are eating.
Look for these symptoms to help determine whether you have Leaky Gut Syndrome:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Rash outbreaks, like eczema
- Respiratory tract issues, like asthma
- Joint pain and swelling
- Excessive fatigue and brain fog
- Chronic digestive issues
- Weak immune system
- Gas, bloating, and cravings for sugars
These symptoms arise from improper digestion and absorption of nutrients, inflammation of the intestinal walls, the body trying to expel excess toxins, inflammation of tissues, yeast overgrowth, and the body attacking itself in attempt to heal.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Consuming a diet high in processed foods, preserved meats, dairy products, refined sugars and flours, preservatives, flavourings, artificial colourants as well as caffeine, alcohol, and drugs introduces large amounts of chemicals and toxins into the body significantly contributing to inflammation and suppressed immunity.
Stress downgrades digestion and increases both the inflammation and permeability of the intestinal lining significantly impairing immunity.
Normal levels of yeast are always present in the gut but in conjunction with poor eating habits, yeast levels can quickly get out of control. When this occurs, yeast will become a harmful fungus like Candida which takes hold of the intestinal lining and causes perforations. Additionally, nutritional deficiencies in zinc and omega-3 fatty acids particularly are known to significantly reduce the strength and integrity of the intestines.
How to Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome
Avoid Poor Eating Habits
The implementation of a diet rich in natural, organic antibiotic foods and herbs is essential. Try foods like cabbage juice, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), raw garlic, onions, leeks, radishes, fenugreek, ginger, hot chili, fresh lemon juice, turmeric and rosemary to both alkalize and nourish the body in order to nurture the healing process.
Eat Fiber and Limit Gluten
Consume plenty of fiber in the form of fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Limiting gluten intake is very often helpful.
Supplement with a high quality multivitamin as well as zinc, omega-3’s and vitamin D to help heal and strengthen the intestines and reduce inflammation. Long term antibiotic use should be avoided as antibiotics destroy healthy bacteria in the gut. High quality probiotic and digestive enzyme supplements should also be taken. Probiotics will stop the proliferation of bad bacteria and yeast while replenishing good bacteria, healing the gut lining, and help to ensure that nutrients are absorbed thoroughly.
Digestive enzymes are critical to properly breaking down the food we eat, increasing absorption and reducing inflammation. Plant based enzymes will help to ensure that food is broken down completely so as not to irritate the gut. These enzymes will also work to “clean house” throughout the gut as well as in the bloodstream, if absorbed through the intestinal lining, by removing toxins and harmful bacteria.