What Is Leaky Gut?

Have you ever heard the term “leaky gut”, also referred to as “increased intestinal permeability”? Well it’s exactly what it sounds like, and it can be pretty awful for the millions of people who suffer from it. However, many mainstream medical professionals still refuse to recognize leaky gut as a real thing - I believe this is due to symptom similarity. The craziest part is, you, or someone you know has likely battled leaky gut at one point or another. It’s more common than you think, but don’t be alarmed, it can also be healed!

What is Leaky Gut?

Well, it starts in the gut microbiome -  the genetic material of all the microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses) that live on and inside the human body. Leaky Gut happens when there is an increase in intestinal wall permeability, which can lead to harmful bacteria and toxins actually leaking into the bloodstream and reaching other organs. The intestinal walls have small openings that transfer helpful nutrients through the body and protect the body from harmful substances that can be found in the food we eat. If the small gaps in the wall loosen up, there’s more possibility of these toxins traveling into the bloodstream and reaching other organs, causing many undesired symptoms.

A leaky gut can trigger inflammation and an immune response as the body tries to cope with the perceived invaders. This sets off a cascade of health problems, from increased food sensitivities to digestive troubles to even mood changes. So, what causes the permeability, and who gets it? Well, according to Harvard Health

We all have some degree of leaky gut, as this barrier is not completely impenetrable (and isn’t supposed to be!). Some of us may have a genetic predisposition and may be more sensitive to changes in the digestive system, but our DNA is not the only one to blame. Modern life may actually be the main driver of gut inflammation. There is emerging evidence that the standard American diet, which is low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fats, may initiate this process. Heavy alcohol use and stress also seem to disrupt this balance.

So, how do we boost the health of our gut microbiome?

Gut health is SO important, there has been a ton of research in recent years to prove this notion. So much so, that many now refer to the gut as the “second brain” - what happens in the gut, can have an impact on the whole body. Improving your gut health is actually not as hard as it might sound! You can make some vast improvements by simply adjusting your diet - healing the body from the inside out.

  1. Try eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet

  2. Eat as many types of fruit and veggies as possible

  3. Pick high-fibre vegetables

  4. Choose food and drinks with high levels of polyphenols

  5. Eat plenty of fermented foods containing live microbes

Good choices are unsweetened yogurt, or kefir, which is a sour milk drink with five times as many microbes as yogurt. Also, raw milk cheeses, sauerkraut, kimchi, cabbage, and soybean-based products such as soy sauce, tempeh and natto.

How do I know if I have leaky gut?

Leaky gut causes a variety of symptoms including bloating, food sensitivities, digestive issues, skin problems, fatigue, IBS, anxiety, depression, and joint pain among others. Research shows that individuals with diseases like Celiac and Chrons are more likely to be affected by leaky gut, and genetics play a big part in the condition as well. 

There are also lifestyle factors that contribute to leaky gut. If you’ve had a high sugar, dairy, or alcohol intake, your gut health could be compromised. Underlying nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc also lead to leaky gut. One of the most common factors is chronic inflammation that’s caused by stress from various sources like food, environment, and mental health. 

How do you heal leaky gut?

If you suspect you have leaky gut, there are some lifestyle choices you can try and see if they help alleviate your symptoms. An elimination diet can be helpful to determine your food sensitivities. Limit sugar, dairy, gluten and other common food sensitivities for a few weeks then reintroduce them one by one. Eating a low refined sugar diet is especially helpful because sugars will fuel the bad bacteria, making matters worse. Incorporate good bacteria with fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha, or with a quality probiotic supplement.

You can also help feed good bacteria by eating more fiber from produce. Most importantly, find a medical professional who will listen to your concerns and work with you to heal your leaky gut. I suggest Parsley Health, which is a network of doctors who focus on treating the whole human, rather than just the symptoms. 

Where do we go from here?

Leaky Gut is still somewhat of a controversial topic within the healthcare community, but more and more research is being done to unravel its complexities. If you’ve ever experienced food sensitivities, digestive troubles, and even mood issues, you may want to consider an elimination diet to rule out any food sensitivity. At the end of the day, our bodies have a funny way of letting us know when something is out of balance - it’s our job to listen and treat it accordingly. 

If you have any questions about gut health, or would like to learn more about how you can create an optimal gut microbiome, I’d love to connect and schedule some time to chat!