The lining of our ‘gut’, otherwise known as our digestive tract, is supposed to let things in that should be in and keep things out that shouldn’t. It’s as simple as that.
When the lining of our gut fails to do that, we call it ‘leaky gut syndrome’ or more technically, increased intestinal permeability.
Causes of Leaky Gut
So what can cause the gut lining to leak? Diet and lifestyle factors mostly. But also outside influences like medications and gut infections can cause leaky gut. The list of factors influencing leaky gut is long:
- Diet of highly refined, processed foods
- Consumption of gut-irritating foods like grains, legumes, dairy and other reactive foods
- Insufficient hydrochloric acid
- Lack of fermented foods
- Chronic infections
- Chronic inflammation
- Chronic Stress
- Sleep deprivation
- Lack of exercise or too much exercise
- Parasitic infections
- Fungal overgrowth
- Heavy metals
- Proton pump inhibitors (for heartburn)
- NSAIDs (pain relievers)
- SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
- Gut-brain axis problems
- Lack of Zinc
How Leaky Gut Happens
Our food has to be broken down into its simplest forms in order to cross the lining of the small intestine.
Stomach acid, digestive enzymes produced by the cells that line the stomach, bile salts made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, additional digestive enzymes made by the pancreas, and even our friendly gut bacteria that live in the gut; they all play a role in breaking down our food to allow it to cross the lining of the small intestine as a nutrient for our bodies.
Proteins have to be broken down into amino acids, fats have to be broken down into fatty acids, and carbohydrates have to be broken down into monosaccharides (simple sugars). Once food is broken down into its simplest components, the cells that line the gut open up and transport those components from inside the gut to inside the body.
What can’t be digested is excreted through our waste system.
A single layer of cells called enterocytes, line the gut wall and determine what gets in and out.
Leaky gut occurs when the enterocytes are damaged or the proteins that form the tight junctions between these cells are damaged.
Tiny holes are formed through which incompletely digested proteins, friendly bacteria or bacterial fragments, infectious organisms, or a variety of toxic substances or waste products that would normally be excreted leak out into the bloodstream or into the lymphatic system.
When this happens, our highly trained immune system doesn’t recognize these substances and mounts an attack, causing inflammation or a whole host of symptoms.
That’s fine when the immune system is attacking the bad guys, but when it attacks an innocent protein that just hasn’t been broken down properly into amino acids, that’s one way that problems can occur like autoimmune diseases or at the very least, food intolerances.
Signs and Symptoms of Leaky Gut
You may or may not know that you have a leaky gut. You may or may not have gastrointestinal symptoms. It starts with destruction of the small intestine’s barrier causing inflammation, which may not cause overt symptoms at first.
Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, aka The Paleo Mom shares these symptoms of leaky gut. Clearly, the symptoms can be all over the map.
- Abdominal Pain
- Irregular stools (constipation or diarrhea)
- Dry skin
- Itchy Skin
- Fatigue — especially after eating
- Brain Fog
- Joint Pain
- General aches and pains
- Multiple food sensitivities/allergies
- Autoimmune Disease
- Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
- Symptoms of malnutrition
A whole host of diseases are associated with leaky gut including autoimmune diseases and other chronic diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, Arthritis and Celiac Disease.
How do you Test for Leaky Gut
If you really want to know if you have leaky gut, there are two types of tests that are generally recommended: the Lactulose/Mannitol test and the Antigenic Permeability screen.
However, the truth is that intestinal permeability is so common, you can almost be sure that you have it by your symptoms. A test may not be necessary. But in those cases where the patient is not getting symptom relief after addressing infections and the like, a test may be warranted.
The Lactulose/Mannitol test involves measuring levels of two sugars in the urine after the patient consumes those sugars orally. You look at the ratio of those two sugars in the urine and that ratio can tell you whether the gut is permeable and allowing the larger sugar molecules that shouldn’t pass through the gut into the bloodstream or whether it’s doing its job and keeping those molecules out.
This test does have some limitations and probably shouldn’t be used exclusively. This is a test that your healthcare practitioner can order from Doctor’s Data or Genova Labs.
The Antigenic Permeability screen developed by Cyrex Labs looks at antibodies to particular antigens, the proteins that the body produces in the gut that help to regulate tight junction permeability and the structure of the gut. This is a blood test offered by Cyrex Labs and must be ordered by a clinician.
How to Fix Leaky Gut
If you remove the triggers causing your leaky gut in the first place—you fix the diet, you treat the gut infections, you start managing your stress—in many cases you won’t need to even address leaky gut because it will take care of itself.
One of the amazing things about the cells in the gut is they regenerate every two to three days. So if you remove the triggers that are causing the problem, then the cells can regenerate and the tight junctions can restore themselves and the intestinal permeability will go away.
That’s a little easier said than done, of course.
In addition, supplements like probiotics, digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids and other specific nutrients are generally needed to help the body recover from the effects of leaky gut.
Screening for gut infections, SIBO, heavy metals, and mold may be a prudent step recommended by your healthcare practitioner.
If you suspect that you have leaky gut syndrome, contact me for specific information about symptoms, testing and healing protocols.
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Joli Tripp and Mind Blowing Wellness are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.
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