The heart, the brain, the blood. – This is what most people think of when asked about the seat of good health. These answers may be romantic but have zero value medically. The gut, a healthy digestive system, the intestinal barrier – now here, is a more accurate answer. Digestive health has been looked into now for decades as the one body system responsible for overall well-being. Science backs the fact that the little ecosystem of gut microbes, that call the intestines home, is responsible for a lot more than you may think.
A healthy gut is responsible for several bodily functions including digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, energy production, maintaining hormonal balance, skin health, brain health, cognitive function, and mental health, and toxin and waste elimination. Apart from this, almost 70% of your immune system is centered in your gut. That is a lot of responsibility for a collection of hollow organs. It’s not just the organs but the bacteria that live in your gut that influence the above-said functions. The gut microbiota, as the microbes are known, support the metabolism of nutrients and curbs the growth of pathogenic microbes that may cause infection or damage to the host- which is you. Ideally, the beneficial bacteria keep the harmful bacteria in check and then all is well and running smoothly. However, when the composition of the bacteria in the gut changes, then we have dysbiosis. Such is the gut microbiota’s effect; dysbiosis impacts overall digestive health which then triggers disturbances all over the body. Dysbiosis is the cause of several gut-related distresses like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and leaky gut syndrome.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Before we get to the leaky gut, you need to understand intestinal permeability. Your gut is like a sponge, it’s got little spaces in it which means that it is semi-permeable – certain things can leave through the spaces while others have to stay in. The mucous lining of the intestines is made in such a way that it lets water and nutrients from digested foods move from the inside of the digestive tract to the bloodstream. However, for many reasons too many, the spaces in the intestinal epithelial barrier grow larger, i.e., increased intestinal permeability. Part of the job of the intestinal lining is to act as a barrier to keep the harmful bacteria, undigested food particles, and other infection-causing elementals within the gut. That is why the gut is so important to your immune system.
That is just a nice way of saying that the intestines begin to leak. The intestinal wall lets more than just nutrients and water molecules out but larger and potentially harmful substances too. Studies have it that those who suffer from gastrointestinal distress have leaky gut.
There is a very strong suggestion that this gastrointestinal tract permeability problem is not just a symptom of digestive distress but a cause of it. The gut barrier lets potential toxins out into the bloodstream where they may trigger chronic inflammatory responses – disease. This condition of leaky gut is real, but whether it is the cause or effect is still in debate. As of yet, leaky gut has not been classified as a disease. It is not a recognized medical diagnosis.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
When it comes to symptoms of leaky gut, you can divide them into two categories – the injury caused to the gut lining and the long-term after-effects of leaky gut. The symptoms that signal damage to the intestinal wall include:
- A sensation of burning in your lower stomach
- Heartburn and indigestion
- Fermentation caused by gut bacteria results in gas and bloating
- Due to the reduced ability of the intestines to draw nutrition from food, lack of energy.
These are the immediate, so to say, symptoms of leaky gut. Over time, leaky gut would start to affect various systems in the body. If a leaky gut is left unchecked, you could have the following symptoms.
- Lowered immunity – the body would be susceptible to infections like colds or touches of flu.
- Digestive trouble – bloating and gas are your constant companions. Chronic diarrhea and constipation make visits too.
- Cravings– There is an irresistible urge to indulge in sugar and things that are sweet. This is a sign that the harmful bacteria in your gut need feeding.
- Suffering cognition– There will be trouble concentrating, paying attention, learning, and recalling.
- Tiredness – Chronic fatigue, lack of any motivation, and a lowered sex drive.
- Skin trouble – The skin would suffer from breakouts, rashes, redness, and in some cases acne or eczema.
- Sleep– A good night’s rest is hard to come by and the sleep that you get is disturbed.
- Joint pain
- Food allergies– Newer intolerances would occur especially to gluten or lactose.
- Autoimmune disorders – the development of conditions like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or SIBO – Small Intestinal bacterial overgrowth
Not all of these symptoms would make an appearance and not all at the same time. Depending on how severe the condition is, leaky gut syndrome manifests differently for different folks. This is because the composition of the gut bacteria varies from one person to the next. Usually, the severity of the condition is linked to the number of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
The prevalence of leaky gut syndrome has definitely increased over the past few decades. For the breach in the intestinal epithelial barrier to occur, your system should have been under some serious duress for some time. This is not a condition that develops overnight. So, what causes leaky gut syndrome?
- Medically speaking, the leaky gut syndrome may develop after a few bouts of chemotherapy or radiation as they disturb the mucosal lining of the gut.
- The excessive use of pain relievers or antibiotics can cause dysbiosis leading to a decrease in the number of beneficial gut bacteria.
- An underlying condition like inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome can also spark the onset of a leaky gut.
- Certain foods can also elicit an immune response due to food sensitivities. Read about the foods that are to be avoided when you have a leaky gut.
- There are also dietary and lifestyle habits that can cause the leaky gut syndrome.
- Increased intestinal permeability can be caused by the food you eat. Eating processed foods, high in salt, sugar, fats, and chemicals will hurt the gut.
- Not consuming enough prebiotic fiber or probiotic foods could hurt gut health as well.
- Over the past few decades, farming practices have led to a significant decrease in the nutritional value of crops and an increase in chemicals – this could affect the gut microbiota.
- The intake of inflammatory foods may cause the condition also.
- A poor diet is the most probable cause of the leaky gut syndrome.
- Chronic stress has disastrous consequences for a healthy gut and it disturbs sleep cycles as well. Sleep deprivation has been found to further affect the beneficial gut bacteria.
- Jobs now have people mostly sitting down and exercise is a luxury most cannot afford. Exercise, or the lack of it, causes a leaky gut syndrome, here are the Top Exercises to Enhance Gut Health.
- Pre-existing health conditions and the prescription medications taken for them may also trigger inflammation.
Need to Know
Intestinal permeability defects can be avoided with care. Leaky gut is a condition that can be corrected with a healthy diet and the right lifestyle.
- The Right Diet
- A leaky gut diet plan would include a high intake of plant-based foods to provide for prebiotic content and fiber. Find out what foods are high in Prebiotics.
- Plant foods also improve the secretion of digestive enzymes as plant foods have the nutrients and minerals that enhance enzyme production. This improves the digestive process on the whole.
- Fermented foods are recommended to improve the bacterial strains and numbers in the gut.
- Include healthy fats too.
- Also, avoiding foods that cause inflammation like lactose and gluten can help.
A healthy diet can support normal immune function as the good bacteria in the gut are thriving.
- Stress and Sleep
The gut barrier function is disrupted to a degree when you are dealing with stress constantly. This also hampers sleep which further influences the gut flora.
- Taking some time out for yourself and dealing with stress through meditation, exercise or me-time is recommended.
- Also, forgoing sleep is not a good idea. Try to get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep-in on weekends – the gut will be grateful.
Intestinal permeability can be corrected if the gut microbes are set straight. To heal a leaky gut, the easiest way is to turn to supplements, explore the Top 10 Best Supplements for Leaky Gut that are packed with Prebiotics and Probiotics. Gut health will improve in a matter of weeks as supplements can add probiotics in the right doses and most gut supplements have prebiotic fiber to help intestinal permeability regulation. Most supplements will impact gut microbiota and also provide other health benefits like relief from joint pain and better cognition (Better cognition as the gut-brain axis states that the GI tract and the central nervous system influence each other through a network of biochemical signaling).
The medical community does not recognize leaky gut syndrome as a disease but does agree that intestinal permeability may be either the cause or effect of chronic inflammation in the gut caused by a variety of factors. A leaky gut is when the intestinal walls no longer restrict the entry of harmful substances into the bloodstream and cause health problems throughout the body. Mental health may also be affected as a result of this condition.
Symptoms include digestive distresses like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and autoimmune diseases. The widespread inflammation due to a leaky gut can also cause mental health issues, fatigue, skin trouble, joint pain, and cravings.
A leaky gut can be kept at bay with the use of supplements and following a healthy diet and lifestyle. There is a risk factor of the condition worsening so always keep a physician in the loop.