Is leaky gut real? Is repairing leaky gut possible? What is leaky gut? So many questions yet so few answers…at least answers that are easy to understand, right?
The term “leaky gut” has been used more widely over the last several years, as the importance of gut health has taken center stage. You may not be quite sure what leaky gut is or you may already know that you are suffering from it. Either way, let’s explore what leaky gut is, how to know if you have it, and tips for repairing leaky gut.
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What is Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is a condition in which the integrity of the wall of the intestine is compromised or weakened. In simplistic terms, the gut lining is no longer able to keep its microscopic substances confined within the appropriate space, therefore some of the particles leak through the intestinal wall into the blood stream.
Leaky gut can lead to or worsen a wide range of intestinal disorders, including but not limited to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Celiac Disease, and Crohn’s disease, as well as cause systemic inflammation throughout the body.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
One must acknowledge the controversy that exists around leaky gut. It’s a case of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Does leaky gut cause the problem or does the problem cause leaky gut. I don’t necessarily believe leaky gut is a diagnosis per se, rather a symptom and side-effect. Nevertheless, a symptom and side effect that in fact causes more symptoms and side effects.
Research strongly supports intestinal permeability in gastrointestinal related illnesses. Yet, there is growing evidence to support leaky gut in non-gastrointestinal conditions, such as eczema, chronic fatigue, obesity, and mood disorders.
Suggested causes of leaky gut include, but are not limited to:
- Age (Aging naturally increases the risk of intestinal permeability. Some studies suggest an increase in intestinal permeability for individuals over the age of 50.)
- Gut health (dysbiosis or bacterial imbalance)
- Chronic health conditions (Celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes)
- Diet (Standard American Diet)
- Stress (Chronic stress weakens the immune system and gut barrier function)
- Autoimmune disorders (Autoimmune disorders related to leaky gut syndrome and dysbiosis include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, and hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
Leaky Gut Symptoms
Have you ever wondered if you may have leaky gut? Unfortunately, the symptoms associated with leaky gut are not exclusive to this condition. These symptoms may exist with various other health problems and disease states.
If you have several of the symptoms listed below, it would be wise to visit a holistic healthcare practitioner. You may also try implementing some of the natural, holistic strategies listed below and see if you experience relief from your symptoms.
Common symptoms of leaky gut include, but are not limited to:
- Allergic reactions
- Joint and muscle pain or fatigue
- Neuropsychiatric conditions (brain fog, memory issues, problems focusing)
- Chronic Fatigue
- Bloating, gas & other digestive issues (IBD, IBS, Colitis, Crohn’s)
- Skin problems (rashes, allergies, acne, eczema)
- Food sensitivities, intolerance, allergies
Leaky Gut and Mental Health
The gut-brain-axis is a bidirectional pathway that exists between the gut and the brain. I often explain the gut-brain-axis as an internal interstate highway that is transporting essential information back and forth between two very important destinations.
The gastrointestinal microbiota plays an important role in regulating mental and behavioral health, including mood, memory, depression, and anxiety. When the gut microbiome is faced with chronic stress, dysbiosis (imbalance of gut microbiota) can occur, causing the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory substances across the blood-brain barrier. This condition is sometimes referred to as leaky brain.
In contrast, a healthy gut and intestinal wall that is functioning optimally are associated with normal central nervous system function. This article on the gut-brain-axis talks more about the connection between leaky gut and anxiety.
Tips For Repairing Leaky Gut
The goal in repairing leaky gut is to decrease intestinal permeability, restore gut integrity, and decrease inflammation in the gut, which may lead to the resolution of various symptoms. With regards to autoimmune associated leaky gut, interventions targeting the microbiota are emerging as new therapeutic strategies to both prevent and possibly cure autoimmune diseases.
A change in one’s diet should be the first, and most feasible step, in improving leaky gut. Registered Dietitian, Cassie Madsen discusses the importance of food diversity in gut health in this helpful article.
How long does it take to repair leaky gut?
Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer, as there are many factors involved. How long it takes to repair leaky gut will depend on the severity of your personal situation and how dedicated you are to improving it. According to this article by Michelle Hoover, NTP of Unbound Wellness, repairing leaky gut could take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Repairing Leaky Gut Diet Plan
A Mediterranean-style diet is a great starting point. With its abundance of nutrient rich foods, the Mediterranean diet boasts anti-inflammatory properties and an abundance of fiber, B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. This blog post discusses specific details of the Mediterranean diet.
Foods that are beneficial for repairing leaking gut include, but are not limited to:
- Polyphenol-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, seeds cocoa, green tea, berries)
- Probiotic foods (fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha)
- Prebiotic foods (artichoke, green bananas, onions, garlic, apples, leaks)
Other tips for repairing leaky gut include:
- Removal of problematic foods: If you are having significant symptoms, you may need to follow a simple elimination diet. Read more about a simple elimination protocol and download a free symptom tracker journal here.
Individuals with Celiac Disease have an intolerance to dietary gluten and gliadin, which are proteins that are found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats (unless gluten free). These items should be avoided in individuals with Celiac Disease.
Some individuals are gluten sensitive, meaning they can have some, but occasionally it causes discomfort or gastrointestinal distress. Gluten stimulates the production of a substance called Zonulin, which is the protein that is known to increase intestinal permeability in the gastrointestinal tract.
*Items with an asterick are affiliate links. If you order through this link I will earn a small commission at no extra charge to you. Enter the code 32844 for $10 off your first purchase*
Supplements For Repairing Leaky Gut
*Probiotic supplements can often be more therapeutic than food alone because specific strains can be utilized to target certain symptoms and systems throughout the body. Probiotics live in the gastrointestinal tract and provide healthful benefits to our bodies, such as enhanced immune function, improved gut barrier function, and prevention of infectious pathogens.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is well known and one of the best studied probiotic genus and species for treating and/or preventing intestinal disorders. Other important probiotics for treating the gastrointestinal tract include Lactobaccilus plantarum, Bifidobacterium infantis, and Saccharomyces bouldardii.
Synbiotics are probiotic supplements that contain compatible prebiotic components. Pairing probiotics and prebiotics together increases the abundance of good gut bacteria in the gut. This is directly associate with positive health outcomes, because prebiotics feed the good bacteria (probiotics) and help it flourish.
Both Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus help support a balanced microbiota and improved intestinal barrier function. Therefore, these probiotics are especially beneficial when paired together in a synbiotic product.
*This probiotic / prebiotic blend (synbiotic) contains one strain of Bifidobacterium, two strains of Lactobacillus, and their compatible prebiotics. You can see the compatibility chart in the image below.
Is it a relief to know that repairing leaky gut is not only possible, but fairly simple with a little guidance? If you commit to put the right nutrition and supplement interventions in place, you will be well on your way to healing your gut. With healing comes relief, so it is my hope that this will encourage you to try these simple, holistic solutions, rather than suffering for years to come. Don’t forget to download the free resources and check out some of my other blog posts.
The purpose of this information is to inform and empower the reader to make positive lifestyle changes. The intent is not to replace medical advice or instructions given by your doctor or healthcare provider.
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Angela Lewis Lago MS, RDN, LDN is a Registered Dietitian. She specialized in Clinical Nutrition Management , Malnutrition, Gut Health and Mental Wellness. Angela holds a Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.