Many physicians will admit that leaky gut syndrome is a grey area in medicine. This is because, physicians do not have enough knowledge about the gut, which is the biggest organ in the immune system. Research into the gut is gaining prominence but is still very new. For this reason, it is difficult to give a definitive answer when it comes to what leaky gut syndrome is and how to properly diagnose it.
However, most physicians are in agreement that leaky gut syndrome exists and that it is caused by hyper permeability of the intestines. This allows undigested food molecules and other waste particles to enter the bloodstream, which causes a wealth of health issues.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The illustration above essentially describes what happens with leaky gut syndrome.
The gut, inclusive of large and small intestines, is naturally permeable to small molecules. This allows the absorption of water and digested food molecules into the bloodstream. The main work of the cells that line the length of the intestinal wall is to regulate the permeability of molecules. The epithelia are the outer lining of intestinal cells and are connected together by structures referred to as tight junctions. Microvilli are found at the cell tips of these structures and are tasked with absorbing all digested food nutrients into the bloodstream.
When normal digestion occurs, tight junctions remain closed hence forcing all molecules passing through to be effectively screened by mucosa cells. Factors like infections, toxins, sugars, gluten, stress and age can affect the tight junctions found in the lining of intestines causing them to break apart. Once his happens, the gut is said to be leaking and things like microbes, toxins, undigested food particles and bacteria are easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
A 2011 research study published in the Physiological Reviews journal revealed that gluten can trigger the intestinal cells to release zonulin. This is a protein that can break the gut’s tight junctions. The protein is involved in the trafficking of macromolecules in the gut. When this pathway is deregulated, it can trigger various conditions like leaky gut, extra intestinal autoimmune disorders, inflammation and neoplastic disorders.
Naturally, the body is predisposed to immediately remove all foreign bodies from the blood. The liver is the first organ that reacts by screening out foreign bodies from the blood. Eventually, it is easily overwhelmed by the excessive amount of foreign articles that are passing into the bloodstream through the gut. Soon these particles start accumulating in the blood.
The body’s immune system is next to react once the levels of foreign bodies like toxins, pathogens, yeast and other molecules accumulate in the body. When too many foreign bodies pass through the intestines, they are absorbed into body tissues and cause inflammation. This is a natural immune response that is meant to sound the alarm that something is seriously wrong.
Inflammation causes a lot of stress on the body system. Soon, other body functions like filtering blood, calming inflamed tissues, regulating the gut or fighting bacteria start to be ignored as the body strives to fight foreign bodies. This can cause the breakout of many autoimmune diseases like chronic fatigue, ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, MS, IBS, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
After a while, the body begins to rapidly produce antibodies to fight all foreign objects in the blood. These objects can be anything from casein protein found in dairy products to common food chemicals like phenols and glycerin. By now, the body has started producing antibodies for almost all the substances that are leaking into the bloodstream. This causes increased food allergies that were previously not present.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
1. Food Sensitivities
The increased onslaught of toxins and other foreign bodies into the bloodstream causes the immune system to go into overdrive. This causes the increased production of antibodies that are specifically designed to fight all foreign molecules entering the blood system. This causes the body to become highly susceptible to antigens that are commonly found in foods such as gluten and dairy products. As a result, the body becomes increasingly sensitivity to certain foods.
2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Researchers from Hungary found out that elevated intestinal permeability is often localized to the large intestines for people suffering from ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. In a separate study, researchers discovered that patients suffering from Crohn’s disease may be more predisposed to leaky gut syndrome. This suggests that there is a potentially high genetic component at play. Zinc supplementation can help to tighten up intestinal tight junctions for such patients.
3. Autoimmune Diseases
The increased hyperactivity of the body’s immune system is caused by the leakage of foreign bodies into the blood. This leads to various autoimmune diseases like chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, lupus, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis and rheumatic arthritis.
4. Skin Conditions
This includes the breakout of inflammatory skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. Other conditions like eczema and rosacea may also develop. These conditions occur as a result of the body trying to excrete excessive waste through the skin. It is a sign of advanced leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut leads to various nutritional deficiencies like magnesium, vitamin B12 and other important enzymes. This is because of poor absorption of food in the small intestines. To counter these deficiencies, the diet of the victims should be supplemented with live probiotics and multi-vitamins.
6. Digestive Issues
These include bloating, gas, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea. These are directly caused by the abnormal absorption of food molecules in the gut.
7. Other Symptoms
Other symptoms include asthma and seasonal allergies, hormonal imbalances (PCOS and PMS), chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, as well as ADHD.
Foods that Cause Leaky Gut
Since leaky gut occurs in the intestinal walls, it only makes sense that the biggest causative agents are found in foods and drugs that are ingested. Some foods that contribute to leaky gut are refined sugars, wheat, milk casein, NSAIDS, alcohol and processed carbohydrates (candy, sodas, white bread and cookies). Other foods that can potentially cause leaky gut include:
1. Gluten-Rich Products
Gluten is one of the most common causative agent of leaky gut syndrome. This is because it may cause the weakening and breaking apart of tight junctions found in the intestinal walls. This in turn causes hyper permeability. Foods rich in gluten include wheat, barley, rye and any other foods that are made out of these three grains.
2. Certain caffeinated drinks
These drinks irritate the lining of the intestinal walls. Other foods in this category include cocoa, chocolate and soda.
3. Certain Processed and a FEW Fermented Foods
These foods contain harmful chemicals, preservatives and dyes. The gut is made up of many organisms that form a diversified environment of gut flora. Intake of foods and chemicals that affect this environment leads to problems like leaky gut syndrome. Other foods in this category include soy sauce, tofu, vinegar and wine.
However, it should be noted that most fermented foods actually help improve function of the gut.
4. Contaminated Foods
Eating foods that have been contaminated by parasites also causes leaky gut syndrome. These may be pork, hatchery fish and chicken.
5. Antibiotic Drugs
Heavy intake of antibiotics causes an overgrowth of fungi such as yeast in the intestines. When left over time, they often lead to immune suppression and breakage of tight junctions in the intestinal walls.
6.Treated animal products
Ingesting meat and other products from an animal that was treated with antibiotics or injected with hormones may affect normal body functions. Meats that are free of antibiotics may be a bit more expensive but it is worth it. Look for it to say “free of antibiotics” or “not treated with antibiotics” if you are looking for untreated meats.
Foods that Treat and Control Leaky Gut Syndrome
A proper diet is one of the most effective treatments for leaky gut syndrome. This is because the intestinal walls and lining cells are replaced weekly sometimes as early as every three days. This means that once the foods that trigger the breakage of tight junctions are removed from the diet, healing can begin. This is the first step in treating this condition. In addition, a proper diet filled with healthy foods should be introduced to help fast-track the healing process.
Foods to avoid when beginning the healing process include the following:
• Grains like wheat, barley and rye
• Processed sugars
• Unhealthy oils like corn oil
• Dairy products
• Alcohol and caffeinated drinks
• Nuts and seeds
• Egg whites
Once your stomach has healed, you can resume eating some of these foods again.
By removing these foods from the diet, one is able to immediately get relief from inflammation, food sensitivities and other allergic reactions. It also facilitates the process of restoring gut health.
Healthy Foods to Eat To Repair Your Gut
The body needs components and nutrients found in fresh foods to repair and rebuild its tissues. These foods replenish the body with vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals and enzymes needed by the gut to heal. It is important to prioritize lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables while healthy fats strengthen cellular membranes. Common fat sources are avocado and coconut.
As the body heals itself, toxins and other byproducts must be eliminated through the colon. Therefore, one needs to eat plenty of fibers and drink water to help in the elimination of these waste materials quickly and efficiently. High fiber foods includes berries, legumes, whole-kernel grains and green fleshy vegetables. Other healthy foods include:
1. Bone Broth
Bone broth contains collagen and amino acids like glycine, glutamine, gelatin and proline. These help the gut to replace damaged cells and may also subsequently cure several autoimmune diseases. It also fast-tracks the process of healing.
2. Sprouted Seeds
These include flaxseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds. When sprouted, these seeds are a healthy source of fiber that supports growth of bacteria that is beneficial to the body.
3. Raw Cultured Dairy
These dairy products contain SCFAs and probiotics that also heal the gut. They include yoghurt, butter, raw cheese, amasai and pastured kefir.
4. Coconut Products
All the products made from coconuts are good for the gut. They contain MCFAs that are easy to digest compared to other fats and oils. Additionally, coconut kefir contains healthy probiotics that support a vibrant digestive system.
5. Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fats
These are beneficial fats that act as anti-inflammatory agents. They are found in foods like salmon fish, seafood, grass-fed lamb and beef.
6. Fermented Vegetables
Fermented vegetables contain organic acids that essentially balance the intestinal pH and other probiotics that support the gut. Good sources includes kimchi, pickled roots, miso soup, kvass and sauerkraut. Many Asian countries have a vast selection of fermented vegetables for you to choose from—most prominently, Japan and Korea.
It is also important to eat fermentable fibers such as sweet potatoes, yucca and yam.
It is advisable to supplement the nutrients received from fresh foods. This is because even on a healthy diet, many nutrients are lost from the body. Supplements to take include glutamine, digestive enzymes, probiotics, licorice root and quercetin.
Avoiding Stress Is Also Important In Helping
Excessive levels of stress may lead to heightened cortisol levels in the body. This in turn affects the functionality of hormones in the body and proper gut functioning. Avoiding chronic stress helps to alleviate these effects. It is advisable for patients to incorporate activities like hiking, swimming, meditation and socializing into their daily lifestyles. Reducing stress levels and eating healthy will help to reduce and treat leaky gut. It is however recommended that one seeks medical attention if they experience one or more of the symptoms mentioned above.