Leaky Gut Syndrome is getting a lot of attention these days – and for good reason. It’s been linked to a range of health issues, from digestive disorders to severe autoimmune conditions.
But is Leaky Gut even a real thing? And if it is, how do you know if you have it?
Let me explain……
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky Gut is medically known as ‘increased intestinal permeability’. It occurs when the walls of your intestine become weak and, well, leaky. This usually happens following inflammation caused by infections or other reactions.
The lining of your gut is designed to be naturally permeable. If you’ve ever strained liquid through a piece of muslin, you’ll know that the bulk of the liquid passes through the muslin while the solid stuff is left behind. This is similar to how your intestines work.
Your intestines are lined with a layer of cells joined together by proteins called tight junctions. Tight junctions are like the ‘glue’ holding your intestinal cells together. They act as a gateway between your gut and your bloodstream. Nutrients are broken down (by your gut microbes) into pieces small enough to pass through your intestinal walls and into your bloodstream. This is how your gut allows essential nutrients to be utilised by your body. Anything that isn’t broken down – or isn’t useful to your body – is kept out.
However, if the ‘glue’ holding your intestinal cells together becomes weak, gaps can form. This allows large pieces of food or other substances to pass straight through into your bloodstream. In fact, anything that enters your body – toxins, antigens, bacteria, fungi – can get into your bloodstream through these gaps.
And that’s where problems can begin!
How Leaky Gut Syndrome progresses
When Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut”, he may have been talking about Leaky Gut Syndrome. This is because many health conditions that affect your whole body can be traced back to your gut.
When your gut lining allows harmful particles to pass into your bloodstream, the consequences can be serious. Most of your immune system resides in your gut, so your immune cells will be the first to see these ‘invaders’ making their way through your body. Your immune cells are programmed to attack anything it doesn’t recognise, so it will launch an attack on these foreign particles.
This attack involves acute inflammation, which can become chronic inflammation if the foreign particles can’t be removed. And chronic inflammation is the root cause of most diseases.
Early signs of Leaky Gut
An unstable or highly permeable gut lining can lead to…
Food allergies and/or sensitivities
Numerous studies have shown that Leaky Gut is a major contributor to food allergies. These reactions are actually your immune system producing a huge amount of antibodies to ‘attack’ the foreign particles entering your bloodstream.
Some of the biggest triggers are antigens in gluten and dairy. In fact, the proteins gluten and gliadin (found in wheat) have been shown to trigger the release of zonulin, a protein made in the body. Because zonulin modulates the tight junctions in the gut lining, higher levels have linked to greater intestinal permeability.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the resulting inflammation can actually worsen your Leaky Gut.
Chronic inflammation and damage to carrier proteins in your gut can lead to deficiencies in a range of vitamins and minerals. The most common deficiencies include iron deficiency, vitamin B12, magnesium, and zinc.
Inflammatory Skin Conditions
Your gut and skin are intimately connected, and any problems with your gut health will usually show up on your skin. Acne, eczema, and psoriasis have all been shown to result from increased intestinal permeability. This is thought to be due to higher penetration of allergens through the skin and to greater sensitivity to allergens.
A malfunctioning gut barrier has been implicated in the development of both irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases. The risk of developing Crohn’s disease is also shown to be higher in those with Leaky Gut.
Chronic conditions linked to Leaky Gut
If left untreated, the above issues can lead to much more serious conditions, including:
- Gastric ulcers
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis)
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Coeliac disease
- Certain cancers
- Frequent infections
- Chronic joint conditions (such as arthritis)
- Thyroid disorders
- Metabolic diseases (fatty liver, Type II diabetes, heart disease)
- Autoimmune disease (lupus, multiple sclerosis, Type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
How to test for Leaky Gut
Testing involves drinking a solution made of sugar, then providing a urine sample. Your urine will then be analysed to show the efficacy of your intestinal absorption. The amount of sugar present in your urine will indicate that molecules are escaping through your gut lining, which will give us an idea of how severe your intestinal permeability is.
If you believe you have the signs and symptoms of Leaky Gut, your best course of action is to see a qualified naturopath – like me. Contact me to discuss how I can help you! In my next blog, I’ll discuss how I treat Leaky Gut Syndrome.