Leaky gut syndrome is a fantastic and unnecessarily descriptive name for a disease, isn’t it? Leak. Gut. Those two little words provide all the information you need to be sure that, if you have it, you most definitely want to heal your leaky gut syndrome. Nothing that links the implied uncontrollability of the term leak with anything having to do with a bathroom can be good. Is leaky gut syndrome really as bad as it sounds? Yes. Possibly even worse because it does not, as the name implies, affect only your gut health.
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition caused by unhealthy molecules (from food, bacteria, viruses or parasites) making it through the walls of your intestine, into your body. Since these molecules don’t belong in your body, they make you sick, resulting in a “syndrome” of symptoms.
There is some debate in the medical community if “leaky gut syndrome”, should be considered its own disorder. And, as of now, leaky gut syndrome is not considered an official diagnosis.
Though leaky gut syndrome has not yet been granted “official disease status”, there is ample evidence that the human gut can become leaky and let dangerous molecules into the body and that these molecules contribute to the development of recognized conditions, like obesity, diabetes and allergies.
Whether researchers and doctors decide to offer leaky gut syndrome “stand-alone disease” status or not, the fact that this pathway exists (leaky gut → dangerous molecules in the body → diseases) means that, for all practical purposes, leaky gut syndrome is, in fact, a real phenomenon.
How does leaky gut syndrome develop?
In a healthy, non-leaky gut, your intestinal cells and your healthy gut bacteria work together in perfect harmony to make sure nothing can get into your body from your food except the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy.
Normally, your intestinal cells are bound tightly together by proteins to create a seamless wall. This wall has special channels built into it that only allow specific nutrients to move through them, and into your body, and keeps everything else out.
This system is kept running smoothly by your healthy gut bacteria, which work as a kind of maintenance or construction crew, making sure the proteins are holding perfectly and that the channels can open and close as they should. It really works a lot like building the walls of a brick house. Each wall is made up of thousands of individual bricks held tightly together by mortar. Doors are built into the walls only letting people in who are supposed to get in — people who live there and have a key — while everybody else is kept out!
Now, if your gut bacteria become unhealthy (a state called gut dysbiosis by doctors and scientists), they can’t do their maintenance jobs correctly! Just like a building that is not properly maintained and repaired, a poorly maintained intestinal wall will slowly fall apart. Without healthy gut bacteria, the proteins that should be holding your intestinal cells together weaken and break down. Without strong mortar, holes form between your cells. Once holes have formed, molecules that can’t get through one of the built-in channels, such as toxins from viruses and bacteria, are able to slip through the holes, into your body. These toxic molecules then wreak havoc on your health, causing a whole host of symptoms throughout your entire body.
The symptoms of leaky gut syndrome tend to be vague. They are often overlooked or even misattributed to other diseases by both individuals and doctors. If you are aware of possible symptoms, however, you may be able to identify a leaky gut earlier, helping you heal it! Some early signs that you may have a leaky gut can include:
Being heavier than average
Having a body weight that lays outside the ideal range for your height and frame size may indicate that you have a leaky gut. This is because unhealthy gut bacteria can cause you to gain weight.
Your gut bacteria, especially in the colon, are able to turn non-digestible food components, like fiber, into molecules you can use for energy. Unhealthy gut bacteria are able to do this at faster rates than healthy gut bacteria, meaning you get hundreds of calories more eating the exact same meal. This, naturally, promotes weight gain.
Some of the toxic molecules that are able to enter your body through a leaky gut also make it more difficult for your metabolism to handle extra calories coming in from your unhealthy gut bacteria, further promoting weight gain.
Being frequently bloated
Bloating has been found to be the most common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, a gut condition strongly associated with dysbiosis and the development of a leaky gut. The bloating is believed to be caused by an overgrowth of unhealthy gut bacteria which can only occur when your healthy gut bacteria are unwell.
Being regularly constipated
Constipation occurs when food moves too slowly through your intestine. This can occur for a number of reasons, but a common one is changes in the way the walls of your intestine move. Normally, the walls of your intestine contract in coordinated waves. If these waves become uncoordinated, food may not be pushed through your gut properly, getting stuck inside you!
Healthy gut bacteria send signals to the nerves in your intestinal walls, helping them fire properly, keeping the waves of muscle contractions perfectly coordinated. Developing dysbiosis can cause you to lose these signals, causing constipation!
Being on the path to diabetes
Studies show that loss of healthy gut bacteria occurs at the very beginning stages of developing diabetes. In fact, dysbiosis could be identified in individuals before even the onset of prediabetes — the very first sign you might eventually develop diabetes.
Suffering from asthma
Healthy gut bacteria help your immune system stay calm, preventing immune-driven conditions, such as asthma. Evidence suggests the loss of healthy gut bacteria contributes to the development of asthma symptoms.
Experiencing frequent mood swings
Your healthy gut bacteria help boost your mood and keep you happy. They send signals to your brain to keep your brain cells functioning optimally and your levels of happiness hormones high. Without healthy gut bacteria, you may experience severe mood swings or symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Having adult acne
Gut bacteria help regulate the levels of fat that get into your bloodstream. Elevated levels of fat in your blood may boost the production of oil from your sweat glands in your skin and excess oil production in your skin can promote acne formation.
Having difficulty remembering things
We mentioned above that healthy gut bacteria affect your mood by regulating brain function. Studies indicate that the influence of your gut bacteria on your brain is not limited to the regulation of your mood centers, but can also influence your ability to think and remember as well. Elegant studies on mice show that causing poor gut bacteria health can directly impair your memory.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should seriously consider addressing your gut health as soon as possible. Without proper treatment, your leaky gut symptoms may progress to extremely dangerous and debilitating conditions, such as:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke)
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Mental illnesses
- Life-threatening infections
Healing Your Leaky Gut Syndrome
Luckily, scientists and doctors believe that once identified, a leaky gut can be treated with a few, simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, helping heal the syndrome before it can progress to serious, life-threatening consequences.
Based on the current scientific evidence, here are 4 of the simplest, most effective steps you can take to correct dysbiosis and allowing you to heal your leaky gut naturally.
There are a variety of environmental and lifestyle factors that can be extremely damaging to the health of your gut bacteria. Avoiding factors that are driving your dysbiosis is essential to allowing restoration of normal, healthy ratios of gut bacteria and heal your leaky gut syndrome.
Exposure to cigarette smoke has been shown to be able to cause unhealthy changes in your gut bacteria. If you have leaky gut syndrome and smoke, you should stop immediately. As long as you smoke, your gut bacteria will be fighting an uphill battle to try to keep the wall of your intestine intact!
Physical activity is necessary to keep optimal levels of healthy gut bacteria. Not getting enough physical activity can make it difficult to avoid developing dysbiosis and a leaky gut. If you have symptoms of a leaky gut and currently do not meet the recommended minimum amount daily exercise (at least 30 minutes a day of exercise, with at least 2 days of resistance training exercises), you should begin increasing your physical activity! Choosing an exercise routine you like and can stick to long-term is key in giving your gut time to properly heal and to prevent your dysbiosis from returning.
Poor Sleep Habits
Your sleep habits strongly affect the ability of your immune system to function properly. Hormones that control your immune system are released by your brain during your daily 24-hour wake-sleep cycle. If you are not getting full nights of good quality sleep (i.e., going to bed when you are tired and raising when you wake naturally in the morning) the levels of these hormones may become imbalanced, causing your immune system to malfunction. It may begin recognizing your normal, healthy gut bacteria as dangerous and begin attacking them as if they were infectious bacteria! This can make it harder to keep normal levels of healthy bacteria in your gut!
Making sure to get a full 7-9 hours of sleep each night can help ensure that your immune system is not attacking your healthy gut bacteria and contributing to your leaky gut!
Gut-bacteria Damaging Medications
Some medications, including antibiotics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), have been shown to kill your healthy gut bacteria, boost the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria, or both. Decreasing your use of these drugs as much as possible (with the approval of your doctor!) can help your gut bacteria regain a healthy balance, helping heal your leaky gut.
Exposure to Pesticides, Disinfectants, and Detergents
There is evidence that some pesticides, such as imazilil and propomacarb, may be able to damage the health of your gut bacteria. If you have a leaky gut, you may want to avoid produce treated with these and similar chemicals, perhaps opting for organic produce.
Other commonly used industrial chemicals, such as industrial disinfectants and detergents used in many public places (restaurants, athletic arenas, playgrounds, factories) may be able to induce dysbiosis as well. Avoiding these chemicals entirely may be extremely difficult, but you may benefit from avoiding handling them directly yourself.
The modern western diet contains foods that are extremely damaging to your healthy gut bacteria. Avoiding gut damaging foods that promote dysbiosis is important for allowing your gut to heal! If you have a leaky gut, you should consider reducing or eliminating the following foods from your diet:
Processed foods contain highly processed ingredients and industrially produced chemicals that have been shown to be able to promote dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome.
Fried foods contain toxins that can kill off your healthy gut bacteria.Avoiding fried food and these toxic compounds can help heal your leaky gut syndrome.
Drinking alcohol can significantly change the health of your gut bacteria. If you have leaky gut syndrome, you may want to consider reducing or eliminating alcohol from your diet until your symptoms have abated.
Specific types of fat found in only milk and milk products are able to increase your liver’s production of a special type of bile acid, called taurine-conjugated bile acid. These bile acids promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria, promoting dysbiosis.
For about 8% of the population, gluten, a protein found in wheat products, can induce leaky gut syndrome. This includes people with celiac disease (an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten), and those with what doctors call non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Though it may not help everyone with a leaky gut, removing gluten from your diet may improve your symptoms, helping your leaky gut heal.
Once you’ve removed damaging lifestyle factors and foods that had been promoting dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome, you can speed the healing process by adding gut healthy foods to your diet. These include:
Healthy gut bacteria use fiber for nutrients and fuel, helping them grow and thrive. Though all plant-foods (and only plant-foods!) contain fiber, some are richer sources than others. Excellent sources of fiber to include in your daily diet to help heal your leaky gut syndrome include:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Cruciferous vegetables
Non-dairy Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut contain healthy gut bacteria that can set up new colonies of healthy bacteria in your intestines, helping reverse dysbiosis and heal your leaky gut syndrome.
Since the toxins that get into your intestinal wall can cause inflammation and inflammatory damage, eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties can help minimize your symptoms and help your gut wall heal.
Anti-inflammatory foods that may be helpful include:
- Chia seeds and flax seeds (rich in omega-3 fatty acids)
If you want to improve your gut health even faster, than by simply adding the gut health-promoting foods to your diet, you may want to consider taking a prebiotic supplement, probiotic supplement, or both. We recommend Benefiber Fiber Supplement and Culturelle Digestive Health Probiotic.
Prebiotic supplements contain purified, non-digestible fiber (usually some form of inulin or oligofructose) that your healthy gut bacteria can use for food and fuel. Strong, well-fed healthy gut bacteria can grow, pushing unhealthy gut bacteria out, helping you to heal your leaky gut syndrome.
Probiotic supplements contain purified strains of healthy human gut bacteria, usually a species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria. These bacteria can set up new, healthy colonies in your intestines, helping replace lost healthy bacteria and reverse dysbiosis. Regular intake of probiotics may be able to help you heal your leaky gut syndrome.
Try Culturelle Digestive Health Probiotic for a natural source of Lactobacillus GG.
Take Home Message
Having leaky gut syndrome can put you at serious risk for developing many serious conditions, ranging from infections to diabetes, cancer and heart attacks. Luckily, if you catch it early, you can heal your leaky gut syndrome with 4 simple dietary and lifestyle changes.
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