What Is Leaky Gut? Here’s How It Can Create Serious Health Problems
Quite literally, your gut is the epicenter of your mental and physical health.
If you want better immunity, efficient digestion, improved clarity and balance, focus on rebuilding your gut health.
– Kris Carr, author & cancer thriver
Did you know that within the folds of your GI tract you host an entire universe of trillions of gut bacteria?
This is what’s known as your gut microbiome.
Your digestive system needs this gut microbiota (gut flora) in order to properly function.
And since your gut plays such a huge role in regulating mood and emotions, immunity, and even your hormones it’s crucial to ensure you’re doing everything you can to cultivate gut health and digestive intelligence.
The majority of bugs in your gut are beneficial to bodily functions and act as allies.
The science and medical community refer to these ‘good’ bugs as “commensal” bacteria.
Then you have the potentially hostile bacteria that also live in your gut.
When there’s an imbalance or dysbiosis in your gut the ratio of beneficial to harmful bacteria changes, tipping the scales in favor of the harmful.
(Beneficial bacteria can also become harmful and turn against us in some circumstances, by the way.)
This can happen for various reasons – poor and processed diet, excessive antibiotic use, chronic stress, alcohol abuse, etc.
Harmful bacteria create chaos in your insides by attacking your delicately thin gut lining and causing unseen internal inflammation.
This is the beginning of leaky gut – a common but little known obstacle to gut health.
This can create some serious physical and mental health issues if not addressed…
What is a leaky gut?
A leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability) occurs when the lining of your intestines weakens.
Your gut lining is an “inner tube” made up of tightly packed cells.
The rest of your body is protected from the toxic stuff moving through the gut lining because of these tight junctions, which impede these undigested food particles and toxins from “leaking” out of your gut lining and into your bloodstream.
The tightness of your intestinal barrier lining is compromised when dysbiosis (imbalance in the gut) and chronic inflammation are present, leaving more gaps in between where particles can move through.
This creates an overactive immune response. (And keep in mind that about 80% of your immune system is in your gut.)
It’s now becoming more well-known that a leaky gut is at the crux of most digestive disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and IBD (inflammatory bowel disorders) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as well SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth).
What’s more – a leaky gut may very well be contributing to your chronic stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
Alternative medicine and holistic doctors such as Mark Hyman, Doni Wilson, and Joseph Mercola agree:
Most of us (including most doctors) do not recognize or know that digestive problems wreak havoc in the entire body, leading to allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, mood disorders, autism, dementia, cancer, and more.
So having a healthy gut means more than simply being free of annoyances like bloating or heartburn!
It is absolutely central to your health.
It is connected to EVERYTHING that happens in your body.
– Mark Hyman, MD
While leaky gut can cause digestive troubles such as IBS, diarrhea, bloating, heartburn and stomach pain, it is quite possible that you won’t experience any digestive distress at all.
Instead, it is more common to feel worn out, in pain (anywhere in your body), and/or full of worry.
That’s because when the gut is leaky, it is like having tiny holes in your intestinal lining.
Undigested food travels through these holes and into the underlying space where it triggers the immune system to try and protect you by launching an attack on the pieces of food that shouldn’t be there.
This process results in the release of many inflammatory messengers (cytokines and antibodies) that lead to fatigue (even chronic fatigue syndrome), achiness (such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and arthritis), allergies (on the skin like eczema, and in the sinuses and lungs, like asthma), and anxiety (which is known to be caused by inflammation in the nervous system), amongst other issues.”
– Dr. Doni Wilson
Leaky gut is a condition that occurs due to the development of gaps between the cells (enterocytes) that make up the membrane lining your intestinal wall.
These tiny gaps allow substances such as undigested food, bacteria and metabolic wastes, that should be confined to your digestive tract, to escape into your bloodstream — hence the term leaky gut syndrome.
Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a flow of toxic substances “leaking out” into your bloodstream, your body experiences significant increases in inflammation.
Also, your immune system may become confused and begin to attack your own body as if it were an enemy (autoimmunity).
Most often, leaky gut syndrome is associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, but even healthy people can have varying degrees of intestinal permeability leading to a wide variety of health symptoms — and this can be influenced heavily by the foods you choose to eat.
– Dr. Joseph Mercola
Symptoms of leaky gut:
- joint pain
- chronic fatigue
- inflammation anywhere in the body
- anxiety and moodiness
- brain fog
- difficulty focusing
- skin rashes, acne, etc.
- food allergies/ food sensitivities/ food intolerance
6 Tips to give your gut some TLC (tender loving care):
1. Go gluten-free
Whether you’re celiac or gluten-sensitive or not – if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, especially chronically so then you’d yourself a favor to avoid gluten.
Gluten (especially today’s ultra-processed version of it) is extremely inflammatory in your gut.
If you keep consuming it your gut will keep on being inflamed.
2. Increase probiotics
You can start by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria by choosing to incorporate probiotic-rich foods.
Common “good” gut bugs found in many probiotic supplements include:
Here are a few probiotic-rich foods:
– fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi
– apple cider vinegar
– tempeh (fermented soybean)
You can also increase your intake of prebiotic-rich foods.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for your good gut bugs.
- konjac root
- flax seeds
- leafy greens
- jicama root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- chicory root
3. Consume collagen daily
Collagen is rich in amino acids like l-glutamine that the body uses to repair and rebuild the lining of your gut.
This means that your gut barrier can be strengthened so that inflammation can be lowered.
4. Increase healthy fats
Fats that come from high-quality animal products, coconut, nuts, egg yolks, avocados all contain abundant amounts of short-chain fatty acids that act as fuel and food for good gut bugs and are also nourishing to your gut cells.
5. Digestive enzymes
Supplementing with digestive enzymes can help your gut break down the food so its nutrients are better absorbed.
6. Chill the eff out & manage your stress and emotions
Unmanaged chronic stress wreaks havoc on gut health and there is a strong correlation between anxiety and gut disorders.