In my opinion, the name itself is a little misleading: Leaky Gut Syndrome.
It’s true that the problem first erupts in the gut. It’s true that this syndrome involves ‘leaks’ in your gut lining.
But it’s not true that the syndrome just stays in the gut. As you’re about to find out, leaky gut syndrome can cause a cascade of other issues, ranging from allergies to autism. Luckily, there’s lots we can do to fix it!
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Put simply, the gut and all the connecting tissues from our mouth to the anus is a tube. The role of this tube is twofold; to extract nutrients and energy from the food we eat and expel waste.
From a medical perspective, this tube is technically considered to be outside the body. It sounds crazy, I know! But if you think about it, this tube is the gateway for external things such as food and water to enter our internal environment (i.e. the bloodstream).
The lining of our gut is a crucial barrier that controls what goes into our bloodstream. While we do want to absorb the goodness from our food, we don’t want to absorb waste, toxins and bad bacteria. The lining of our gut is designed to let through the good stuff and prevent us from absorbing anything potentially harmful.
As such, the lining of our gut involves complex physiological systems of defense. Firstly, the cells which line our gut are designed to be tightly packed together, in order to prevent large molecules from squeezing through before they have been digested and broken down. Furthermore, up to 75% of our immune cells are stationed near our gut wall, to act as further guards against unwanted intrusions into our bloodstream.
In Leaky Gut Syndrome, a few aspects of the defense system in our gut break down. Firstly, inflammation in the intestines can damage the cells that line our gut, essentially making the lining more permeable. (It’s a bit like pricking small holes in your garden hose!) Secondly, the immune cells in the gut wall tend to work less effectively. Rogue substances are therefore able to enter your bloodstream, such as proteins, food particles, toxins and bad bacteria.
However, our body still has a few tricks up its sleeve! The bloodstream is filled with immune cells that locate foreign invaders and disable them. So when foreign substances unwittingly leak across the gut and into the blood where they don’t belong, the immune system mounts an inflammatory response that is designed to disarm these potentially harmful particles.
You’ve seen this in action with your very own eyes! Think of when you are stung by a bee and a swollen patch of skin breaks out. This is your immune system working its magic to disarm any harmful chemicals from the bee sting and bring blood to the assaulted tissues for healing.
Inflammation from an acute injury (like a bee sting) is helpful and healthy. It’s when we are chronically inflamed that things can go wrong.
Leaky gut syndrome is believed to cause chronic, low-grade inflammation. This is because the immune system is constantly fighting those particles from the gut that aren’t meant to make it through to the bloodstream. Systemic, chronic inflammation of this nature is associated with a higher risk of getting the following conditions:
- Certain immune disorders and thyroid issues,
- Food intolerances,
- Joint pain and arthritis,
- Anxiety, depression and other mood disorders,
- Skin breakouts and rashes,
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s Disease,
- Frequent colds and infections.
How Can I Tell If I Have A Leaky Gut?
Leaky Gut Syndrome is not widely recognized by the medical community, so getting a sound diagnosis can be hard. First and foremost I would recommend seeking out an integrated practitioner, preferably somebody with additional expertise or special interest in this area.
There are many symptoms that can red flag Leaky Gut Syndrome and not all have to do with digestive issues! If you are suffering from any of the ailments listed above, I would seriously consider investigating your gut health.
How To Treat Leaky Gut Syndrome
With over 100 trillion bacteria inhabiting the average human gut, we all have a unique microbiome. In fact, even identical twins have different patterns of gut bacteria and as a living, organic biomass, the environment of our gut is constantly changing.
This means that everybody’s gut health is going to be unique and what works for you might not be right for somebody else. Also, gut health research is really in its infancy and we have a looooong way to go before understanding how it all works!
As always, I really encourage working with a good integrated health practitioner to get the bottom of things for you. But here are 10 easy steps to get you going:
1. Try A High-Strength Probiotic
One of the best ways to reduce the bad bacteria in your gut is to crowd them out with the good! A great way to do this is with a high-quality probiotic supplement. Some people do well with up to 50 billion units per day - check the bottle for dosage though.
Furthermore, probiotics have been shown to help seal the cellular junctions that line your gut wall. In other words, probiotics can help to reverse the ‘leaks’ in your gut!
(You can also get your gut microbiome tested to really see what state your microflora is in!)
2. Eat Fermented Foods
When we eat fermented foods, our gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as butyrate, acetate and propionate.
Now here’s the super cool part: Immune cells along the lining of our gut contain receptors for SCFAs! This is compelling evidence that the activity of our gut bacteria can directly impact and interact with our immune system.
SCFAs are also used to make colonocytes (the cells that line our gut). This helps to preserve the integrity of our gut wall and prevent any nasties from escaping into the bloodstream.
3. Get More Gut-Loving Beauty Sleep!
Looking for an easy way to get your health into better shape? Start by getting more sleep!
Now I know that getting enough sleep can be a lot easier said than done. There are many factors which play upon what time we make it to bed and insomnia affects a huge part of our population.
However, not getting enough sleep won’t just make you tired and grumpy. It actually affects your gut health. The research shows that sleep deprivation suppresses your good bacteria while increasing levels bad bacteria in your gut, contributing to Leaky Gut Syndrome. All the more reason to get your recommended eight hours of Zzz’s!
4. Stress Less
Anything that makes us feel rotten is likely to negatively impact our gut microflora, too. Stress has been shown to reduce the ‘friendly’ bacteria populations in our gut, while simultaneously helping the bad guys to proliferate.
Furthermore, stress strangles our immune system and gives us a lower chance of fighting off bad bacteria and viruses.
There are many ways to tackle stress, from starting meditation to getting an endorphin hit from a workout. Get more stress-reducing inspiration here.
5. Stick To Sprouted Grains (Preferably Low Or Gluten-Free Varieties)
Grains naturally contain nutrient blockers such as phytates and lectins. These compounds are designed to protect plants from attack while they grow and develop. However, this also makes it harder for our systems to digest them.
Sprouting or fermenting grains reduces the levels of these nutrient blockers and alleviates digestive strain. Some evidence also suggests that low or gluten-free grains may be a healthier option when you are treating leaky gut syndrome. Find out how to soak your own grains at home here.
The best gluten-free organic grains to sprout include:
- Brown rice
6. Drink Pure Filtered Water
Chlorine and other additives are mixed through our water supply to kill off any potentially pathogenic bacteria that may be lurking within. The trouble is, when we drink this chemically-treated water, it also strips that good bacteria in our gut.
I recommend sourcing pure, unfluoridated water for optimal gut health and especially when you are treating leaky gut. I use a high-quality reverse osmosis filtration system at home - it’s the gold standard for water filters!
7. Cut Back On Sugar
Processed sugar is like rocket fuel to the bad bacteria in your gut; they love the stuff. Sugar helps bad bacteria and yeasts to thrive and proliferate, leading to more damage in your gut.
As the bad bacteria increase in numbers, they release substances called exotoxins. These exotoxins attack the healthy cells along the lining of your gut and cause further intestinal permeability. (I.e. Leaky gut!)
8. Detoxify Your Home (And Produce)
Did you know that the average person encounters more than 80,000 chemicals every year? There’s no way to fully account for what that’s doing to our health. However, there is enough research to show that it could be wreaking havoc on our gut.
Think about what the toxins that we spray on non-organic produce or clean our homes with are actually designed to do... kill bacteria! Unfortunately, these chemicals don’t discriminate between good and bad bugs, and simply wipe the lot out.
As a great starting point, try eating more organic food and choosing ‘green’ cleaning products. Your gut health will thank you for it!
9. Consume Organic, Grass-Fed And Pasture-Raised Bone Broth
Firstly, eating free-range, grass-fed animal products isn’t just a matter of ethical animal husbandry; it also affects our health.
When animals are able to roam freely outdoors and are naturally exposed to cold temperature fluctuations, they produce higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect in our body!
So when it comes to soothing and nourishing the gut, a cup of organic, grass-fed bone broth, or supplemental collagen is a powerful tool in supporting the repair of your gut lining and providing key, easily digestible nutrients to support healing and general wellness.