What is Leaky Gut, and How Do I Fix it?
"Leaky Gut Syndrome" is a popular term for increased intestinal permeability. Your intestinal lining is made up of a single cell layer responsible for allowing nutrients to pass through, but keeping food particles and toxins inside the gut. "Leaky Gut" happens when the tight junction between cells loosens, causing the lining of the intestines to become more permeable or "leaky."
It's important to understand that "Leaky Gut Syndrome" is not a medical diagnosis. This is something the body does in response to certain types of stress. But when it's happening chronically, those extra food particles and toxins floating around in the bloodstream can cause all kind of extra-intestinal symptoms.
Think of the cells like bricks and mortar on your house, if the mortar started to crumble, allowing things from outside into your home, it could cause all sorts of damage.
Why does Leaky Gut happen?
Instead of looking for all the complicated ways to heal your gut start, start by removing the damaging factors so your body can do what it does best and start healing itself.
Here are 6 lifestyle mistakes that can lead to a leaky gut:
1. Low Fibre, High Sugar Diet
Good gut bacteria ferment fibre into short-chain fatty acids that fight inflammation and keep gut lining healthy. If you're not getting enough fibre, there won't be enough fuel for the good bacteria to do their job. Some gut bugs will even munch on your mucosal lining if they aren't getting enough fibre. Feed them or they'll feed on you!
Focus on what to add to your diet, not what to remove. Start by including six cups per day of colourful veggies and fruit to give your body the ingredients it needs for a happy, healthy microbiome and gut lining.
2. Chronic Stress
Stress increases intestinal permeability, independent of what you're eating. You can eat a healthy diet, take the right herbs and supplements, but if you don't deal with the chronic source of stress in your life the problem will still be there.
Stress reduction is truly the best place to start on your gut healing journey! Mindfulness practices are free, journalling is free, and any effort you invest in healing your nervous system will support all the other areas of your health.
3. Skipping Sleep
Sleep deprivation can impact your gut microbiome and increase intestinal permeability, even if you just miss a few hours! Getting insufficient sleep for just one night has impacts on gut health, blood sugar, and hormones.
If you are skipping sleep to prioritize other things in your life (whether it's workouts or Netflix), you're sacrificing every area of your health on a daily basis. Forcing yourself to wake up an hour early for that workout after a late night isn't worth it, no matter what the toxic fitness industry tells you!
4. Popping Pain Killers
Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen increase intestinal permeability for at least 24 hours after they are taken. With very occasional use, this is probably fine. But if you're popping painkillers on a regular basis, your intestinal lining is going to be in that "leaky" state more often which can create a lot of problems.
Pharmaceutical medicine does a great job at prioritizing pain management, which is necessary and helpful for types of pain that can only be managed. However, many types of pain can be prevented by supporting your body to function optimally. For example, healthy periods should not require regular use of pain killers.
5. Alcohol Indulgence
You probably don't need anyone to tell you that alcohol isn't a health-booster. But if you need some incentive to cut back, know that alcohol has negative effects on the gut microbiome and increases intestinal permeability.
I recommend keeping alcohol consumption to occasional intake only, and avoiding it as much as possible. While it's socially acceptable and a huge industry, it is not healthy and has detrimental effects on almost every area of health.
6. Gluten Intake
Even in healthy, non-Celiac individuals, gluten increases intestinal permeability. Some people's gut epithelium is able to recover faster than others, but if leaky gut is a concern you may not want to be eating gluten on a daily basis.
What about digestive issues?
Leaky gut can also happen as a result of impaired digestion, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), parasites, H. pylori, yeast overgrowth, and other digestive issues. Leaky gut is not causing the digestive issues, but rather occurring as a result of the increased inflammation associated with these issues. If making lifestyle changes doesn't result in feeling better, it's time to look closer at what is happening in the gut to contribute.
What are the signs of leaky gut?
When intestinal permeability increases, there is a less stable barrier between the contents of your intestine and your bloodstream. This means particles of undigested food or toxins from bad bacteria can enter the bloodstream.
Because of this, most of the symptoms of leaky gut are extra-intestinal, meaning they occur outside of the gut. Digestive symptoms are not necessarily a sign of intestinal permeability, but more often coincide with the issue.
Here are some common signs associated with leaky gut:
Fatigue, especially after eating
Constipation, bloating, or diarrhea
Skin issues like acne, eczema, or rashes
Remember that many health issues start in the gut, even if you don't notice digestive upset. When undigested food particles and toxins from bacteria get into your blood stream, the immune system will often react to them. This is fine if it happens occasionally, but if it's happening day after day, the effects can add up. Some food particles look similar to your own cells, and this can increase risk of autoimmunity when your immune system ramps up defences.
What can you do if you have leaky gut?
The following are 5 tools you can consider when healing a leaky gut. Remember, it's so important to get to the ROOT cause of why the intestinal lining is compromised. Leaky gut is not the root cause of your digestive issues! These tools are intended to be used after the root cause of the leaky gut has been removed. It is not possible to heal leaky gut without removing the source of the inflammation in the first place.
1. Consume Enough Fiber
Consuming enough fiber helps to keep your microbiome happy and keeps your bowels moving to clear out waste products. Eating enough plant fiber can help to keep inflammation levels at bay by feeding bacteria that help keep your intestinal lining healthy. Prebiotic fibers are especially important here, so make sure you're getting some of those in each day.
See how to boost your fibre intake here.
2. Get Probiotics
Eating foods high in probiotics like yogurt, kefir, and fermented veggies can help support gut health and introduce bacteria that maintain healthy gut lining. Taking a good quality, broad-spectrum probiotic that includes Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains can be helpful for some people. The strain Lactobacillus rhamnous GG in particular has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut, and promote healing of the intestinal lining.
3. Try l-Glutamine
L-glutamine is an amino acid that's been shown to have huge benefits for our gut lining. Glutamine is the primary energy source for the cells that line the gut, and taking it can help to repair intestinal hyperpermeability.
Remember that the root cause of your leaky gut is not l-glutamine deficiency! This should only be taken after the root cause has been addressed, it is not a silver bullet.
4. Get Plenty Zinc
Zinc has the ability to modify the tight junctions, holding the cells of the intestinal lining together. Focus on high zinc foods like oysters and pumpkin seeds or supplement to help heal the intestinal lining, and support a strong, impermeable barrier.
5. Include Gut Healing Herbs
Some herbs can be especially helpful for leaky gut. Here are a few to include:
I hope this guide was helpful but if you feel like you need professional support to dive deeper into the root cause of your leaky gut, I'm here to help! Check out my Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive.