Leaky Gut – Is it a real thing and how do you know if you have it?
By Tanya Jones – Naturopath
Do you have several symptoms that you can’t seem to figure out the cause? It could be leaky gut!
Leaky gut is a common phrase most frequently used by naturopaths and nutritionists, and although there was some doubt of its existence in the past, more and more research is finding that it’s a real phenomenon that can lead to multiple health issues. But before you start thinking you have a giant hole in your stomach lining, leaky gut just means that you have increased intestinal permeability.
In a normal functioning gastrointestinal system, the membrane is lined with tight junctions which, when we eat, open up, becoming more permeable, which allows nutrients to go through to the blood stream underneath. If this permeability increases, or doesn’t close back up, it can lead to leaky gut.
What is leaky gut?
Inside our gastrointestinal tract, we also have all the waste that occurs from digestion, which usually finds its way into the toilet bowl. Although, if you have a leaky gut, these waste products can sometimes find their way through those same tight junctions we transport nutrients through, and into our blood stream. This can lead to inflammation and immune activation, causing a number of symptoms. Unfortunately, in our western world, there are many things that can cause these tight junctions to become more permeable.
What can cause leaky gut?
Without scaring you too much, what doesn’t cause leaky gut? It seems that leaky gut is almost a symptom of our modern world. Some of the top triggers include:
- Stress: acute and chronic psychological stress can increase permeability in humans due to the releasing of hormones which impact the immune system, triggering inflammation and impacting the microbiome.
- Alcohol: one of the most inflammatory things we can intake, alcohol also induces inflammation throughout the gut, changing the function and composition of the microbiome and increasing permeability. Increased permeability is also linked to increased risk of liver disease.
- Medication: Oral oestrogen modifies intestinal permeability and can increase bacteria overgrowth, antibiotics can cause dysbiosis which is associated with barrier dysfunction and pain killers (such as Nurofen and Panadol) can cause stomach and intestinal damage.
- Infection: Infections can trigger inflammation and microbiome disruption within the gut. For example, E. coli has been found to cause intestinal barrier disruption.
- Gluten: Gluten, found in wheat products such as pasta () and bread, can trigger many people, even with known allergy (like in celiac disease). Gluten contains chemicals which alters the intestinal barrier, and triggers an enzyme called ‘zonulin’ which increases permeability.
How do you know if you have it?
A lot of you may have looked at the list above and thought, ‘well, damn, I’m 5 for 5’, but don’t stress, the sooner you start considering it the easier it is to reverse. Sometimes, the permeability can be life-long and could have led to a number of your current symptoms. These include:
- Commonly picking up viral infections: when your gut is more permeable, you’re more likely to pick up infections as it has an easier entry into your blood stream. Unfortunately, this can trigger worsening permeability.
- Allergies: sinus, hayfever, hives, dietary allergies and intolerances – all of these can be triggered by allergens that are coming into the digestive system and into the blood system through the leaky gut. Due to their almost direct absorption into the blood stream, our body starts to recognise them as a threat and repeat exposure triggers our immune system into action.
- Nutrient deficiencies: Leaky gut caused gut inflammation and reduces absorption of nutrients. Have you been diagnosed with or have signs of deficiencies in b12, iron, or zinc? This could be due to leaky gut.
- Autoimmune conditions: Intestinal permeability can lead to immune activation which is linked to autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus in susceptible people.
Do any of these signs & symptoms sound like you? Wanting tips on how to reduce your risk of leaky gut? Book in to see Tanya today:
(Bischoff et al., 2014; Bishehsari et al., 2017; Cardoso-Silva et al., 2019; Fasano, 2012; Feng et al., 2019; Ilchmann-Diounou & Menard, 2020; Kelly et al., 2015; Khalili, 2016; Vanuytsel et al., 2014)
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