Leaky gut syndrome (LGS) is not always recognized as a health condition by the medical community, but many people feel that it is a diagnosis that would explain their experiences. As a result, there is significant ongoing research into the role of the gut and how ‘leaky gut,’ or increased intestinal permeability, could relate to other health conditions and, if so, how it might be treated and managed.
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition of the gastrointestinal system. This is the system whereby food we eat is broken down by the stomach and intestines (or gut) in order for it to be used for fuel and to fulfill the body’s nutritional requirements. The gut is populated with a diverse range of bacteria and other microorganisms – the gut microbiome – which is a crucial part of how we digest food and eliminate waste products that we do not need. The intestinal walls have openings that enable the things we need (water, nutrients) to move into the bloodstream, but they should not allow bacteria or toxins to pass through. In people with leaky gut, the intestinal walls are believed to be ‘leaky,’ i.e., they have bigger gaps or are more permeable, which allows toxins and bacteria from the digestion process to escape and enter the person’s bloodstream. We do not fully understand why this happens, but we do know that it tends to cause a number of unwanted symptoms.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
There are many symptoms associated with this condition, and they can all be common to other diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. LGS is not an accepted diagnosis in the mainstream medical world, and so this leads to conflicting ideas of whether leaky gut should be diagnosed. However, evidence is mounting that the condition may be the cause of a range of symptoms, including the following:
- Diarrhea and/or constipation – either or both alternating.
- Nutrient Malabsorption – sometimes leading to deficiencies of vitamins or minerals
- Bloating and flatulence
- Body aches and/or joint pain
- Skin issues – sensitivity, allergy-type rashes, acne, eczema
- High inflammation markers
- Fatigue or low energy
- Cognitive issues – brain fog, problems with concentration
Leaky gut syndrome is also linked to other health conditions. It is not clear if these conditions are a cause of leaky gut or a consequence of it. Either way, there are associations between conditions that point to a common cause or causative link. These conditions include autoimmune conditions such as lupus, fibromyalgia, arthritis, allergies, asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. Links to other gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, etc.
Who Is At Risk?
There are believed to be a number of risk factors associated with leaky gut syndrome. Diabetics, people who have suffered from infections of the GI system, those with yeast overgrowth, those with a history of autoimmune conditions, and those with poor nutritional intake or high alcohol consumption are more likely to experience the symptoms. Chronic high stress levels also appear to be a risk factor.
Healing the Gut
Dealing with leaky gut syndrome, whether you believe it to be either the cause of illness or a symptom of illness, requires healing of the gut. While there is much scientific interest in investigating the theory of intestinal permeability and trying to establish how best it could be managed and treated, gut-healing is the obvious course of action for those with symptoms. But it is, of course, essential that you consult a trusted medical professional before embarking on any journey that requires significant dietary or lifestyle changes. However, the techniques used to heal the gut are gentle, healthy changes that are likely to benefit most people, even if they do not have gastrointestinal symptoms. Here are some proven ways to help promote gut health:
- Digestive Enzyme Replacement – Available as over-the-counter supplements or prescription enzyme medications. Prescription enzymes contain pancrelipase, a mixture of the digestive enzymes – protease, lipase and amylase. Over-the-counter supplements are not regulated by the FDA so you can never be certain of the exact amount of enzymes they contain.
- Take Probiotics – A probiotic supplement can provide your gut microbiome with reinforcements of good bacteria. This can help restore a healthy balance in the gut and improve many aspects of gut health, from the production of healthy stool to the absorption of nutrients.
- Reduce Sugar and Refined Carbs – Refined carbs and sugar feed the ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, and there is an association between high sugar intake and the symptoms of leaky gut. Blood sugar spikes occur when we eat high sugar and refined carb, and these also have a negative effect on the gut.
- Increase Dietary Fiber – Dietary fiber helps with digestion, feeds the good bacteria, and helps in the production of healthy stool and good digestive transit – keeping things moving in a healthy way. Dietary fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, and pulses. ‘Brown’ or ‘whole grain’ varieties of carbohydrates are also much higher in fiber. A balanced diet with a lot of fresh food is the key to increasing fiber levels.
- Add Fermented Foods – Fermented foods are proven to feed the good gut bacteria and improve the balance of the gut microbiome. Kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut are popular examples of fermented foods that many people find gives them relief from the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
- Reduce Alcohol Intake – Cutting down on alcohol, or cutting it out completely, can help relieve unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms when the gut is given a chance to heal. Alcohol consumption puts pressure on the liver and other organs and affects the absorption of nutrition.
- Avoid Anti-Inflammatory Use – There is a link between the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) commonly used for pain relief and stomach and gut issues. If you take this type of medication regularly and have gastro issues, then speak to your doctor about possibly reducing the dose or finding an alternative.
- Manage Stress – Stress undoubtedly makes gut issues worse. Reducing the impact of stress using stress management techniques such as mindfulness, relaxation, breathing exercise, yoga, or talking therapy can help to calm the body’s physical response to stress, and this, in turn, can help reduce symptoms.