Let’s Start From The Gut
A rather ‘hot topic’ in the medical world, let’s talk about what is leaky gut. To start off, we need to understand a simple overview of our digestion. We eat food, and that food travels through our digestive tract, going past the esophagus, our stomach, the small and large intestine, and is later excreted.
Not only does our digestive tract break down the food, but it also helps control which nutrients are absorbed and which are disposed of. Nutrient absorption mostly occurs in the small intestine, where it passes through a barrier known as a tight junction and gets absorbed into the bloodstream. This diffusion past the intestinal lining is where the troubles may lie…
Tight junctions control what gets absorbed through the intestinal walls and what doesn’t, also known as intestinal permeability. When those tight junctions don’t function properly, they allow toxins, bacteria, food, etc., through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. This occurrence is what is known as ‘leaky gut’, or others like to refer to it as ‘intestinal hyperpermeability’ (1).
The reason that ‘leaky gut’ is a topic of discussion is due to the fact that many doctors don’t recognize ‘leaky gut’ as a diagnosis. However, it is seen as an “umbrella” term, meaning there are other diagnoses that need to be made that can possibly stem from ‘leaky gut’ (2). As more and more research is being done on the topic of gut health, medical researchers are trying to bring the term ‘leaky gut’ into the forefront of gut health and medical teachings (1).
What Can Cause Leaky Gut?
While there isn’t a single cause to pinpoint, leaky gut can be a result of several things that may increase your intestinal permeability. Certain causes may be genetic or related to other medical conditions, while other causes are lifestyle choices that can be easily changed.
Lifestyle choices that can lead to a leaky gut include things like our diet, stress levels, narcotic intakes, etc.
Starting off with our diet, high sugar intake has been linked to increased intestinal permeability and poor gut health. These sugars, including sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, damage the intestinal barrier and can cause long-term gut damage (6, 7).
A stress-filled lifestyle can also be detrimental to your gut health and lead to leaky gut. Research done at the University of California San Diego has found that those tight junctions loosen up and create holes when they are under a lot of stress (8). This leads to intestinal hyperpermeability and, thus, a leaky gut.
Another lifestyle choice that can be damaging to your gut is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to tissue damage and improper organ function, particularly in your gut. It can promote increased intestinal inflammation, leading towards a weakened barrier and a leaky gut (9, 10).
Next time you have a slight headache, think twice before picking up some pain relieving medicine, especially if they are NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are over-the-counter pain relief medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc. Frequent use of NSAIDs has been heavily linked to increased intestinal permeability, ultimately leading to a leaky gut (11, 12, 13).
Keeping a healthy diet is crucial to much more than just your gut health. Your gut microbiota is filled with trillions of good bacterial cells, helping with many different health functions. A poorly maintained gut environment can lead to detriments in proper function of your digestive tract. It’s important to have a healthy balance of prebiotics and probiotics in your meals to help prevent a leaky gut.
When it comes to genetic predispositions or medical conditions, these can be much more complicated to treat. Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), causes inflammation of the digestive tract, especially the lining and walls of the intestines. This damage to the intestinal barrier can cause increased intestinal permeability, leading to a leaky gut (3). Also, food allergies like lactose intolerance or celiac disease are immune responses to certain foods that cause inflammation to the intestinal lining. Overtime, this inflammation can damage the structural integrity of the intestinal lining, contributing to a leaky gut (4, 5).
Some Signs of Leaky Gut
There are multiple studies that suggest that leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability) occurs simultaneously with other health detriments (14, 15). However, it’s difficult to pinpoint exact symptoms of leaky gut, as it hasn’t been fully proven that leaky gut is the reason for these certain symptoms. Having said that, there are multiple studies that suggest leaky gut correlates with these other symptoms:
- Autoimmune diseases (16, 22)
- A leaky gut can allow foreign contaminants into the bloodstream, which can trigger our bodies’ natural immune response. Leaky gut can trigger long-term autoimmune diseases, so watch out for any correlation that you may be experiencing.
- Excessive fatigue (17, 24)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, has been correlated with a weakened tight junction barrier. Weakened tight junction barriers are evident in leaky guts, so be mindful if you have been excessively tired for a long period of time.
- Digestive problems like bloating, IBD, constipation, excessive gas, etc. (18, 23, 25)
- Leaky gut can damage of gut health and digestive tract. Leaky gut can be synonymous with certain digestive problems like bloating, constipation, IBD, excessive gas, etc.
- Food allergies (19, 26)
- Inflammation that might be caused from food particles leaking through the gut barrier can cause underlying food allergies. Watch out for new food allergies and see if there are correlations to a leaky gut.
- Joint pains (20, 21)
- Similar to other autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis has been linked to a poor gut microbiota and a leaky gut.
- Hormone imbalances (27, 28)
- Due to increased intestinal permeability from leaky gut, pathogens and foods can alter our gut microbiota and create irregularities in our hormone imbalances. This also correlates with estrogen imbalances, so keep an eye out for any connection there.
Give Your Gut A Hand
Just like your other major organs that work tirelessly everyday, your gut is constantly working. And just like those other organs, it’s important that we take care of it so it can function properly throughout our lives. Our gut is the source of many related functions, and when it’s damaged, we’ve got to do our best to repair it.
A leaky gut can cause us numerous health troubles, ranging from our stomach to our brain itself. When you’re having gut trouble, it’s crucial to try and be able to heal it over time… Let’s learn about what we can do when and how we can try to lead towards a healthier gut in our next article!