A "leaky gut" is often dismissed by the medical profession and yet thousands of research papers can be found linking it to symptoms like fatigue, acne, brain fog, digestive complaints, depression, anxiety and allergies. Could you be secretly suffering from this condition?
Below I'll answer these common questions...
What actually is a leaky gut? What are the underlying causes? Plus, what are the long term consequences to your health if you continue to have a leaky gut?
So, what is a leaky gut?
Between every cell in the gut lining is a pore like structure called a tight junction. These tiny pores open to release nutrients from the gut into the blood stream or close to contain the food mix & any ingested toxins as it passes through the digestive tract.
It is an important selective or semi-permeable barrier between the external and internal environment.
However, if the tight junctions open too wide, toxins, undigested food particles and disease producing microbes or pathogens can enter the blood stream.
In this situation, the gut lining has become too permeable, or "leaky". A leaky gut is also known as intestinal hyper-permeability.
What causes a "leaky" gut?
Nutrient deficiencies - such as zinc, omega 3s, vitamin D, Vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium which help maintain gut integrity.
Food sensitivities, allergies & intolerances - commonly gluten, dairy and soy.
Medications - such as Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs), broad spectrum anti-biotics, oral contraceptives, and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs - like Losec & Omeprazole for GERD / acid reflux).
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Exposure to toxic chemicals
Excessive sugar intake
Fungal or yeast infections eg. candida
Dysbiosis - an imbalance in the gut microflora (usually due to one or more of the above).
Small intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Maldigestion - such as low stomach acid and pancreatic insufficiency
Extreme physical stress or over-exercise
Certain diseases or disorders - such as pancreatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic hepatitis, Crohns disease, cancer, psoriasis, coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis.
How does a leaky gut impact your health?
If toxins, disease-producing pathogens (like viruses and parasites) and undigested food proteins are given easy access to the bloodstream by way of a "leaky" gut, this causes an immune and inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases.
The body's immune cells in the blood hunt out the foreign material in an attempt to kill & destroy. Inflammatory cells & toxic byproducts are increased during this process, which puts an additional burden on the liver, the body's blood cleansing organ.
When a total load of foreign material is increased for a prolonged period, the immune system can become hyperactive, and a hyper-immune state can follow. With an over-stimulated immune system, confusion can occur and the immune system can begin to attack the cells of the body as if they were invaders. This is how certain autoimmune diseases may occur in genetically susceptible people.
With prolonged gut damage and inflammation, the ability to absorb nutrients from our food is also affected. This puts us at risk of malnutrition and disease, and further gut issues due to having insufficient nutrients needed for growth, healing and repair.
Our body's ability to fight infection is also compromised with a leaky gut, adding to the body's burden.
What conditions are linked to intestinal hyper-permeability?
Autistic spectrum disorder
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Food allergies and intolerances
Inflammatory bowel disease
Joint and collagen problems
Compromised liver function
Multiple chemical sensitivities
Skin disorders ranging from urticaria to acne and dermatitis
Mental health disorders – toxic load on the system appears to affect neurotransmitter production and specific allergies may directly affect the nervous system.
A leaky gut is not a disease itself, but a normal process gone awry, which can lead to disease. It should always be considered as an underlying factor when addressing ANY disease or condition. The health of your gut doesn't just affect your digestion, but your mood, sleep, immunity, hormonal health, skin health, heart health and so much more.
Interested in learning more about gut health & gut healing? Join me in The IBS & Gut Healing Facebook Support Group here.
Dr Georgina Compton
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner & Chiropractor