Leaky gut is a condition that impacts the lining of your intestines. When you have leaky gut, gaps form in the intestinal wall, which allows toxins and bacteria to pass through the digestive stream and into the bloodstream. Leaky gut syndrome can cause a plethora of medical issues, including systemic inflammation, decreased immunity, cognitive difficulties, and much more.
In order to better understand leaky gut syndrome, you must understand how gut microbiota can affect gut health. The digestive system is teeming with beneficial and detrimental bacteria. The good bacteria are used by the body to help digest food, support immunity, and protect the intestinal walls.
When the bacteria become imbalanced, it can activate your body’s immune response. When this occurs, you can experience inflammation in the intestinal tract and increased intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability allows substances (partially digested food particles, bacteria, and toxins) to seep out of your intestines and enter your bloodstream.
Causes of Leaky Gut
Although the exact cause of leaky gut syndrome remains unknown, there are several risk factors that can cause an imbalance of the bacteria in your intestinal tract. The intestinal tract has microscopic holes that act as filters, enabling certain substances to pass through the intestines and enter the bloodstream. Your intestines prevent larger food particles and harmful substances from entering the bloodstream, causing damage to your health. Below are some of the main causes for leaky gut syndrome:
- Alcohol Consumption – Drinking too much alcohol can lead to leaky gut. Alcohol damages the cells in the intestines and causes improper functioning of the intestinal wall.
- Bacterial Imbalance – A bacterial imbalance in the intestinal tract occurs when the bad bacteria in your intestines outnumber the beneficial bacteria. When this occurs, inflammation in the intestinal tract occurs, tight junctions in the intestines become loosened, and intestinal permeability increases.
- Chronic Inflammation – Chronic inflammation causes damage to the intestinal tract and can lead to leaky gut.
- Diet – Eating a diet filled with inflammatory foods (gluten, refined grains, GMO foods, and dairy products (especially if you are lactose intolerant) can increase inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Nutritional Deficiencies – Nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc can cause leaky gut syndrome.
- Stress – Stress weakens the immune system and inhibits the body’s ability to eliminate bad bacteria and viruses, which can loosen the tight junctions in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Toxins – Our world is filled with millions of toxic chemicals and other substances that can damage the body. Some of the most common toxic substances include pesticides, herbicides, NSAIDs, pollution, antibiotics, medications, and tap water.
- Yeast Overgrowth – An overgrowth of yeast can increase the risk of leaky gut.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome causes a number of symptoms that can occur throughout the body. The following is a list of the most common symptoms.
- Autoimmune Diseases – Leaky gut syndrome can cause a plethora of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly begins attacking healthy cells and tissues. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases associated with leaky gut syndrome include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
- Chronic Headaches or Migraines – Leaky gut syndrome causes an inflammatory immune response. When inflammatory cytokines are released, it can trigger pain receptors in the brain, resulting in an increased risk of chronic headaches and migraines. In addition to this, the toxins that enter the bloodstream can reach your brain, causing headaches.
- Digestive Issues – Leaky gut syndrome can cause a variety of digestive issues, including diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, causes changes in your stool appearance and bowel movements. You may experience heartburn, appetite loss, gas, bloating, stomach cramps, and alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation.
- Fatigue – Leaky gut syndrome has been associated with increased fatigue. When the body cannot properly digest foods, you will experience nutritional deficiencies and illnesses that can cause fatigue. Furthermore, individuals who are suffering from leaky gut syndrome are at an increased risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.
- Food Intolerances or Food Allergies – Food sensitivities, including intolerances and allergies, are often experienced by individuals who have leaky gut syndrome. It results in inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and can lead to food sensitivities. Some of the most common food sensitivities include corn, dairy, eggs, gluten, nightshade vegetables (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, etc.), peanuts, and soy.
- Hormone Issues – The state of your digestive tract impact almost all physiological processes in the body, including hormone production. The bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract activate and eliminate different hormones. When your hormones are imbalanced, it can impact the function of your hormones and your hormone levels. Individuals suffering from leaky gut often experience PMS, PCOS, ED, and many other hormone imbalances.
- Joint Pain or Arthritis – Leaky gut causes swelling and inflammation in your joints, which can cause joint pain and even arthritis. Furthermore, individuals who are suffering from leaky gut syndrome are at an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the structure of your joints, leading to bone and joint pain.
- Memory Issues or Brain Fog – Leaky gut syndrome allows toxins and bad bacteria to cross the blood brain barrier. When this occurs, it can cause inflammation in the brain and cause a variety of cognitive issues, including memory loss and brain fog.
- Mental Health Issues – Individuals experiencing leaky gut can experience a variety of mental health conditions, including ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and mood swings. The body contains a neural pathway that runs between the brain and the digestive system. Approximately 90 percent of your serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. If your digestive tract is not functioning properly, it can impact your mental health and lead to a number of mood disorders.
- Nutritional Deficiencies – Leaky gut syndrome prevents the body from properly digesting your foods and absorbing key nutrients. When this occurs, many people may need to take a digestive enzyme supplement to help ensure they can digest their foods. In addition to this, you may need a high quality multivitamin, magnesium, and a vitamin B12 supplement to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs for optimal health.
- Skin Conditions – Leaky gut syndrome causes inflammation throughout the body, including your skin. Many sufferers experience a variety of skin issues such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. Improving the health of your digestive tract will also improve the health of your skin, leading to clear, beautiful skin.
- Thyroid Problems – Systemic inflammation caused by leaky gut syndrome can affect your thyroid gland, leading to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that causes low thyroid function. Low thyroid function decreases metabolism, causes weight gain, increases fatigue levels, and impacts mood, which can lead to depression.
- Weakened Immune System – Leaky gut syndrome impacts the delicate balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have shown that most of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract and the gut microbiota can impact immunity. When the bacteria in the digestive tract becomes imbalanced, inflammation and decreased immunity occur.
Leaky Gut Treatment Options
Leaky gut syndrome causes a number of symptoms that can impact your overall quality of life. Your digestion can become altered, you may experience food sensitivities, your mental health can be impacted, you may have difficulty losing weight, and your immune system can become weakened, which can increase your risk of illness. Over time, leaky gut syndrome can lead to a number of chronic diseases, including autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
There are several things you can do to improve your intestinal tract and heal your leaky gut. First, ensure you are eating whole foods and reduce processed foods. Getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day and getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night can help improve your digestion, balance the microbiota in the gut and restore digestive function. Reduce your stress levels, avoid toxin exposure, and stop smoking.
Our gut health program embraces integrative health protocols. Our team of functional medicine doctors understand that the digestive system is complex and affects all aspects of your health. When the gut is not healthy, the rest of your body becomes unhealthy, and a host of health issues can occur.