Understanding leaky gut, causes and treatment

What is the leaky gut?

Digestion begins when the gut (gastrointestinal tract) processes the food that we eat to allow the nutrients to be absorbed by our small intestine. There is an extensive intestinal lining which acts as a barrier to the gastrointestinal tract that controls nutrient absorption and prevents permeability of foreign substances such as toxins or bacteria into the tissues. However, when there is an unhealthy or damaged intestinal lining, it will have cracks which allow the undigested food or bacteria to leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream which is what we identify as leaky gut.

Leaky gut

What causes leaky gut?

Nutrition is one of the main factors that contributes to the alteration of gut microbiome and intestinal barrier function. A poor diet high in saturated fat and low in vitamin D and fibre, stress, medication or infections have been reported to alter the gut microbiota and impair the intestinal lining. When the gut microbiota is out of balance, the bad bacteria will overpopulate and start to wipe out the good bacteria. The expansion of bad bacteria will degrade the intestinal lining and eventually penetrate the lining and leak into the bloodstream along with the food particles and toxins.

Why is the leaky gut a concern?

Recent studies have shown that a leaky gut which allows the entry of microorganisms or antigens into the blood stream can cause inflammation and systemic immune responses. Several health issues such as such as bloating, fatigue, inflammatory bowel disease, mood disorders, autoimmune conditions and diabetes have been associated with intestinal barrier dysfunction.

What are the symptoms of leaky gut?

It is difficult to pinpoint the symptoms of leaky gut because they share many common symptoms with other health conditions. However, some of the most common symptoms of leaky gut are bloating, constipation, fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rashes, inflammation or joint pain.

How to treat leaky gut?

Leaky gut is a fairly new term and it is still under research. Thus, leaky gut is not an official medical condition which is why there is no conventional treatment being established. However, there are many studies to support the correlation between gut health and other various health conditions so by making certain dietary changes will help people to improve their overall gut health.

Dietary tips to improve gut health

  • Consume probiotics and prebiotics. Lactobacillus strains have been found to be able to decrease bacterial overgrowth and restore the integrity of the intestine
  • Eat food that is high in fibre and low in fats. Fibre inhibits the expansion of bad bacteria which can cause the intestinal lining to degrade.
  • Take vitamin supplements, natural if possible. Studies shown that Vitamin D will protect the intestinal permeability
  • Consume food or supplements that are less likely to irritate the gut such as fermented food or blends. Fermented foods not only contain probiotics but are also easy to be digested. It is worth noting that supplements that also have added digestive enzymes are good for the gut as it helps your body to digest and break down nutrients
  • Avoid food that is high in sugar or artificial sweeteners. Diet high in sugar will increase the population of bad bacteria. It will also increase the pro-inflammatory properties that can trigger gut inflammation.
  • Reduce the foods that might cause issues to the gut such as gluten and dairy

Gut health plays an important role in human health and is often overlooked.  A healthy gut communicates with the brain through nerves which is vital our general well and health being. Maintenance of a healthy gut is often a long term commitment and if one of the best kept secrets to a healthy skin. Check out our other article “The gut unlocks your beauty from within” to find out more about the gut-skin axis.

Written by Maeraki team

Reference:

Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017;8:598. Published 2017 May 23. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598

Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019;68(8):1516-1526. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318427

Satokari R. High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria. Nutrients. 2020;12(5):1348. Published 2020 May 8. doi:10.3390/nu12051348