Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is linked to a whole bunch of common health complaints that we tend to just put up with or accept as being normal for my body. It has been linked to food intolerance's, acne and skin conditions, allergies and hay fever, asthma, fatigue and thyroid conditions. In addition to this, it can be associated with digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome(1). Clearly, it is very possible that you, or someone close to you, is suffering from leaky gut.
How is this possible?
To understand how leaky gut may be at the root of your symptoms, you need to know a bit about the gut. Our gut has many roles including digestion and nutrient absorption, and is an important protective barrier that monitors our internal and external environment. It also plays a massive part in the function of our immune system. For example, did you know that about 75% of our immune cells live there(2)? It also has an intimate relationship with our nervous system. Have your ever noticed that when you feel stressed or anxious, you may experience a change in bowel movements? Nervous tummy anyone?
Why do we get leaky gut?
In a healthy gut, our gut wall cells are triggered to open up and absorb good things like nutrients and keep our bad bugs and toxins out. Our digestive system is always getting triggered to open up and close but can usually keep a happy balance and recover from any minor insults. When the gut is in contact with nasty triggers like medications, parasites, chemicals and certain foods, it’s ability to close up starts to struggle. If exposure is for a short time, the barrier can return to normal, however if these stressors continue, this barrier is strained. Then the immune system, which lies beneath the gut lining, becomes overwhelmed. It loses sense of what is self and what is a potential allergen, toxin or baddie. This dysfunction starts to cause trouble to the point of developing autoimmune conditions. Remember all the conditions mentioned at the start? Yes, the gut connection is real(3)!
What can I do about leaky gut?
Gut health and gut healing can be a tricky, especially if other conditions are present. A great place start would be:
Probiotics help with leaky gut because of their beneficial role in supporting the immune system in the gut wall. This is evidence of their support in a vast array of health conditions. It’s so important to understand that not all probiotics are the same and this is where clinical expertise can really help. If you react to fermented foods (a good source of probiotics) or probiotic supplements something else maybe going on including histamine intolerance. This is why it is helpful to work with someone experienced in treating gut issues(4).
2. High fibre foods
After putting in all the good bugs into our system, we need to feed them. High fibre foods really means a vegetable rich diet. Great fermentable foods include sweet potato, lentils, pumpkin leek, garlic, asparagus, onion. Think high FODMAP foods. Delicious(5)!
3. Reduce aggravating factors
We don’t want to keep giving our gut triggers that upset inflammation and immune function. Our body needs the time and environment to heal. This means limit alcohol, gluten, eat organic where possible and get rid of refined carbohydrates and sugar… put down the donut(6)!
4. Manage stress – yes this can be the hardest thing to do.
We live a lifestyle that fuels the fight and flight response and neglects our rest and digest nervous system – which is hugely important for our digestive ability. Ever experience diarrhoea when you feel anxious or constipation when feeling stressed? Whether it is journalling, deep breathing, yoga or walking, it is important to find a way to manage your emotional and mental health(7).
5. Eat a colourful, nutrient rich diet.
For our body to function at its best, it needs good sources of nutrients from a wide range of fresh, unprocessed foods. Fill your diet with good quality protein sources, a colourful variety of vegetables and fruits and you are on your way from getting all the nutrients and antioxidants you need for a healthy gut. We give a special shout out to amino acids like glutamine and nutrients like zinc and vitamin A, which the gut just loves.
How can I find out if I have leaky gut?
If you or someone you know suffer from the above mentioned conditions, then you should be considering the health of your gut and determining if you have leaky gut. As a practitioner who just loves all things gut health related, one of the first steps I take with my patients is testing for leaky gut. My inner nerd is thrilled by this test as it a brilliant way to measure how much healing needs to be done and can be tested again to assess progress. Once we identify if you have leaky gut, it is important to determine how to treat it holistically. Not only can you experience a positive shift in your current symptoms, but also prevent complications such as autoimmunity and chronic disease in the future. Isn’t that great?
If you are interested in finding out more about this or would like to be assessed, please get in touch. Let's get to the bottom of this!
BHSc (Naturopathy), BPH (Nutrition)