What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

I remember the first time I ever heard about leaky gut syndrome, it was when I was in Fiji with my family and I was reading the book GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride while lying on the beach. It was a huge eye-opener into the world of gut health, and one of the catalysts that led me to start my research into the gut, how it works, and how much of an impact it has on our health.

Leaky gut, or “intestinal hyperpermeability,” is when the intestinal lining of the gut has become more porous. It essentially develops holes in the gut wall, interfering with the gut’s ability to filter what is absorbed, and what isn’t. This can result in larger, undigested food molecules and other toxins like yeast, bacteria, and waste – that should NOT be entering the bloodstream – now pass freely through these holes, and travel right round the body.

Now, I can understand that was I just wrote may sound utterly meaningless to some of you (and that’s ok! It took me a while to understand what it meant and how it worked too), so to keep it super simple, leaky gut is basically a gut that’s developed holes in it over time, and now has unwanted toxins passing through into the bloodstream, which then travel all around the body causing other issues…

Image result for leaky gut
What a healthy gut looks like compared to a leaky gut. (Source)

The intestinal lining is the body’s first line of defence for the immune system. The outer layers of intestinal cells (known as epithelial) are connected by structures called tight junctions. At the tops of these are the microvilli, which absorb nutrients and carry them through the epithelial cell and into the bloodstream. In healthy digestion, the tight junctions stay firmly closed preventing anything unwanted from trespassing. Anything allowed to pass into the bloodstream must go through the mucosa cells (they’re like the “security guards” out the front of a bar). However, when these tight junctions become permeable (a.k.a “open”), unchecked substances are allowed to pass through.

According to Dr. Axe, leaky gut, if left untreated, may lead to more severe health issues like:

inflammatory bowel disease or IBS

arthritis

eczema

psoriasis

depression

anxiety

migraine headaches

muscle pain

chronic fatigue

What Causes Leaky Gut?

According to Dr. Axe, some of the underlying causes of leaky gut include:

Genetic predisposition — certain people may be more predisposed to developing leaky gut because they are sensitive to environmental factors that “trigger” their bodies into initiating autoimmune responses.

Poor diet — especially a diet that includes allergens and inflammatory foods such as un-sprouted grains, added sugar, GMOs, refined oils, synthetic food additives and conventional dairy products.

Chronic stress

Toxin overload — including high drug and alcohol consumption. We come into contact with over 80,000 chemicals and toxins every single year, but the worst offenders for causing leaky gut include antibiotics, pesticides, tap water, aspirin and NSAIDS. I recommend buying a high-quality water filter to eliminate chlorine and fluoride and look to natural plant-based herbs to reduce inflammation in your body.

Bacterial imbalance — also called dysbiosis, which means an imbalance between beneficial and harmful species of bacteria in your gut. A large body of evidence now shows that gut microbiota is important in supporting the epithelial barrier and preventing autoimmune reactions. At least 10% of all gene transcriptions found in intestinal epithelial cells that are related to immunity, cell proliferation and metabolism are regulated by gut microbiota.

Leaky Gut Signs and Symptoms

Here are a few of the signs and symptoms that point to an unhealthy gut:

  • Food allergies or sensitivities – The immune systems of those with leaky gut will often be on overdrive trying to produce different antibodies in hope of eliminating the various toxins currently flooding the body. However, this may make the body more susceptible to antigens (harmful substances) in certain foods (particularly gluten and dairy).
  • Nutritional deficiencies – This arises from the body’s inability to absorb nutrients during digestion effectively, due to the gut being so damaged and inflamed.
  • Skin issues – The skin is often one of the first places to show that something’s up with the gut (there is a powerful bond between the gut and skin, known as the gut-skin connection). Acne and psoriasis, in particular, are often connected with leaky gut. Therefore, simply using creams and drugs to cover up skin conditions may not effectively eliminate them completely. You’ll need to address the root cause, not just the outward symptoms.
  • Digestive issues and IBS – According to Mind Body Green,

A 2015 study in the Intestinal Research journal found a direct correlation between intestinal barrier damage and the progression of irritable bowel disease (IBD).

  • Autoimmune conditions – According to Dr. Axe;

A 2011 article published in the journal Physiologic Reviews:

Zonulin is the only physiological modulator of intercellular tight junctions described so far that is involved in trafficking of macromolecules and, therefore, in tolerance/immune response balance. When the finely tuned zonulin pathway is deregulated in genetically susceptible individuals, both intestinal and extraintestinal autoimmune, inflammatory, and neoplastic disorders can occur.

What does all this highly sophisticated word jumble mean?

Well, zonulin is a molecule that helps regulates “leakiness” in the gut by opening and closing tight junctions. However, when unregulated (due to elevated levels of zonulin), it can cause individuals – who are particularly susceptible to this molecule – to develop autoimmune and inflammatory responses due to increased permeability (more holes) in the gut lining.

Eating gluten may trigger this dangerous response in zonulin.

  • Hormone imbalance and thyroid problems – The gut microbiome (gut bacteria) plays a significant role in regulating oestrogen levels in the body. When the gut is impaired, this disrupts natural hormone balance within the body, which can result in weight gain and other issues. Hashimoto’s disease (a.k.a chronic thyroiditis) is one of the autoimmune diseases that leaky gut syndrome may directly affect.
  • Joint pain and arthritis – According to Mind Body Green;

A 2014 study in the FEBS Letters journal found that rheumatoid arthritis (when your joints are persistently swollen and painful) is linked to dysbiosis in the gut microbiome

  • Neurocognitive conditions and Autism – According to Dr. Axe;

According to a study published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters, leaky gut has been shown to cause various neurocognitive disorders. For example, the inflammatory response characteristic of intestinal hyperpermeability triggers the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other chemicals that are thought to induce depression.

As Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride shares in her book GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome, the GAPS theory is that a leaky gut allows chemicals, bacteria, waste, and other toxins to enter the bloodstream, which would normally have been prevented. These foreign particles then travel around the body, making their way up to the brain and can affect its function and development, causing conditions like “brain fog” and even autism.

According to Dr. Axe;

Autism may be connected to problems in the gut microbiome, particularly within the first year of life.

Leaky Gut Diet: Foods to Eat & Avoid

Adopting a leaky gut diet can help to support healing, as it promotes the consumption of foods that are easy to digest, that may assist in repairing the lining of the intestines, are free from allergens, and which are anti-inflammatory.

Dr. Josh Axe shares a full Leaky Gut Diet and Treatment Plan here, explaining what foods to include more of in the diet, and which inflammatory foods to avoid. Plus, he shares a range of supplements to introduce, such as probiotics, L-glutamine, and more!

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. It’s important to check with a doctor before taking this or any new product, especially if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing. Be sure to check ingredients to make sure there is no risk of an allergic reaction.

Have you or someone you know had leaky gut? What were some of the things that helped? Share below.

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa

Sources:

Wells, Katie. (January 23, 2019). Leaky Gut Diet – My Experience with GAPS & SCD. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/23461/leaky-gut-diet/

Axe, Josh, Dr., DC, DMN, CNS. (May 8, 2018). Leaky Gut Syndrome: 7 Signs You May Have It. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/7-signs-symptoms-you-have-leaky-gut/

Myers, Amy, M.D. (January 24, 2019). 11 Signs You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome. Mind Body Green. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10908/9-signs-you-have-a-leaky-gut.html

Axe, Josh, Dr., DC, DMN, CNS. (July 30, 2018). The Leaky Gut Diet and Treatment Plan, Including Top Gut Foods. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/leaky-gut-diet-treatment/

Alessandra Mezzelani, Martina Landini, Francesco Facchiano, Maria Elisabetta Raggi, Laura Villa, Massimo Molteni, Barbara De Santis, Carlo Brera, Anna Maria Caroli, Luciano Milanesi, and Anna Marabotti. (May 18, 2015). Environment, dysbiosis, immunity and sex-specific susceptibility: A translational hypothesis for regressive autism pathogenesis. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4485698/

Lee, Sung Hee. (January 29, 2015). Intestinal Permeability Regulation by Tight Junction: Implication on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4316216/

Fasano, Alessio. (January 9, 2011). Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. PubMed.gov. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21248165/

Bell, Becky, MS, RD. (February 2, 2017). Is Leaky Gut Syndrome a Real Condition? An Unbiased Look. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-leaky-gut-real

Neimark, Jill. (December 9, 2015). A Protein In The Gut May Explain Why Some Can’t Stomach Gluten. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/12/09/459061317/a-protein-in-the-gut-may-explain-why-some-cant-stomach-gluten

Frankel, Victoria. (September 13, 2019). Is Gut Imbalance to Blame for Your Hormonal Changes?. VIOME. Retrieved from https://www.viome.com/blog/gut-imbalance-blame-your-hormonal-changes

Michael Maes, Marta Kubera, Jean-Claude Leunis. (February 29, 2008). The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression. PubMed.gov. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18283240/

Richter, Amy, RD. (Updated: July 14, 2020). The GAPS Diet: An Evidence-Based Review. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gaps-diet

Daniel L. Coury, Paul Ashwood, Alessio Fasano, George Fuchs, Maureen Geraghty, Ajay Kaul, Gary Mawe, Paul Patterson and Nancy E. Jones. (November, 2012). Gastrointestinal Conditions in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Developing a Research Agenda. Pediatrics. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/Supplement_2/S160.full