The common causes behind leaky gut syndrome and how to heal it naturally.
The first time I heard of the term ‘leaky gut’ was when I was in Fiji with my family on holiday.
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 own research into the gut, how it works, and how much of an impact it has on our health.
A few years down the track, I learnt that I had leaky gut myself.
My naturopath did an eye test for me, where she took a close-up photo of both my eyes and focused in on the iris. Both had small “holes,” making the iris look as if it were rotting away. My naturopath explained to me that the eyes are like a window into the body, and different parts of the eye are linked to different organs. The part of my eye linked to my gut showed severe signs of deterioration, indicating a leaky gut, while another part showed signs of liver damage.
Leaky gut, or intestinal hyperpermeability, is when the intestinal lining of the gut has become more porous. The gut wall essentially develops holes in it, interfering with the it’s ability to filter what is absorbed, and what isn’t.
This results in larger, undigested food molecules and toxins like yeast, bacteria, and waste – that should NOT be entering the bloodstream – passing freely through the gut wall and travelling around the body.
The intestinal lining is the immune system’s first line of defence. 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.
During healthy digestion, the tight junctions stay firmly closed preventing anything unwanted from trespassing through. 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
What Causes Leaky Gut?
In an article by Dr. Axe, it’s mentioned that 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.
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 extensive damage and inflammation of the gut.
- Skin issues: The skin is one of the first places to show signs that something’s wrong 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 usually connected with leaky gut. So, simply using creams and drugs to cover up skin conditions may not effectively solve these issues. 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.
Although, 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 plays a significant role in regulating oestrogen levels in the body. When the gut is impaired, this disrupts natural hormonal balance within the body, which can result in weight gain and other issues. Hashimoto’s disease (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 which can affect its function and development, causing conditions like “brain fog” and even autism.
In a Dr. Axe article, it goes on to say:
Autism may be connected to problems in the gut microbiome, particularly within the first year of life.
Leaky Gut Diet: Foods to Eat & Avoid
To help heal my leaky gut, I followed the GAPS diet outlined in the book, GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I continued with the diet until my leaky gut had healed (it took many months of strict eating to help heal my gut), which after I incorporated some of the key components of the diet to continue to follow moving forward, such as eating probiotic-rich foods, bone broth, and including more high-fat, low-carb foods into my diet to help reduce the amount of sugar and starchy foods I was eating.
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 anti-inflammatory, and free from allergens.
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.
He also 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. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Have you or someone you known had leaky gut? What were some of the things that helped? Share below.
Lots of love,
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