Curious about leaky gut, what causes it, and how to help heal it? Here are a few basics about leaky gut that you should know!
It’s a classic story: girl meets food, girl loves food, food doesn’t love girl back, and girl must stop seeing food. I know most of you can relate to that story! It’s a funny way to look at food intolerances and allergies, but it is an all too common story.
For me personally and my kids, it seems as if we are discovering new allergies every year. Not good. Why do food allergies and intolerances keep increasing? The answer lies in the tight junctions of your gut and a condition called leaky gut.
What is leaky gut?
So, what is leaky gut and why is this a hot topic for immunity and overall health? Simply put, leaky gut is hyperpermeability of the intestinal lining. Your intestines are lined with a layer of specialized epithelial cells that are designed to allow nutrients to cross through that layer into the bloodstream for distribution throughout the body.
The cells in this area have tight junctions or sealed connections between them to keep foreign materials like bacteria and chemicals from passing through.
When those tight cell junctions are disturbed and broken down, the cell layer becomes hyperpermeable and “leaky”. Many things that shouldn’t cross that cell barrier (like bacteria, food molecules, and chemicals) make it through and end up in your blood stream, causing health problems throughout the entire body.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is created when the intestinal lining is made increasingly permeable. In our modern world, there are many ways the intestinal tight junctions can be damaged and leaky gut can occur. Here are some of the most common:
- Infections: virus, bacteria, protozoa, and parasites
- Drugs: antibiotics, NSAIDs, medications, illicit substances
- Inflammatory foods: GMO foods, highly processed foods with chemicals added, gluten, sugar, alcohol
- Toxins and chemicals in the environment and in foods
- Chronic stress and physical or emotional trauma
- Bacterial imbalance caused by infection, antibiotics, etc.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Increased intestinal permeability can result in hypersensitivity to foods and other normal inhabitants of the intestine, causing inflammation and autoimmune symptoms. Larger bits of food that shouldn’t cross the cell barrier end up in the blood stream causing an immune response when the body begins to attack the “intruder”.
In truth it is a benign food, but the body doesn’t recognize it when it has not been broken down properly, and food intolerances begin to develop.
People with leaky gut can develop new food intolerances and sensitivities on a regular basis if the root cause (the leaky gut) is not mended. I know personally that this can be a BIG challenge! I have developed new food intolerances just about every year. Cutting out the offending food can help, but the cycle will continue until the leaky gut is addressed and healed.
In addition to food intolerances and allergies, there are many other symptoms of leaky gut:
- Intestinal distress: diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating
- Auto Immune disorders
- Chemical sensitivities
- Joint aches and muscle pain, arthritis
- Skin disorders: acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis herpetiformis, urticarial, rashes
- Mental health: brain fog, cognitive and memory lapses, autism, hyperactivity
Restore Your Intestinal Health
With all that being said, what is a busy person to do if they have leaky gut? It is estimated that 60-80% of your body’s immune system is located in your gut, so making sure your intestinal health is top notch is imperative to whole-body health and well being.
- Clean up your diet: reduce sugar, eliminate gluten, alcohol, and foods you are intolerant or allergic to; eat whole foods, sprout and soak grains, and culture/ferment foods.
- Exercise caution with medications and OTCs, especially NSAIDs and antibiotics
- Restore bacterial balance: take high quality, broad-spectrum probiotics and eat cultured foods when possible. Make sure to take higher doses of both if you are on antibiotics or other medications
- Gut-healing and gut-soothing supplements (always check with your doctor first!): gelatin, L-glutamine, slippery elm, aloe vera, glutathione, essential fatty acids (EFAs)2, digestive enzymes, betaine HCL, coconut oil, marshmallow root, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), and quercitin, and Restore™
 Liu Z., et al. “Tight junctions, leaky intestines, and pediatric diseases”. Acta Paediatr. 2005 Apr;94(4):386-93. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16092447
 Galland, Leo, MD. “Leaky Gut Syndromes: Breaking the Vicious Cycle.” Foundation for Integrated Medicine. http://www.mdheal.org/leakygut.htm
 Myers, Dr. Amy, “8 Supplements to Heal a Leaky Gut”. Mind Body Green. May 2, 2013. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-9336/8-supplements-to-heal-a-leaky-gut.html
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist