Leaky gut is more common than you think!
Most people are completely unaware they have a leaky gut. Still, they are aware of pesky symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and hormone imbalances. It can also manifest as digestive problems and unhealthy blood markers, such as high cholesterol.
If you have these health issues, you need to pay attention to your gut barrier and microbiome. This article will explain what a leaky gut is and how to fix it naturally.
What is the gut barrier? Why is it so important?
Before we talk about leaky gut, we should understand the gut barrier and its crucial function when it is intact.
Our gut barrier has a vital role in absorbing nutrients while keeping most of the gut content from entering the bloodstream. This barrier, also called the intestinal mucosal barrier, includes physical, biochemical, and immune elements1.
- The physical barrier includes the mucus that covers the gut barrier and epithelial cells, which physically separate the inside of our body and the gut content. The tight junction zips the barriers between epithelial cells together.
- The biochemical barriers include digestive enzymes, stomach acid, and antimicrobial substances secreted into the mucus.
- The immune elements include the immune cells in the gut, along with antibodies and other substances provided by these immune cells.
The gut microbes, comprising bacteria, viruses, and fungi, also interact with the gut barrier. Friendly bacteria produce metabolites that support the gut barrier and reduce inflammation.
Whereas, unfriendly microbes can eat away at your mucus, open the gut barrier, or trigger inflammation 2.
What does it mean to have a leaky gut?
A leaky gut means that the intestinal barrier is more permeable than it should be, allowing your gut content to meet your immune system. In some cases, bacterial toxins can leak into the bloodstream. This may cause widespread inflammation, and both local and systemic immune response 3.
The immune response can lead to inflammatory symptoms such as fatigue, pain, depression, weight gain, and high cholesterol. Some people experience digestive issues and nutrient deficiencies.
What causes a leaky gut?
Studies have shown that the following factors contribute to leaky gut.
High-fat and high-sugar meals can inflame your gut barrier. The fat and sugar content can also increase the amount of bacterial toxins that enter the bloodstream, promoting widespread inflammation in the body 4.
An unhealthy diet is high in processed foods, and low in fiber, micronutrients and polyphenols. It starves the friendly gut bacteria and promotes the growth of bad ones 5,6..This can weaken the gut barrier and lead to a leaky gut.
Gluten and the zonulin pathway
Another common substance in the food supply is gluten. It can open the tight junction by activating the zonulin pathway, resulting in a leaky gut and exposing the gut content to the immune system. This can happen in both Celiac disease patients and people without Celiacs 7.
A healthy gut barrier should be able to close back down relatively quickly after a gluten-containing meal 7. However, if you already have pre-existing inflammation, immune imbalance, or food allergies, adding gluten is like adding fuel to the fire.
Dysbiosis and bad bacteria in the gut
The gut microbiota works intimately with the gut barrier, as would many aspects of health. An overgrowth of bad bacteria, also known as dysbiosis, can lead to a leaky gut. Therefore, any reasons that contribute to dysbiosis can perpetuate a leaky gut. These include antibiotic exposure, C-section birth, psychological and physical stress, lack of sleep, and certain dietary choices that don’t feed the good gut bacteria 8,9.
Some bacteria, such as Vibrio cholera, can also trigger zonulin similarly to gluten 10,11. In addition, parasites and yeast infections can promote the growth of bad bacteria and increase local inflammation, leading to leaky gut 12,13.
Food allergy or sensitivity
Food allergy and sensitivity are often signs of a leaky gut, but they can worsen your leaky gut. Continuing to eat the foods you are sensitive to can worsen the leaky gut by inflaming the gut lining.
Gut irritants in food
Many gut irritants are common in our food supply. Dairy, nightshades, legumes, and grains have components that may damage the gut barrier, especially in people who have a genetic tendency for autoimmunity 14.
Food additives, such as carboxymethylcellulose and carrageenan can inflame the gut barrier, leading to leaky gut. In susceptible people, these food additives may cause inflammatory bowel disease 15.
Food contaminants, such as mold toxins, can also cause inflammation and disrupt the gut barrier function 16.
Elevated histamines from allergies or infections, such as from a malaria parasite, can contribute to intestinal permeability 17. Mast cell activation disorder or excessive histamine release can also cause leaky gut 18.
Head injuries and traumatic accidents
Nausea and vomiting are familiar symptoms of head injuries because the gut and the brain are intimately connected. Sensibly, traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and traumatic accidents lead to a leaky gut 19,20. Many patients recovering from these injuries continue to have lingering digestive symptoms or chronic inflammation even years after they seem to have healed. In fact, many people start to develop long-term health problems after a head injury or traumatic event.
If they continue eating unhealthy food and live an unhealthy lifestyle, they could be unknowingly exacerbating their symptoms. Combining a gut-healing diet with rest, and nervous system support should be essential for any concussion or accident recovery plan.
Sleeping problems throw off the gut microbiome and cause leaky gut 21
Alcohol is a known gut irritant that increases intestinal inflammation and permeability 22.
Natural ways to address leaky gut
While a leaky gut contributes to many medical issues, conventional medicine does not typically diagnose and treat it. Fortunately, a leaky gut is fully reversible by taking care of the root cause and giving your gut what you need to heal.
If you have a stab wound, simply removing the sharp object is necessary but not sufficient to heal the wound. A similar analogy applies to healing the gut. You need to remove not only the root causes but also the gut irritants and anything else that could keep your body from healing. Once you get out of the way, your gut and entire body can heal in miraculous ways.
An anti-inflammatory diet eliminates all common food allergies and gut irritants in order to allow your gut lining to heal. You will also provide your gut with plenty of key nutrients to heal.
In this program, you should avoid:
- Sugar and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
- All common food allergies, such as wheat, soy, dairy, chocolate, and corn
- Margarine and any artificial solid fat
- Grains, nuts, and legumes
- Coffee, tea, and any caffeinated beverages
Don’t worry if this looks very restrictive. You will only eliminate these foods temporarily before bringing them back into your life again.
You will consume a lot of nutrient-dense organic meat, fish, tubers, and vegetables. We also recommend gut fuel nutrients, such as glutamine, to feed the gut cells.
Kill gut infections and rebalance the gut bacteria
In our practice, we test our patients for gut infections, which could be contributing to a leaky gut. If the test comes back positive, we may recommend an antimicrobial protocol, followed by a protocol to rebalance the gut bacteria with probiotics, fermented foods and supplements, and prebiotics. Our turnkey 30-day Eat & Be Well program helps you with this.
Regular sleep schedule and stress management
Stress diverts blood flow from the gut and generally keeps your body from fully healing. Sleep is also a critical part of healing. Besides food and supplements, we should also maintain a regular sleep schedule and significantly cut down stressors during your gut healing protocol.
Many people have digestive issues and nutrient deficiencies because of poor eating hygiene. Part of healing your gut is learning to be in a rest and digest mode—eat slowly and be present with your meal when you eat. Some people may also need additional enzyme support as they re-optimize the gut barrier.
Most people have leaky guts nowadays, because of their poor diet and lifestyle. They may have minor symptoms and do not know that it’s related to a leaky gut. Anyone wanting to feel their best and optimize their health should work to fix their leaky gut and improve their gut microbiome.
In our clinic, many people experience improved health almost right away on a gut healing diet. Some others experience detox reactions or caffeine withdrawal symptoms for a few days before they start to feel better. In our experience, many people clear up their skin or notice an improvement of decades-old symptoms after a few weeks. In our 30-day Eat and Be Well Program, we provide you with everything you need to follow a gut healing protocol.
- Muniz, L. R., Knosp, C. & Yeretssian, G. Intestinal antimicrobial peptides during homeostasis, infection, and disease. Front. Immunol. 3, 310 (2012).
- Sánchez de Medina, F., Romero-Calvo, I., Mascaraque, C. & Martínez-Augustin, O. Intestinal inflammation and mucosal barrier function. Inflamm. Bowel Dis. 20, 2394–2404 (2014).
- Mu, Q., Kirby, J., Reilly, C. M. & Luo, X. M. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front. Immunol. 8, 598 (2017).
- André, P., Laugerette, F. & Féart, C. Metabolic Endotoxemia: A Potential Underlying Mechanism of the Relationship between Dietary Fat Intake and Risk for Cognitive Impairments in Humans? Nutrients 11, (2019).
- Chambers, E. S., Preston, T., Frost, G. & Morrison, D. J. Role of Gut Microbiota-Generated Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health. Curr. Nutr. Rep. 7, 198–206 (2018).
- Kumar Singh, A. et al. Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency. Nutrients 11, (2019).
- Fasano, A. Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1258, 25–33 (2012).
- Hawrelak, J. A. & Myers, S. P. The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: a review. Altern. Med. Rev. 9, 180–197 (2004).
- Brown, K., DeCoffe, D., Molcan, E. & Gibson, D. L. Diet-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the effects on immunity and disease. Nutrients 4, 1095–1119 (2012).
- Fasano, A. Intestinal permeability and its regulation by zonulin: diagnostic and therapeutic implications. Clin. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 10, 1096–1100 (2012).
- El Asmar, R. et al. Host-dependent zonulin secretion causes the impairment of the small intestine barrier function after bacterial exposure. Gastroenterology 123, 1607–1615 (2002).
- McKay, D. M., Shute, A. & Lopes, F. Helminths and intestinal barrier function. Tissue Barriers 5, e1283385 (2017).
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- Cordain, L., Toohey, L., Smith, M. J. & Hickey, M. S. Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis. Br. J. Nutr. 83, 207–217 (2000).
- Martino, J. V., Van Limbergen, J. & Cahill, L. E. The Role of Carrageenan and Carboxymethylcellulose in the Development of Intestinal Inflammation. Front Pediatr 5, 96 (2017).
- Liew, W.-P.-P. & Mohd-Redzwan, S. Mycotoxin: Its Impact on Gut Health and Microbiota. Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol. 8, 60 (2018).
- Potts, R. A. et al. Mast cells and histamine alter intestinal permeability during malaria parasite infection. Immunobiology 221, 468–474 (2016).
- Forbes, E. E. et al. IL-9- and mast cell-mediated intestinal permeability predisposes to oral antigen hypersensitivity. J. Exp. Med. 205, 897–913 (2008).
- Bansal, V. et al. Traumatic brain injury and intestinal dysfunction: uncovering the neuro-enteric axis. J. Neurotrauma 26, 1353–1359 (2009).
- Faries, P. L., Simon, R. J., Martella, A. T., Lee, M. J. & Machiedo, G. W. Intestinal permeability correlates with severity of injury in trauma patients. J. Trauma 44, 1031–5; discussion 1035–6 (1998).
- A punch to the gut: How poor sleep impacts our intestinal health. https://voices.uchicago.edu/dfiwellnews/2017/12/20/a-punch-to-the-gut-how-poor-sleep-impacts-our-intestinal-health/ (2017).
- Bishehsari, F. et al. Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation. Alcohol Res. 38, 163–171 (2017).