The Importance Of Protecting The Gut Barrier, And How To Heal It
Leaky Gut Syndrome, sometimes called “increased intestinal permeability,” has garnered increasing attention in recent years due to its potential impact on overall health and well-being. It is considered a “hypothetical condition” meaning that it is based on the concept of relative intestinal permeability and isn’t an actual scientific diagnosis — but the conditions that fall under the idea of Leaky Gut Syndrome have a very real impact on everyday patients.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Leaky Gut Syndrome, along with its underlying conditions, causes, common symptoms, consequences and the importance of addressing it promptly.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
In a healthy gut, the lining of the intestinal walls acts as a protective barrier, selectively allowing nutrients to be absorbed while preventing harmful substances from entering the blood. Leaky Gut Syndrome refers to a condition in which the lining of the intestinal walls becomes compromised, allowing substances usually restricted to pass through into the bloodstream.
As these substances make their way through, it creates an inflammatory response and causes the body to fight against itself, leading to a range of adverse health issues.
The Role Of Zonulin In Gastrointestinal Permeability
Zonulin plays a pivotal role in regulating gastrointestinal permeability, or “Leaky Gut.” This protein acts as a key modulator of tight junctions — specialized structures that maintain the integrity of the gut lining. Zonulin’s role involves signaling the opening and closing of these tight junctions, allowing for the controlled transport of nutrients and other essential molecules.
Gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria in the microbiome) can trigger the dysregulation of zonulin which can lead to an increase in intestinal permeability, potentially allowing larger molecules and pathogens to cross into the bloodstream.
How To Tell If You Have A Leaky Gut:
Leaky Gut Syndrome often manifests with various distressing symptoms, which may vary from person to person.
The most common symptoms include:
- Digestive issues like bloating, gas and diarrhea
- Discomfort after eating
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Impaired immune function and frequent infections
- Mood disturbances, including anxiety and depression
- Joint pain, inflammation and mobility issues
- Skin problems, such as acne, eczema or rashes
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
When the gut doesn’t have enough good bacteria, bad bacteria are going to thrive
Several factors can contribute to the development of Leaky Gut Syndrome. While research is ongoing, the following are believed to be potential causes:
- Consuming high levels of processed foods and refined sugars
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Insufficient intake of fiber and diverse nutrients
- Prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Stress and Lifestyle Choices
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- Lack of sleep
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Smoking and nicotine use
Underlying Medical Conditions
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Autoimmune disorders
What Diseases Are Associated With Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The most common conditions associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome are generalized autoimmune diseases, including:
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Celiac Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Some Liver Diseases
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
- Type 1 Diabetes
Leaky Gut Syndrome has also been associated with conditions rooted in chronic, low-grade inflammation. These include Arthritis, Asthma, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
What Happens If Leaky Gut Syndrome Goes Untreated?
If a leaky gut goes without a solution for too long, it has the opportunity to turn into or exacerbate any of the above-mentioned diseases. It can also cause a whole host of adverse health circumstances, including:
1) Chronic Inflammation
The passage of undigested food particles and toxins into the bloodstream can trigger an inflammatory response throughout the body, contributing to chronic diseases like heart disease, and diabetes.
2) Autoimmune Reactions
The compromised gut barrier can also trigger autoimmune reactions, where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the body, leading to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
3) Nutrient Deficiencies
With impaired absorption in the gut, essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids may not be adequately absorbed, potentially leading to deficiencies and related health issues.
4) Diminished Mental Health
The gut-brain connection means that disturbances in gut health can impact mental well-being, potentially exacerbating conditions like anxiety and depression.
How To Treat Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The good news is that a leaky gut can be repaired and the damage can be reversed with proper treatment and lifestyle intervention. The goal is to address the underly cause while mitigating negative symptoms in the meantime.
To start, we help patients adopt a balanced, nutrient-rich diet — one that strays away from refined sugars and processed foods. An emphasis on good sleep and a reduction of stress through medication, regular exercise and community support can also go a long way in healing the gut. We also identify any medications in a patient’s life that may be overused, as these can also contribute to gut imbalance.
Foods That Can Damage Gut Health:
- Refined sugars
- Artificial sweeteners
- Refined grains
- Processed meats
- Fried foods
- Red meat
Foods That Can Repair Gut Health:
- Kimchi & Sauerkraut
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
Using The Elimination Diet To Heal & Learn
We often employ the Elimination Diet in an effort to help patients identify the ingredients that cause damage to the gut. This 21+ day journey omits a litany of foods that are most commonly associated with food sensitivities and chronic discomfort before slowly reintroducing each ingredient back into the diet one day at a time and monitoring the impact. Our team also pairs food sensitivity testing to further personalize the Elimination Diet for each patient.
This much-needed reprieve gives the gut time to heal, while also uncovering which foods should be avoided in the future.
Seek Guidance From A Gut Health Specialist
Gut health has become an immensely important topic of conversation when it comes to ensuring the overall health of patients. Because Leaky Gut Syndrome is still considered a hypothetical condition, it requires additional investigation by a healthcare provider. Unfortunately, primary care physicians often don’t have enough time per patient to tackle this endeavor unless the circumstances are fierce enough to require an autoimmune disorder diagnosis.
Consulting with a functional medicine doctor is an incredible opportunity that allows you to treat the underlying condition that has plagued you for too long. Gut health specialists can allocate the necessary time to dig deeper into your health history, analyze the meaning behind your lab results and create a gut repair plan that fits you, your body and your lifestyle.
About The Author
Practicing from Donaldson Plastic Surgery, Dr. Marguerite Weston is a functional wellness specialist in Columbus, Ohio. She helps diagnose patient health mysteries and provides customized solutions to treat each of the underlying conditions. Dr. Weston specializes in gut health optimization and establishing sustainable lifestyle plans that can help individuals successfully combat Leaky Gut Syndrome.