Have you ever heard the term “leaky gut” and wondered what that means? It’s a common term in health articles and, it’s thought to be partly responsible for many common symptoms and conditions (e.g. intolerances, joint pain, and autoimmune diseases).
But what exactly is leaky gut? What causes it? What kinds of issues are related to it? And most of all, what can you eat for leaky gut?
What is a leaky gut?
Your “gut” is another term for your intestinal tract, which is part of your digestive system. It is where much of our body’s immune system resides as it is our first line of defense against everything that we ingest. Our gut is lined with cells attached with “tight junctions” and when functioning optimally, they keep out what we don’t want (i.e. harmful microbes or toxins) and let in what we do (i.e. nutrients).
“About 70-80% of our immune system is housed in our gut”
If the cells lining the gut get damaged, or if those tight junctions get damaged, then added space is available for larger molecules and harmful microbes to sneak through. This is what is commonly referred to as leaky gut.
What causes “leaky gut”?
Leaky gut can be caused or worsened by a number of diet and lifestyle factors such as:
- Eating too much sugar, alcohol or foods that you’re intolerant to
- Stress, lack of sleep, infections, and some medications that contribute to inflammation
- Other contributing factors that alter the microbial balance in your gut
A more scientific term for “leaky gut” is “intestinal permeability.” This means that our intestines are permeable and allow things through that they normally would keep out. This doesn’t sound too good, right?
How do I know if I have leaky gut?
Since the first place affected is the gut, there are a number of digestive symptoms that can be a sign of leaky gut (e.g. bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea).
However, you may experience other symptoms around the body related to leaky gut without the digestive issues. When inflammation and leaky gut develops, this can result poor absorption of nutrients and can lead to deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals for the cells in your body.
It can also result in an overactivation of the immune system (it is triggered to react to the undigested food and other invaders are getting through) and inflammation. This can appear as symptoms of
- food intolerances
- skin issues such as acne, dry skin, rashes, hives, rosacea, psoriasis
- neurological symptoms such as brain fog, headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability
- GI issues such as IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis and Celiac
- autoimmune diseases such as MS and arthritis
Finally, a number of chronic inflammatory diseases are thought to be linked with a leaky gut. Even things like heart disease and stroke are possibilities.
What foods should I eat?
The general recommendation is to stop eating inflammatory foods and eat more gut-soothing foods.
Here are some ideas of what to try removing from your diet. Everything on this list won’t necessarily impact you, but these are some of the most common irritants. Also, once you have healed your intestinal tissue, you may be able to add some of these back into your diet.
- Foods that you’re sensitive to
- Foods with added sugar
- Foods containing MSG and other food additives
- Foods with sugar alcohols
- Gluten-containing grains (e.g. wheat, rye, barley)
- High-lectin foods (e.g. grains, legumes)
- Nightshades (e.g., eggplant, peppers, tomato)
- Dairy (which contains casein & lactose)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Probiotic-rich fermented foods (e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi)
- Prebiotic (fibre-rich) foods which help our gut microbes produce butyrate (e.g. leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds)
- Glutamine-rich foods (e.g. bone broth, meat)
- Zinc-rich foods (e.g. shellfish, organ meats, pumpkin seeds)
- Quercetin-rich foods (e.g. citrus, apples, onions)
- Curcumin-rich food (turmeric)
- Indole-rich foods (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard greens)
These are all nutritious and can help with gut health and overall health.
What about lifestyle factors?
The following lifestyle activities will help you to reduce stress and inflammation in the body that can contribute to leaky gut:
- Eat slower and chew thoroughly to help break down food better
- Eat when hungry, and stop when satisfied so you don’t overwhelm your system
- Go to the bathroom when you need to (don’t hold it for longer than necessary)
- Get more high-quality sleep
- Work on stress management
Leaky gut, or “intestinal permeability” can happen when your gut gets damaged due to eating too much sugar and alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, or an imbalance in your friendly gut microbes.
The symptoms of leaky gut are varied and can be unrelated to digestion.
It’s important to cut out problem foods while adding in more gut supporting foods, eating mindfully and managing stress and sleep in order to support your body’s ability to properly digest your food. That’s not too hard isn’t it? lol
If you’re struggling to figure out where to begin with your health issues, please book a free discovery call with Bonnie here.