Leaky What? “Leaky Gut” and What It Means for Your Health

“All disease begins in the gut …” – Hippocrates 

Over 2,500 years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates declared, “All disease begins in the gut.” Time, it turns out, has proven him right! Modern science is now bringing credence to the notion that up to 90% of human illness is linked to an unhealthy gut microbiome.

Many factors influence gut health, including poor diet choices, chronic stress, toxic overload, and bacterial imbalances. The result? Gut disorders are increasingly prevalent – and that includes leaky gut. 

What is “Leaky Gut”?

Let's be honest, "leaky gut" doesn't exactly sound like a fun topic of conversation. In fact, it sounds downright unappetizing. 

So, what exactly is it? It's a condition where the lining of the intestines becomes more permeable than it should be. 

Your intestines are protected by a single layer of epithelial cells linked together by tight junctions. When those tight junctions are damaged, the "gut barrier" is compromised, allowing all sorts of substances, such as bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles, to pass into the bloodstream. 

As a result, the immune system can become overactive, contributing to things like autoimmunity, allergies, asthma, skin disorders, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and even mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Possible Causes and Symptoms

Several factors can contribute to the development of leaky gut.

  • A diet high in processed foods and sugar
  • Chronic stress
  • Overuse of antibiotics
  • Alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Smoking

Some people may not experience symptoms of leaky gut. For those who do, potential signs may include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Food sensitivities
  • Allergies

Testing and Addressing Leaky Gut

To diagnose leaky gut, healthcare professionals may perform tests such as a lactulose/mannitol test or a zonulin test to measure intestinal permeability. 

Addressing leaky gut involves making dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation and heal the gut lining, balancing the microbiome, and taking supplements such as probiotics and digestive enzymes.

Following these 10 tips can help improve gut health and reduce inflammation throughout the body:
  1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet ­– A diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help support gut health and reduce inflammation. Avoid foods such as processed foods, sugar, gluten, and dairy that can exacerbate the condition.
  2. Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption – Alcohol and caffeine can irritate the gut and contribute to leaky gut. Limiting or avoiding these substances altogether is best, especially when healing your gut lining.
  3.  Reduce stress – There is bidirectional communication between the gut and brain. Chronic stress can disrupt gut health and a healthy inflammatory response in the body, and vice versa. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can help reduce stress levels and improve gut health.
  4. Probiotics – Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help improve gut health by restoring the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut or in supplement form.
  5. Prebiotics ­– Prebiotic-rich foods, such as apples, asparagus, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, and prebiotic supplements, all feed your beneficial bacteria so they can produce important gut-healing compounds.
  6. Rest to digest – To properly digest food, you need to be in a rested state. Take five deep breaths before eating to get into a relaxed state before reaching for your fork.
  7. Take digestive enzymes – Digestive enzymes can help break down food more effectively, reducing the burden on the gut and preventing undigested food particles from passing through the gut barrier.
  8. Address food sensitivities – Food sensitivities can contribute to leaky gut and other digestive issues. Identifying and eliminating trigger foods can support a healthy inflammatory response and improve gut health while healing your gut. Also, a leaky gut will often result in food sensitivities to the foods you eat most often – eat a variety of food to prevent developing sensitives and improve the diversity of nutrients you consume.
  9. Balance your microbiome ­– An unbalanced microbiome can cause a leaky gut. Try a microbiome detox to address unwanted microbes and restore balance.
  10.  Get your zzz’s – Getting enough restful sleep is essential for overall health, including gut health. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

“Leaky gut" may sound unappetizing, but knowledge is power –  and Hippocrates was ahead of his time! So, go ahead and eat that salad, meditate, and get some shut-eye. Your gut (and the rest of your body) will thank you for it.