The NHS provide a simple explanation of Leaky Gut:
“The inside of the bowel is lined by a single layer of cells that make up the mucosal barrier (the barrier between the inside of the gut and the rest of the body).
This barrier is effective at absorbing nutrients, but prevents most large molecules and germs passing from inside the bowel into the bloodstream and potentially causing widespread symptoms.
In some circumstances, this barrier can become less effective and “leaky”, although this in itself is not generally thought to be sufficient to cause serious problems.”
Signs and symptoms of Leaky Gut
The intestinal lining essentially protects substances from moving into the blood stream, so if the lining isn’t doing its job efficiently, all of these harmful substances are able to manifest and accumulate in your body. It is considered that the following conditions can potentially come about as a result of Leaky Gut:
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Hormonal imbalances such as PMS or PCOS
- Depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD
- Autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or coeliac disease
- Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Skin issues such as acne or eczema
- Food allergies or food intolerances
- Candida overgrowth
What causes Leaky Gut?
The NHS have listed the following conditions as being potential causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome:
- “Inflammatory bowel diseases – such as Crohn’s disease
- Infections of the intestines – such as salmonella, norovirus and giardiasis
- Coeliac disease
- Chemotherapy medicines
- Chronic kidney disease
- Radiotherapy to the abdomen (tummy)
- Immuno suppressants (medicines that weaken the immune system)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Complicated surgery”
- Other common causes are infections, toxins and foods such as sugar, dairy, alcohol and in particular gluten.
For those who are intolerant to gluten, their body will product antibodies to it. These antibodies defend itself against gluten peptides, and the intestinal barrier may become compromised decreasing your ability to absorb nutrients and making the walls of your intestine ‘leaky’ allowing more substances through. This can manifest itself in digestive symptoms, including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, weight loss, fat malabsorption and malnutrition.
Leaky Gut is known to have a strong association with Candida overgrowth. The Candida cells begin to cause problems when they adopt their fungal form and begin to grow hyphae – the long branches that grow out of the fungus. These branches invade the cells in your intestinal lining, creating inflammation and permeating the membrane that prevents substances from leaking out.
The overuse of antibiotics is of grave concern on a Worldwide basis. Antibiotics reduce the friendly gut bacteria that provide protection against infections all around the body. The friendly bacteria in the gut also produce substances that are protective for for a healthy gut. A reduction in friendly bacteria can allow undesirable bacteria to overgrow -this potentially causes inflammation which can lead to a Leaky Gut.
The 4-Step Plan to Healing a Leaky Gut
Functional medicine practitioners use a 4 step plan to heal a leaky gut called the 4-R programme. This programme involves identifying and removing dietary and lifestyle factors that may be damaging the gut, replacing missing factors and adding in gut healing nutrients for repair.
Remove – all gluten containing foods, sugar, alcohol, conventional dairy products and any other known food sensitivities; stress; and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (unless these have been prescribed by a medical practitioner). If there is an overgrowth of undesirable bacteria or yeast this will also need to be addressed using appropriate anti-microbials.
Replace – use digestive enzymes (and betaine hydrochloride if indicated) as natural production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid may be compromised in a leaky gut. Ensuring adequate digestion of food will help with absorption and prevent undesirable bacteria from using the food. Choose healing foods such as bone broths, probiotic rich foods (eg fermented vegetables), prebiotic rich foods (such as vegetables), chia seeds and good quality proteins.
Repair – with digestive tract healing nutrients such as l-glutamine, aloe vera, curcumin, essential fatty acids and vitamins A and D. It is important this step is not overlooked – if the gut is not healed then further food sensitivities may develop and you may not see a full resolution of symptoms.
Rebalance – with probiotics and additional nutritional support. Probiotics are needed to rebalance the gut flora. In addition there may be a need for additional nutritional support – if digestion and absorption have been compromised for some time short-term additional nutrients will be needed to address any specific needs identified, along with a good quality multivitamin and mineral in both the short-term and for long-term maintenance.