If you suffer with chronically bad digestion (whether as a result of poor diet, a food intolerance or allergy, bowel disorder or other cause), the lining of your intestines can become irritated over time.
The lining of a healthy small intestine allows just the nutrients we have digested from food to be absorbed. However, where there is irritation and inflammation, large spaces can develop between the cells of the gut wall making it more porous than it should be.
Bacteria, toxins, partially digested food particles, fungi and metals can then begin to leak through too.
This is the condition known as "leaky gut syndrome".
In this way, in people who are susceptible to the condition, these unwanted particles and organisms which would normally be eliminated from a healthy digestive tract are instead allowed to enter the bloodstream.
This can, in turn, challenge the immune system and even cause food allergies and intolerances to develop where none existed before. The food particles can also interact with the immune system to form what are called circulating immune complexes.
The result - a vicious circle of inflammation, bacterial activity and toxicity that strains digestion, weakens immunity and aggravates an already permeable gut.
The immune system slowly becomes overwhelmed by the high level of toxins and reacts by producing antibodies and inflammatory chemicals. This is why leaky gut syndrome is often associated with autoimmune diseases (such as coeliac disease).
Causes of leaky gut syndrome
There can be any number of causes of leaky gut syndrome - anything that places a strain on our digestive tract or irritates the intestinal lining for a prolonged period of time could trigger the condition. For example:
- poor diet (including a diet high in sugar, saturated fat, acid-forming foods and foods that are refined or processed)
- (linked to poor diet) nutritional deficiencies
- high alcohol consumption
- certain medications (particularly long-term use of antibiotics, which destroy the good, as well as the bad, bacteria in the gut, steroids and NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen)
- dysbiosis (an imbalance in bowel flora)
- food poisoning and gastrointestinal infections
- yeast overgrowth.
Yeast overgrowth is a factor in leaky gut because, if allowed to flourish, Candida can actually grow in the mucous membrane of the intestinal walls like a large tree, where the roots cause cracks to form in the surrounding ground. In the same way, Candida can worsen any leaks in the gut.
Leaky gut symptoms
As with many digestive disorders, the symptoms of an excessively permeable gut can be ambiguous and wide-ranging, making it very difficult to accurately diagnose. However, some of the more common symptoms include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- recurring Candida and other fungal infections
- allergies and intolerances (to food, chemicals and other substances)
- weakened immunity
- chronic fatigue
- foggy head and clouded thinking
- joint pain
- nutritional deficiencies.
Overcoming a leaky gut
Now that you know a little about what causes and aggravates leaky gut, it makes it easier to take steps to avoid those things and, hopefully, alleviate the condition over time.
1. Follow a leaky gut diet
This includes avoiding those foods and drinks that feed harmful bacteria, parasites or yeasts - specifically, anything that contains high levels of sugar. Similarly, reduce your intake of foods made of white flour, as well as grains, as they are all digested into sugar in your intestines.
It is also worth following a low reactive diet - this means avoiding the foods and drink that most commonly promote or aggravate a leaky gut. These include dairy products, gluten, yeast, acid-forming foods, caffeine and alcohol.
Instead, opt for an alkalising diet of whole foods, fruit, vegetables and leafy green plants. This will not only ease the strain on your digestion, it will provide you with essential enzymes, dietary fibre and will also naturally help to reduce inflammation in the body.
And try to include more chillies, raw garlic and onion in your diet - they all have natural antibacterial properties!
Some foods also contain natural plant fibres which help to promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut by providing food for them - these are called prebiotics. A good example of a prebiotic is FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), found in Jerusalem artichoke. It can also be taken in supplement form.
2. Boost your immunity
While your immune system is under this strain, it is important to take proactive steps to strengthen it. This might include upping your levels of physical activity (which can also assist with body detox), dealing with any underlying infections or parasites, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and (where possible) minimising the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.
Upping your intake of a broad spectrum of essential nutrients is also an integral part of strengthening your immune system. This is best done through a balanced and varied diet, but can also be supported effectively through the intake of high-quality food form supplements. For example, a multi-nutrient blend, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
You may also benefit from taking a digestive enzyme supplement, to help you digest your food more thoroughly. Similarly, friendly bacteria form an important part of both efficient digestion and a healthy immune system (because they help to 'crowd out' harmful micro-organisms). Many people with leaky gut tend to have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. You may therefore benefit from taking a high-quality, concentrated multi-strain probiotic supplement.
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