What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is a problem with the inside of the bowel, where the cells making up the mucosal barrier become less effective. The barrier is designed to absorb nutrients, and also to stop germs from the bowel getting into the blood stream.
There is some debate in the medical world about leaky gut syndrome and its effects. While a porous gut is a problem for many, there are arguments about whether it’s a syndrome that leads to wider problems. There’s debate about the damage done by the condition, particularly around the other conditions it is sometimes linked to.
It tends to be practitioners of alternative medicine who believe leaky gut to have wider complications.
Leaky gut syndrome, chronic fatigue and MS
Many people believe there’s a link between leaky gut and other conditions. It could be the cause of several long term health problems including chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, asthma, migraine, food allergies and multiple sclerosis.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
Reported symptoms of leaky gut can include:
- Diarrhoea, constipation, wind or bloating
- Weak immune system
- Headaches and memory loss
- Nutritional deficiences
- Extreme tiredness
- Skin rashes or other skim problems
- Sugar cravings
- Joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Food intolerances
- Recurrent vomiting
What causes leaky gut?
It’s believed that the symptoms of leaky gut are caused when the immune system reacts to germs and toxins being absorbed into the blood because of weaknesses in the gut barrier.
There are certain irritants such as alcohol, aspirin, antibiotics, and ibuprofen, which can damage the seals between cells in the gut wall, and allow substances to pass into the blood. Although it should be noted that most experts say these substances should only cause mild inflammation and not a major problem – at its worst causing ulcers in the bowel lining.
Other medical conditions can also cause problems for the bowel lining, including bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease, intestinal infections, coeliac disease, chemotherapy medicines, chronic kidney disease, radiotherapy, HIV/AIDS, cystic fibrosis, type 1 diabetes, sepsis and complicated surgery.
Other suggested causes include a poor diet, genetic predisposition or stress. Another possible factor could be a lack of zinc in your diet, as this is a crucial element for maintaining a strong intestinal lining.
How to heal leaky gut
The leaky gut diet
If you’re suffering from an inflamed bowel, you might want to try a liquid diet to reduce inflammation, although you should of course consult your doctor first.
Essentially the first step is to cut out the foods that are irritating your gut. Different practitioners suggest different solutions, and of course it depends which other conditions you suffer from, so for example the low FODMAP diet can be helpful if you have IBS, and may or may not also help a leaky gut. Equally if leaky gut is related to coeliac disease, you’ll benefit both by adopting a gluten free diet.
Talk to your GP before cutting out any food groups.
What is the low FODMAP diet?
Discover more about the low FODMAP diet and how it could benefit you.
Gut healthy foods
Chewing properly can help leaky gut
The more thoroughly you chew your food before swallowing, the less work your stomach has to do to break it down and extract nutrients. Try to cut down on big meals while you’re healing, and eat little and often, with lots of chewing (30+ chews per mouthful) to help your digestive system work efficiently.
Cut down on stress and heal your gut
As you’ll know if nervousness affects your digestion, or if you’ve ever had tummy ache before an exam, the stomach is easily affected by our emotions. If you’ve been going through a stressful period and believe you have leaky gut, the two are almost certainly interlinked. Cutting down on stress is an important step in rebuilding your gut health, so try meditation, yoga, long walks and lots of deep, calming breaths.
Can yeast cause leaky gut?
Many holistic therapists believe that an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the bowel can cause leaky gut, although there is currently no scientific evidence for this.
How long does it take to heal a leaky gut?
As with any medical issues, the time it takes to heal is different for everyone, but the average is around three to six months to start feeling better after cutting out irritant foods. After a period of following a simple diet, at the six month mark many sufferers are able to reintroduce certain foods.
Leaky gut supplements
The NHS says that there is little evidence that treatments such as supplements and herbal remedies have any benefits.