The Leaky Gut Syndrome
If you have not been in contact with this term before you may wonder what mystery hides behind this unusual name. The leaky gut syndrome is a more casual name for a condition called increased intestinal permeability.
In your gut a single layer of continuous cells builds a barrier to separate the inside of your body from the outside world. This single layer of gut cells is tightly glued together and allows only specific particles to enter our bodies. The way they stay together is by tight junctions built through a group of proteins. When these tight junctions work correctly, particles are not able to pass through the space in between cells. They need to use selective methods to pass through the gut cells to then enter the body circulation.1 This sounds complicated but is extremely important to prevent any unwanted material like pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or even too big of food particles to enter your body and cause inflammation.
As the inner surface of our gut consists of a surface area of more than 4,000 square feet, it is not hard to imagine that every now and then some of these tight junctions may not work as well as they should. 2 While we all have some degree of a leaky gut, which doesn’t have to be harmful and can even be desired to let some particles in that couldn’t cross through the cell, there has been more and more proof of excessive leaks at the gut barrier.3 This involuntary opening of intercellular space letting in particles that leads to inflammation in your body is called leaky gut syndrome.
Why is this important?
Leaky gut syndrome has been associated with several chronic diseases, possibly showing that it could play an important role in the development and treatment of those diseases. Diseases that are known to be linked to a leaky gut are celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and crohn’s disease. Additionally, research has shown to be promising that it may be associated to other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, atopic dermatitis, asthma, acne, obesity, allergies, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and mental illness. Further studies on humans need to be conducted. 2
You can see, that treating the gut may potentially be a big milestone in the treatment and prevention of these conditions.
How do I know if I have a leaky gut syndrome?
As the effects a leaky gut can have on your body can vary from person to person, the symptoms can be extremely diverse. Some symptoms that have been found are: 4,2,5
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation
- food allergies
- joint pain
What causes a leaky gut?
You may ask yourself why some people get a leaky gut while others do not. That is a very good question that depends on various factors.
There are some factors that cannot be changed, for example a genetic predisposition for autoimmune disease (e.g.IBD), but here comes the good news. Just because you may have the potential to get it, does not mean that you have to get sick. It depends on various factors that mostly can be changed in order to prevent the manifestation of a disease.
Depending on your lifestyle including, smoking, lack of exercise, increased alcohol consumption, stress, frequent use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. Ibuprofen), and your diet, you can either accelerate the development of the disease or prevent it. 6 An increased consumption of whole fruits, vegetables, and plant-based fats as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut or pickles have shown to be beneficial.
While there is still a lot to discover when it comes to gut health and its implications on overall health, research has been promising that by treating your gut you can make a big difference in your overall health. Especially fascinating is the effect of gut health on mental health and vice versa. It is known that lifestyle factors and particularly your diet can make an enormous impact on your gut health. To get the ideal support and treatment for your condition it is recommended to work with a nutritionist that is trained in the field and can give you personalized advice.
1. Editors BD. Tight Junctions. Biology Dictionary. Published April 14, 2017. Accessed February 5, 2021. https://biologydictionary.net/tight-junctions/
2. MD MC. Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Harvard Health Blog. Published September 22, 2017. Accessed February 5, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451
3. Arrieta MC, Bistritz L, Meddings JB. Alterations in intestinal permeability. Gut. 2006;55(10):1512-1520. doi:10.1136/gut.2005.085373
4. Zhang B, Verne ML, Fields JZ, Verne GN, Zhou Q. Intestinal Hyperpermeability in Gulf War Veterans with Chronic Gastrointestinal Symptoms. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2019;53(7):e298-e302. doi:10.1097/MCG.0000000000001135
5. Kelly JR, Kennedy PJ, Cryan JF, Dinan TG, Clarke G, Hyland NP. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015;9:392. doi:10.3389/fncel.2015.00392
6. cdduserlogin. Leaky Gut: what is it and what to do to improve your gut health. Center for Digestive Diseases. Published July 6, 2020. Accessed February 5, 2021. https://centerfordigestivediseases.com/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-to-do-to-improve-your-gut-health/