Leaky gut syndrome isn’t a pleasant-sounding affliction and you’d be right to assume it’s a rather unpleasant one to have! Like most conditions affecting the digestive system, leaky gut’s name is as unsavory as its side effects. Unfortunately, leaky gut is becoming a more and more common condition for many people and beginning to cause long-term damage to not just their gut health, but their holistic health as well.
Despite the gross name, we need to start talking about leaky gut syndrome. More important, we need to start having conversations about what it is, how to avoid it and what a healthy gut means for your total health and wellness. Prevention starts with understanding.
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome is exactly what it sounds like: toxins, bacteria, food particles and digestive waste leak out of our intestines due to weakened gut tissue (epithelial cells). They seep into the blood stream and are carried throughout our body, causing all sorts of problems that are tricky to diagnose. For most people, it means chronic illness with no clear way of treating it because they’re not looking at their gut—they’re looking at the symptoms.
Why does your gut leak?
Weakened epithelial cells and a leaky gut are generally caused by an imbalance within your gut microbiome—the collection of bacteria that govern the digestive process.
The gut contains all types of bacteria (called gut flora). Good bacteria breaks down food, neutralizes toxins and prevents us from getting sick. Probiotics, amino acids and nutrients are all building blocks for healthy gut flora and a good microbiome. Unfortunately, when we don’t get enough of these things, our gut flora can suffer and cause an imbalance in our microbiome.
An unbalanced gut features too much bad bacteria, which feast on things like sugar and cause conditions like inflammation and immune responses. Bad bacteria, combined with inflammatory side effects, break down epithelial cells, weaken the walls of the gut and spill into the blood stream, causing leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut’s effect on the rest of the body
Consider what happens if bad bacteria enters your blood stream. It may start in your gut, but due to the circulatory system, that bacteria might end up spreading throughout your body, bringing an inflammatory response with it. People with leaky gut syndrome have reported the following conditions as a result:
- Bloating, diarrhea, gas and general gastrointestinal stress
- Acne, rosacea, dermatitis, psoriasis and other skin conditions
- General malaise or lethargy linked to metabolic syndrome
- Autoimmune disease flare-ups, including psoriasis and lupus
- Problems sleeping, insomnia and sleep apnea
There’s no telling how leaky gut will manifest in many people, outside of generally prevalent gastrointestinal distress, which is the most common marker. It begs the question: how do I know if I have a leaky gut?
Signs of a leaky gut (and what to do about it)
Leaky gut syndrome usually starts with gastrointestinal stress. Most people experience cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea in the early stages of leaky gut—a signal that their epithelial cell wall has been compromised. Unfortunately, many people attribute this to stress or a temporary condition and ignore it, popping antiacids along the way.
If you experience chronic gastrointestinal discomfort for more than a few days, recognize that your body is trying to tell you something! Take immediate action to “reset” your stomach and restore your microbiome. Here’s how:
- Spend a week eating a very plain, bland diet. Lots of chicken and rice, leafy greens and vegetables. Strive for a high protein, low sugar diet. Avoid gluten, dairy and soy, if possible.
- After a week of strict healthy eating, introduce daily probiotics to your diet and continue to eat carefully. Try to exercise daily—even if it’s just going for a walk around the block a few times.
- Avoid alcohol and sugar for a period of 30 days, while taking probiotics, to allow your gut flora to repopulate and rebalance your gut. Assuming you are healthy, avoid taking any antibiotics or OTC medications (unless prescribed by a doctor).
It’s also a good idea to chat with your doctor if you think you have leaky gut syndrome. Many times, they’ll recommend the above tips with a checkup scheduled to monitor your progress.
The goal in resolving leaky gut syndrome—and any chronic ailments linked to it—is to restore a healthy gut microbiome and nurture your gut flora. A well-balanced diet, proper supplementation, regular exercise and healthy lifestyle choices all contribute to a happy, healthier gut. Ask yourself, which would you rather have: a salad for lunch or an uncomfortable discussion about leaky gut syndrome with your doctor?