How Do I Know if I Have a Leaky Gut?

It might surprise you to know that symptoms of leaky gut might have nothing to do with your gut! Things like chronic headaches, migraines, skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, and even difficulty losing weight can all be linked back to a leaky gut.

What’s more, if you’re looking to nutrition as the sole cause for leaky gut, you’ll have to think again…

One of the reasons leaky gut is so popular as of recent is because it’s largely a product of our Western lifestyles. Fast-paced, high-pressure living with lots of caffeine, sugar, unhealthy fats and too little sleep wreak havoc on the digestive system. If you’ve been pushing forward in your career for years, it might be starting to have an effect on your waistline in more ways than meet the eye.

Read the causes and symptoms of leaky gut in this post and see if any of them ring true for you. If they do, it might be time to look at improving your diet and reducing stress as a way to protect your health in the future. Gut health can be linked to most major diseases and chronic symptoms. If you’re wanting to be healthy for years to come, addressing your gut health through diet and lifestyle is a great place to start.

"Leaky gut" is a popular topic in the health and wellness spheres these days. It's been blamed for many symptoms and conditions that seem to be all-too-common. Allergies, intolerances, joint pain, and even autoimmune diseases can all be linked back to leaky gut.

In this post we’re covering all things leaky gut. Chances are you’ve heard of it, but you might be wondering… what exactly is leaky gut? What causes it? What kinds of issues are related to it? And most of all, what can you eat to help a leaky gut?

What is a leaky gut?

Simply put, your “gut” (a.k.a. “intestinal tract”) is a tube that makes up part of your digestive system. It’s not as simple as a hose or pipe; it’s an amazing tube made of live cells tightly bound together. Your gut helps your body absorb fluids and nutrients, digests your food, and houses billions of friendly gut microbes.

It's also selective to what it allows past its barrier. Your intestinal tract purposefully keeps some things from being absorbed, so they pass right on through to the other end to be eliminated as waste. This is part of your body’s innate intelligent selection. It doesn’t want to absorb many harmful microbes or toxins into your blood stream.

Did you know? About 70-80% of our immune system is housed around our gut. These cells are strategically placed around your gut to be ready for foreign invaders that try to enter the body through the digestive system.

Absorption of fluids and nutrients happens when they're allowed to pass through this cellular tube into the circulation. Absorption is a critical part of digestion. The key is that your gut lining needs to be able to select the right things to absorb (mainly fluids and nutrients). Your bloodstream and lymph circulation then carry the nutrients to your liver, and then around to the rest of your body; this is so that all your cells, all the way to your hair and nails, get the nutrition they need to be healthy and grow.

How does a gut become “leaky?”

The gut can become leaky if the cells get damaged, or if the bonds that hold the cells together get damaged. Leaky gut can be caused or worsened by a number of diet and lifestyle factors. Dietary factors like too much sugar or alcohol or even eating things that you're intolerant/sensitive to can all contribute to leaky gut. Food additives and thickeners like “gums” can also contribute to intestinal irritation and over time cause the gut lining to leak.

Lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep, infections, and some medications can also be culprits in this area. If the balance of gut microbes inside the gut is thrown off this can also contribute to a leaky gut.

Any contributing factors that alter the balance of microbes in your gut may cause the gut lining to become more "permeable" or leak. At this point incompletely digested nutrients, microbes (infectious or friendly), toxins, or waste products can more easily get into our bodies.

Scientifically speaking, a “leaky gut” is known as “intestinal permeability.” This means that our intestines are permeable and allow things through that they normally would keep out. They “leak.”

As you can imagine, this is not a good thing.

What are the symptoms of a leaky gut?

Because so much of your immune system is around your gut, the immune cells quickly recognize a “foreign invader” and start their response. This is normal and good if the gut is working properly and not allowing too many things to “leak” in.

But when that happens too often, and the immune system is continuously responding, inflammation begins to rise throughout the body.  Once the immune system starts responding to these “foreign invaders” from your permeable gut, you’ll get symptoms or side effects like allergies, food intolerances, and even autoimmune diseases.

Because the first place affected is the gut, there are a number of symptoms right there. Things such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea. Not to mention that if foods, even healthy foods, aren't properly digested, their nutrients aren't properly absorbed. Poor absorption can lead to lack of essential vitamins and minerals for the optimal health of every cell in your body.

Some of the symptoms can also occur on the skin. Acne, dry skin, itchiness, rashes, eczema, and hives can all be symptoms related to leaky gut. Even rosacea and psoriasis can be linked here due to their autoimmune component.

It’s possible that even some neurological symptoms are linked with leaky gut. For example, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, inability to sleep, and general moodiness can also be related.

Finally, a number of chronic inflammatory diseases are thought to be linked with a leaky gut. Things like Crohn's, colitis, celiac disease, IBS, and MS. Even things like heart disease and stroke are possibilities.

What to eat for leaky gut

If you suspect you have leaky gut based on the symtoms above, consult a holistic nutritionist, naturopath or other alternative health practitioner for assistance. While it’s unlikely that you’ll heal a leaky gut with diet alone, here are some general recommendations to start. Remember that the symptoms and effects of leaky gut are varied, therefore its best to seek recommendations from a health professional that are specific to your case and your body.

The general recommendation to begin healing a leaky gut is to stop eating inflammatory foods and eat more gut-soothing foods.

Incorporating a gut-soothing diet means cutting out grains, legumes, and dairy. Add to that list, food additives, alcohol, and refined sugars.

In their place, add in more green leafy and cruciferous veggies. These are full of nutrients and contain fiber to help feed your friendly gut microbes. You also want to add more sources of vitamin D which can come from fish and egg yolks, and also from the sun.

In some cases eating more probiotic foods like sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, and kombucha (fermented tea) can be beneficial. Make sure you're getting enough essential omega-3 fats found in fish, nuts and seeds. Finally, adding coconut oil to your diet for it’s special fats called MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides and bone broth for it’s essential amino acids.

Conclusion

Leaky gut, or "intestinal permeability" can happen when your gut gets damaged due to too much sugar and alcohol, or eating foods you're intolerant to. It can also be from stress, lack of sleep, or imbalance in your friendly gut microbes. The symptoms of leaky gut are vast - spanning from digestive woes to skin conditions, even to autoimmune conditions.

It's important to cut out problem foods and drinks and add in more gut-soothing things like green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and probiotic foods. It's also important to ensure you're getting enough omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and amino acids.

Recipe (gut soothing): Slow-Cooked Chicken Broth

Serves 6-8

1 whole chicken, cooked, bones with or without meat
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery, chopped
4 bay leaves
4 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Herbs and spices as desired (salt, pepper, paprika, parsley)
2 handfuls spinach

Instructions

  1. Place chicken bones, and meat if using, into a slow cooker.
  2. Add chopped vegetables, vinegar, and herbs/spices.
  3. Cover with hot water (about 2L /8 cups).
  4. Cook 8 h on medium or overnight on low.
  5. Add spinach 30 minutes before serving.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can strain it before serving, or serve it with the cooked vegetables as soup.

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/what-is-leaky-gut-and-how-can-it-cause/

https://www.thepaleomom.com/what-should-you-eat-to-heal-leaky-gut/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrition-gut-health

http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-leaky-gut-real#section3

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/leaky-gut-syndrome/

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/837168

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/531603

Selina Rose
A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).
Selina Rose on FacebookSelina Rose on Instagram

Author: Selina Rose

A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).