What is Leaky gut?
The epithelial cells that line our intestines contain an important u-shaped tissue called Tight Junctions. These tight junctions act as a seal between the cells inside the intestine and the bloodstream, their job is to decide what can pass through and what can't. For example nutrients and minerals from food should be allowed to travel through, once properly broken down in the gut first. However, unwanted molecules, such as toxins, pathogens or food particles not yet fully broken down should be prevented from travelling through. (1)
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, refers to a break down in these tight junctions. They have become weakened and are no longer so 'tight'! Because of this, molecules can now flow more freely through to the bloodstream, causing your immune system to step in and initiate a response to these intruders. (2)
How do we get it?
Leaky Gut can be a result of chronic inflammation, through a poor diet, high stress or usually a cocktail of both. It can also be the result of other diseases that cause injury to the intestinal lining, such as HIV/AIDES, or a side effect from intense medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. (3)
A key player in the genesis of leaky gut is dysbiosis. This means an imbalance in the microorganisms that live in our gut. Often called the gut microbiome, we have trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in our digestive system, and although this sounds like a bad thing, it's very much not - when kept in balance. This microbiome influences many aspects of our wider health, including our immune system, metabolism and cardiovascular health. However, the problems occur when this careful balance of microorganisms is knocked out of whack, sometimes by antibiotics, or perhaps it was never fully in balance as is often the case with babies born non-vaginally or not-breastfed. (4)
What bigger issues can it cause?
Leaky Gut can lead to chronically high levels of inflammation and an overstrained immune system trying to mop it up. This could contribute to autoimmune disease development, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, acne, weight issues and the list goes on and on. (5)
What can we do about it?
The good news is our bodies are constantly working to repair and renew, and the gut is no different! We just have to give it the right tools to aid recovery and bring balance back to our body.
Here are 5 things you can do right now to help your gut heal from leaky gut.
1. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods.
Foods such as berries, colourful veg, whole grains and healthy fats offer a range of phytonutrients that can soothe inflammation.
2. Support your immune system.
Focusing on foods rich in healthy fats like oily fish, avocado, nuts & seeds can give essential nutrients not only to our gut but to our immune system. Daily movement is also a great support for the immune system; walking and stretching are just two easy things to incorporate to your daily routine for health benefits.
3. Eat foods that will nourish the gut microbiome.
Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and some yoghurts are rich in probiotics, perfect for replenishing the gut microbiome. Another great way to nourish the microbiome would be to consume foods rich in prebiotics, these fibrous foods such as raspberries, artichokes and broccoli offer a food source to the microorganisms in our gut.
4. Rest & Destress
We know that the biggest nerve in our body, called the Vagus Nerve, stretches from our gut to our brain. If we want a happy gut, we need to work on calming our brain, through quality sleep, stress management and restful habits. A great first step is to move your bedtime to at minimum 11pm, but ideally be winding down with no screens or bright lights 2 hours before that. Sleep is where our body does it's best restorative work so getting plenty of quality zzz's is vital.
5. Consider quality supplements, in particular probiotics and digestive enzymes.
We should focus on getting as many minerals and vitamins through our diet, however in states of imbalance supplements play an important role for recovery. Quality probiotics can offer some great help in this area, however the emphasis really is on 'quality'! It's important to chat with a professional for their recommendations of good brands and dosage thoughts.
I prefer to tell my clients what they can ADD into their diet rather than what to restrict. However, it goes without saying that to aid a speedier recovery it's helpful to lay off the inflammation triggers such as alcohol, gluten, dairy and sugary and fried foods. Just don't forget it's all about the long term lifestyle changes, and large, overly intense restrictions often worsen our relationship with food.
If you're struggling with Leaky Gut or a constant barrage of digestive issues and you're done trying to figure it out alone, get in touch via the button below and let's chat about it!
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1. Lee S. H. (2015). Intestinal permeability regulation by tight junction: implication on inflammatory bowel diseases. Intestinal research, 13(1), 11–18.
2. Hanning, N., Edwinson, A. L., Ceuleers, H., Peters, S. A., De Man, J. G., Hassett, L. C., De Winter, B. Y., & Grover, M. (2021). Intestinal barrier dysfunction in irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology, 14, 1756284821993586.
3. Medical University of South Carolina. "Evidence for link between 'leaky gut' and autoantibody production in HIV-positive patients." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 April 2019.
4. Chakaroun, R. M., Massier, L., & Kovacs, P. (2020). Gut Microbiome, Intestinal Permeability, and Tissue Bacteria in Metabolic Disease: Perpetrators or Bystanders?. Nutrients, 12(4), 1082.
5. Front. Immunol., 27 June 2022. Sec. Autoimmune and Autoinflammatory Disorders. Volume 13 - 2022.