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A leaky gut doesn’t just impact your digestive health. Research suggests that leaky gut is a precursor for potential autoimmune diseases. (Mu et al., 2017)

Leaky gut syndrome allows toxins, antigens, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. These toxins can trigger the initiation of an autoimmune reaction, as well as the development of a chronic autoimmune condition if left untreated for long enough.

This is why identifying and addressing symptoms as early as possible is crucial. Below is a list of some of the most common symptoms tied to leaky gut syndrome:

  • Food sensitivities. Food sensitivities have been linked to leaky gut syndrome and are perhaps one of the most common symptoms. (Chen et al., 2014)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). People who suffer from an IBD such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease have an elevated risk of gut permeability. (Gecse et al., 2012)
  • Mood swings and depression. Gut permeability can trigger an inflammatory response, which causes the release of cytokines as well as other chemicals. This response can cause mood swings, brain fog, and depression. (Maes et al., 2008)

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Risk Factors

There are many risk factors that can elevate the risk of leaky gut occurring. Though some of these risk factors are unavoidable, many can be managed. Risk factors include the following:

  • Poor diet. Poor diets — especially a diet high in gluten — can activate zonulin, which leads to increased gut permeability (Drago et al., 2006)
  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics cause gut dysbiosis by killing off not just harmful bacteria, but beneficial bacteria, as well. A healthy gut microbiome is essential in supporting the epithelial barrier. A strong epithelial barrier helps to prevent inappropriate permeability. When the gut is compromised, the risk of gut permeability skyrockets.
  • Chronic Stress. Chronic stress increases the release of cortisol and norepinephrine, which shut down the digestive system as well as the immune system.
  • Genetic predisposition to IBD. IBD is known to increase the risk of leaky gut significantly.
  • Alcohol consumption. Alcohol can increase inflammation especially throughout the digestive system, which can cause gut permeability. Learn more here.
  • Pain medications.  Pain killers —  particularly OTC medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — can compromise the gut barrier and leave it vulnerable to inappropriate permeability.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These medications are used for acid reflux and can alter gut bacteria, leading to gut dysbiosis. This can make the entire digestive system vulnerable to permeability.
  • Untreated gut infections due to yeast, bacteria, and parasites. These infections can cause inflammation and increased gut permeability.

How to Treat Leaky Gut

Consult your healthcare provider before trying any of these treatment plans.

1. Start an elimination diet.

A leaky gut typically involves dysbiosis and inflammation. Remove any foods that damage the gut and are triggers for inflammation. Specifically, stay away from gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, processed foods, alcohol, fried food, and caffeine for at least three weeks before systematically challenging each one individually and noting your response.

2. Replace your diet with anti-inflammatory foods.

Anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Berries
  • Fatty fish
  • Broccoli
  • Grapes
  • Avocados
  • Peppers
  • Bone broth
  • Curcumin
  • Unprocessed meat, poultry, and eggs (if tolerated)
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Fresh fruits

3. Repair the gut with a range of supplements to support epithelial health and tight junction integrity.

4. Rebalance the gut with probiotics.

Specific probiotic strains help to repair and strengthen the intestinal barrier. They also help protect the gut from harmful bacteria species.

Growing evidence has also shown that gut microbiota is essential in supporting the epithelial barrier, which regulates what environmental factors enter the body. In addition, research shows that probiotics play a vital part in reversing leaky gut by increasing the production of tight junction proteins. (Mu et al., 2017)

Get your probiotics through:

  • High-quality probiotic supplements that contain at least 10 billion active cultures
  • Fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi
  • Raw-cultured, organic dairy such as kefir

Recommended Probiotic supplements for leaky gut:

5. Try a predominately plant-based diet.

Leafy greens contain an array of vital nutrients and chlorophyll, which are all gut-healing. Polyphenolic foods - which are the bright red, blue, purple and black foods - also stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Prebiotic foods are also found in many plant foods. Be mindful that if SIBO is present, then some plant foods will be unsuitable until treatment is complete.

6. Avoid over-the-counter medications for pain and indigestion unless necessary.

These medications can cause unwanted harm to gut health by compromising the gut wall and promoting dysbiosis.

7. Avoid or reduce alcohol intake.

Alcohol increases gut permeability and inflammation.

8. Minimize stress.

Try meditation, exercising, or deep breathing exercises. Lower stress levels help to increase the healing of the gut. (Foster et al., 2017)

9. Get more sleep.

Getting a good night of sleep helps in the distribution of good gut bacteria. This reduces the risk of gut permeability. (Poroyko et al., 2016)

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Research Citations

  • Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology. 2017;8:598. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598.
  • Chen T, Liu X, Ma L, He W, Li W, Cao Y, Liu Z. Food allergens affect the intestinal tight junction permeability in inducing intestinal food allergy in rats. Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology. 2014;32(4):345-53. doi:10.12932/AP0443.32.4.2014.
  • Gecse K, Róka R, Séra T, Rosztóczy A, Annaházi A, Izbéki F, Nagy F, Molnár T, Szepes Z, Pávics L, Bueno L, Wittmann T. Leaky gut in patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and inactive ulcerative colitis. Digestion. 2012;85(1):40-6. doi:10.1159/000333083.
  • Drago S, El Asmar R, Di Pierro M, Grazia Clemente M, Tripathi A, Sapone A, Thakar M, Iacono G, Carroccio A, D'Agate C, Not T, Zampini L, Catassi C, Fasano A. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2006;41(4):408-19.
  • Maes M, Kubera M, Leunis JC. The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression. Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 2008;29(1):117-24.
  • Manrique Vergara D, González Sánchez ME. Short chain fatty acids (butyric acid) and intestinal diseases. Nutricion Hospitalaria. 2017;34(Suppl 4):58-61. doi:10.20960/nh.1573.
  • Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiology of Stress. 2017;7:124-136. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2017.03.001.
  • Poroyko VA, Carreras A, Khalyfa A, Khalyfa AA, Leone V, Peris E, Almendros I, Gileles-Hillel A, Qiao Z, Hubert N, Farré R, Chang EB, Gozal D. Chronic Sleep Disruption Alters Gut Microbiota, Induces Systemic and Adipose Tissue Inflammation and Insulin Resistance in Mice. Scientific Report. 2016;6:35405. doi: 10.1038/srep35405.
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