What is a leaky gut, anyway? You may have heard the term “leaky gut” mentioned in talking about digestive problems. This term was coined in 1995 by Harvard Professor Dr. Alessio Fasano, who famously said “All disease begins in the leaky gut”.
But what does it mean?
In a healthy gut, the gut mucosal lining acts as a selective barrier, only allowing digested proteins, fats, carbohydrates and other nutrients to pass through these lining cells to end up in your bloodstream.
Leaky gut really means that there is inflammation in the gut, leading to increased permeability, which allows partially digested food particles, toxic waste molecules and even bacterial by-products to leak through this protective membrane. As you may know, over 70% of your immune cells live in and around your digestive tract, so a leaky gut can trigger an immune response that can cause problems almost anywhere is the body.
Furthermore, the damaged gut mucosal cells don’t work as well as they should, impairing the absorption of nutrients. This can lead to a cascade of problems, both in the gut and beyond.
What are the top 10 symptoms of leaky gut?
Fatigue, especially worse after eating
Gut problems like bloating, constipation or diarrhea
Increasing intolerance to various foods
Aching joints and sore muscles
Skin problems such as eczema, acne, hives or rosacea
Headaches, both tension and migraine
Brain fog and fuzzy thinking
Poor immunity and vulnerability to multiple infections
Autoimmune disorders like lupus, psoriasis, thyroid problems and rheumatoid arthritis
Mood problems like depression, anxiety and ADHD
Dr Fasano considers there are two powerful triggers for leaky gut. The first is consuming gluten; and that’s for all of us, not just celiacs. The other is exposure to byproducts produced by bad bacteria in our guts.
And there’s more:
Stress Effects: There is no doubt that periods of extreme stress affect the gut. The stress hormones that flood our body during high stress directly damage the gut lining, and can also make us eat more, or have no appetite, or make a meal sit like a stone in the stomach. So stressful times can definitely contribute to leaky gut.
Covid-19: We now know that having Covid-19 often affected the gut lining, whether or not people had gut symptoms. This can then result in in leaky gut that can trigger inflammation anywhere in the body. If you are interested in learning more about this check out our course on Long Covid.
Medication Side - Effects: Certain drugs are also problematic. You may be at risk for leaky gut if you have used several antibiotics in the last few years, or if you take daily aspirin or NSAIDS. If your medical history includes treatment with chemotherapy, you probably have some issues with leaky gut. Even the use of the birth control pill can increase the likelihood of leaky gut.
One of the most significant imbalances created by medications appears to be due to proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These are very common medications used treat acid reflux. You probably know at least one person who uses these, and may even be taking them yourself. (More about PPIs in a future SHINE weekly.)
How can you help heal a leaky gut? Stay tuned for our future articles on this topic! And remember, everything from the gut goes directly to the liver. A leaky gut puts a heavy burden on the liver, so supporting the liver is even more important.