What is “Leaky Gut Syndrome”?

Do you suffer from low energy, have digestive comfort, find it difficult to lose weight, get frequent headaches, frequent colds, have achy muscles and joints, as well as skin problems? Then, according one American author and former cardiac surgeon, you may have a condition known as “leaky gut syndrome” – also referred to as increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyper-permeability.

For decades, many physicians have studied the impact that diet has on health, and it has been discovered that certain foods we consume can cause tears in the lining of our gut, which allows for harmful toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to enter our bloodstream and cause a wide range of health issues, including those mentioned above in addition to fatigue, food cravings, widespread inflammation, and more. You may also develop symptoms such as bloating, as well as become sensitive to certain foods. In order to reduce your risk of developing leaky gut syndrome and in order to prevent these symptoms from occurring, it’s important that you pay close attention to the foods you’re eating as well as be aware of any foods that might be causing you problems and knowing what you should avoid.

As for what causes this condition, it remains somewhat of a mystery. However, one inflammatory protein known as zonulin, which helps regulate the gut, can actually lead to leaky gut when it becomes activated in individuals who are susceptible. For example, if someone who is gluten sensitive consumes products containing gluten (such as wheat or grains), then this could trigger the release of zonulin; while some studies have shown that gluten only increases symptoms that are associated with this condition in individuals who have conditions such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome. Along with these two conditions, other diseases that have been linked to leaky gut syndrome include Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and food allergies. Things like excessive sugar intake, long-term use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, excessive alcohol intake, chronic inflammation, nutrient deficiencies (particularly vitamin A, D and zinc), yeast overgrowth, and even stress may also be contributing factors that could cause increased intestinal permeability/intestinal hyper-permeability (aka “leaky gut syndrome.”) In fact, stress has been known to contribute to multiple gastrointestinal-related disorders.

Because leaky gut syndrome isn’t necessarily an officially recognized medical diagnosis, there is not a specific cure for it. However, there is one thing that Dr. Ghahary recommends trying in order to improve your overall gut health, and that’s improve your eating habits! First and foremost, you should limit your intake of refined carbohydrates – for example, sugar. Harmful bacteria tends to thrive on sugar, and if you consume too much of it you can harm the function of your gut barrier. Instead, you should eat more foods that are high in fibre as well as fermented. High-fibre foods, for example, include fruits and vegetables, and legumes; while things like plain yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut are fermented. If you’re someone who takes a lot of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on a regular basis for pain relief, speak to your physician about finding other alternatives. While acetaminophen can also be harmful in certain ways if taken for extended amounts of time, it is considered the safer of the two. There may also be some natural things you can try, such as increasing your level of physical activity, to try and relieve pain – though it entirely depends on your circumstances. You should always check with your physician before implementing anything new into your exercise routine, especially if you have any underlying health issues.

For more information on other stomach-related issues, visit the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research at badgut.org.