By Mel Bateson
The first time I heard the term Leaky Gut, I had images. They involved watery brown stuff, and a bum. Both gross and funny, I thought I had best educate myself here, if for no other reason than I did not want my juvenile brain to be correct.
A leaky gut – officially termed intestinal hyperpermeability – occurs when there are leaky junctions instead of tight ones in the intestines. The gaps between the cells lining within the intestine get ever so slightly wider. These small increases in gap size result in a much broader range of compounds – from partially digested food (think strands of five or ten pearls), to microbes and toxins – being able to pass through the gut wall (dry retching, yet?). This then puts the immune system on red alert, as it identifies these larger molecules as invaders, resulting in an inflammatory response.
Inflammation is important – it aids in the healing of damaged tissue. When we have leaky gut, however, inflammation becomes chronic and results in tissue damage. Having a leaky gut means you may potentially end up with inflammation in any part of your body, depending on your personal and family history, your environment and your genetics.
You may get inflammation in your big toe (gout), it could be in your fingers (arthritis), it could be in your brain (depression or dementia) or it could be the trigger for an autoimmune cascade, resulting in conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an underactive and/or overactive thyroid), multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and more. Migraines and seasonal allergies such as hayfever are commonly linked to leaky gut, and syndromes such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are also believed to involve a leaky gut. Bloomin’ HECK, that’s a whole lot of discomfort that we have the absolute power to avoid and heal!
- Allergies, including hayfever
- Brain fog
- Chronic or recurrent headaches
- Constipation, diarrhoea, or alternating between the two
- Difficulty gaining weight
- Difficulty losing weight
- Fatty liver
- Fluid retention
- Food intolerances
- Increased visceral (abdominal) fat
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Period pain
- Skin rashes
Research tells us that gluten causes the cells lining the gut wall to release an enzyme called zonulin, which breaks apart tight junctions, thus making a gut leaky. As a result, gluten is now considered a ‘gateway allergen’, as it opens up the immune system to overactivity from foreign particles entering the bloodstream. Zonulin also increases blood-brain barrier permeability, allowing otherwise denied particles to enter into the brain’s blood supply, which is clearly not ideal for optimum brain function.
How To Diagnose A Leaky Gut?
The Lactulose and Mannitol Challenge for Intestinal Permeability, which really rolls off the tongue, said no one ever, is the basic test to determine if leaky gut is present. One urine specimen is taken from a 6-hour urine collection after an individual consumes a solution of the sugars lactulose and mannitol. The metabolites in the urine indicate the permeability of the gut wall. In layman’s terms, you get to drink sugar and alcohol to see if your intestines leak. Frankly, I’m thinking that convincing a person to take this test would be somewhat easier than say, running the case for a colonoscopy. This is a win, win scenario!
That said, if you have any food sensitivities (as determined by blood testing) or dysbiosis (determined by stool testing), it’s highly likely that you have a leaky gut. Practitioners typically recommend using stool testing, as it indicates what needs to be done to help repair the gut, whereas the urine test is limited to telling you there is problem, without providing clues for a solution.
So How Do You Get A “Get Leaky Guy”?
Several factors cause increased permeability of the gut wall, including:
- Lack of sleep
- Some medications
- Giardia infections
- Coeliac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
When it comes to diet, foods that are particularly high in starches, especially processed ones, and sugars can disrupt our gut bugs. When our gut flora is out of balance, the protection normally provided by gut bugs is compromised, and as such the integrity of the gut wall may be breached.
What Damages Our Gut Bacteria?
- Poor digestive health of your mother
- How we are birthed
- Whether we are breastfed or not
- Soy or cow’s milk fed at birth instead of breast milk
- Germ phobia i.e. lack of exposure to animals, and the overuse of hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps
- NSAIDS, BCP and other drugs
- TNF inhibitors
- Rupatadine (anti-histamine)
- Meat products containing antibiotics and growth hormones
- Wheat and gluten – intensely genetically modified and crossbred in the last 40 years, significant changes in amino acids and gliadin protein, creates inflammation and damage.
- Food intolerances to gluten, dairy, eggs and grains
- An overabundance of carbohydrates
Sugar and processed food are not only terrible for your energy and brain function, they also feed non-beneficial microbes in your gut, causing bacterial overgrowth. Limit sweets to more natural options like beautiful berries, as these are low-sugar, and be mindful of how many starchy carbs you’re eating in a day
For further information please see our sequence of blogs on these topics:
Hsin-Jung Wu, Eric Wu. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012 Jan 1; 3(1): 4–14.
Simon Carding, Kristin Verbeke et al. Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease. Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2015; 26: 10.3402/mehd.v26.26191.
Ríos-Covián D, Ruas-Madiedo P, Margolles A, Gueimonde M, de Los Reyes-Gavilán CG, Salazar N. (Feb 2016). Intestinal Short Chain Fatty Acids and their Link with Diet and Human Health. Front Microbiol. 2016 Feb 17;7:185. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00185. eCollection 2016. PMID:26925050 PMCID: PMC4756104 DOI:10.3389/fmicb.2016.00185
Kamada N, Seo SU, Chen GY, Nunez G. Role of the gut microbiota in immunity and inflammatory disease. Nat Rev Immunol. 2013;13:321–35
Tanoue T, Umesaki Y, Honda K. Immune responses to gut microbiota-commensals and pathogens. Gut Microbes. 2010;1:224–33.
Yasmine Belkaid and Timothy Hand Role of the Microbiota in Immunity and inflammation Cell. 2014 Mar 27; 157(1): 121–141.
Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis and Immunometabolism: New Frontiers for Treatment of Metabolic Diseases. Mediators of Inflammation Volume 2018, Article ID 2037838, 12 pages
E. Belizario and M. Napolitano, “Human microbiomes and their roles in dysbiosis, common diseases, and novel therapeutic approaches,” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 6, p. 1050, 2015.