Leaky gut is something we are hearing more and more about. The term leaky gut refers to a condition also known as intestinal permeability which can lead to immune dysregulation and inflammation. Leaky gut is associated with several diseases and symptoms such as allergies, autoimmunity, fatigue, migraines and muscle pain. Leaky gut is not just something that adults deal with, it is a condition that deeply impacts babies and children. Let’s explore what leaky gut is, where it comes from and what to do about it.
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is when the tight junctions that keep the gastrointestinal tract intact become looser than usual. These tight junctions hold the cells of the gut lining together and under ideal conditions they are tight and intact. The lining of the gut is a semi-permeable lining that allows for the transfer of nutrients across the gut lining. The tight junctions serve to keep those epithelial cells together and helps form a barrier. The barrier that the tight junctions create prevents the passage of molecules and ions through the plasma between cells so materials are required to enter the cells by diffusion or active transport in order to pass through the tissue. This is an important function of tight junctions as the barrier allows for transport of nutrients into the cell but not into the tissue and bloodstream at large. When there is intestinal inflammation present that inflammation causes the tight junctions to open ever so slightly, allowing microscopic particles of food to pass into the bloodstream of the person. This creates a situation where the body can mount an inappropriate immune response to these microscopic particles of food like allergy or autoimmunity. For example, with a leaky gut when you eat green beans microscopic pieces of the green beans can get into the bloodstream. Then the body goes into overdrive, attacking the green beans as an invader because it doesn’t recognize the whole, undigested particles of green beans. This leads to the immune dysregulation that is associated with leaky gut. Intestinal permeability in itself creates inflammation that in turn incites more intestinal permeability, a vicious cycle.
How do you get leaky gut?
Many things can cause the inflammation in the gut that creates intestinal permeability. Chronic inflammation from a poor diet, overconsumption of alcohol, infections, stress, chronic constipation, food allergens, aspirin, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, antibiotics, and chemotherapy can all create the intestinal irritation that sets the stage for leaky gut.
How do you heal leaky gut?
Avoidance of food allergens, antibiotics, NSAIDs and alcohol is important in the healing of leaky gut. Making sure to get plenty of fiber and probiotics from fermented foods or supplements helps to repopulate the gut microbiome which is essential for healing intestinal permeability. L-glutamine is a helpful amino acid for healing the permeability in the gut. Butyrate, a short chain fatty acid found in coconut oil/milk, fuels the cells that line the gut and can also be helpful. Healing herbs such as marshmallow and slippery elm are soothing to the inflamed lining of the gut and are a great addition to a treatment for intestinal permeability. Addressing any digestive issues and intestinal infections is also critical for healing leaky gut.
Gut health is the foundation of overall health. Leaky gut is such an individual condition with each person’s microbiome reacting differently to the varied triggers and treatments, that healing times can vary. This can make leaky gut hard to treat, but with a little persistence leaky gut is something that can be healed in children and parents alike. Talk with your healthcare provider if you suspect you are suffering from leaky gut.
– Dr. Catherine Clinton