Maybe you’re not feeling quite right. You’re bloated. You’re gassy. You have constipation, diarrhea, or even just brain fog. Turns out the culprit could be leaky gut syndrome. But how do you know if you have this disorder? What are leaky gut symptoms? And who is most at risk? Most importantly, what’s the best way to heal your gut? Read on to find out the answers.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Your intestines are lined with a single layer of cells. Their mission? To allow you to absorb nutrients while at the same time acting like a roadblock to keep food allergens, toxins, and harmful bacteria from entering your blood circulation. They’re able to do this by opening and closing tiny gateways in your intestinal lining known as tight junctions. Above that single layer of cells are two layers of mucus. This further keeps the bad guys from getting out into your bloodstream.
That single layer of cells plus the mucus coating are called the intestinal barrier. But when something goes wrong this barrier doesn’t work right. That means food allergens, bad bacteria, and other harmful substances leak out of your gut and into your body. Your immune system believes these substances that escaped from the gut are foreign. It launches an attack, leading to inflammation. This can spell all kinds of trouble and cause all kinds of health problems. These problems may fly under the radar since they aren’t always digestion related.
Recognizing Leaky Gut Symptoms
Leaky gut syndrome is tied to a number of symptoms. These include:
- Brain fog
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Sadness or mood swings
- Joint Pain
- Autoimmune problems
It also goes hand in hand with other conditions. People who have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism, and autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and lupus are at an increased risk of leaky gut.1-4 If you have one of those conditions it’s a good idea to take steps to heal your gut.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Threats to your intestinal barrier are everywhere. Taking antibiotics, emotional stress, intense exercise, exposure to environmental toxins that lurk in our food and water, aging, drinking too much alcohol, eating lots of sugar and processed foods, taking too many NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen)—all these things can weaken your intestinal lining.1,5-7
At the same time, these factors may destroy the balance of good bacteria in your intestines.1 These good bacteria defend the health of your intestinal walls. When they’re knocked out of balance, this allows an army of invading toxins, bad bacteria, and food allergens to march through the gaps in your intestinal lining.
Being allergic or intolerant to certain foods that you eat regularly can also contribute to leaky gut.1 This causes inflammation in the mucosal lining of your intestines. The inflammation may lead to changes that allow the gateways in your gut to open and bad things to escape into your blood circulation.1
Brain Fog and Leaky Gut
More and more research shows that a healthy gut equals a sharp, focused mind.1 During leaky gut, bad bacteria and toxins can travel from the gut to the brain.1 This can lead to foggy thinking or other cognitive problems. The other side of the story is that a balanced and healthy gut microbiota can work together with the brain.1 This leads to a healthy, focused, calm and relaxed mind.
A good example of the link between brain health and leaky gut is celiac disease, a condition where eating gluten causes damage to the intestines. Celiac disease is linked to many brain-related problems, including lack of muscle control or problems with coordination, seizures, headaches, foggy thinking, and depression.1
Diagnosing Leaky Gut
How do you know if you have leaky gut? Your best bet is to make an appointment with a functional medicine doctor. He or she will perform some tests to confirm you have this disorder. These tests may include a mannitol and lactulose test, which involved drinking a solution of these two substances. Urine samples are given over six hours. The amount of mannitol and lactulose in the urine show how much your body absorbed. Low levels of lactulose and high levels of mannitol means you’ve got a healthy gut. You’ve got leaky gut if your test shows high levels of both molecules.
Your doctor may also check for levels of zonulin family protein. High levels of zonulin happen during leaky gut.8
Your functional medicine provider may also want to order a food sensitivity/intolerance test. This test will tell you which foods you want to avoid.
If you have leaky gut syndrome, your doctor can help you heal your gut. But, while working with him or her, you can take some steps on your own.
Leaky Gut Foods To Avoid
Certain foods contribute to leaky gut by weakening the intestinal lining. You should avoid these foods as much as possible:
- Foods to which you’re intolerant or sensitive
Other foods play a role in healing your gut. These include:
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir
- Foods rich in fiber. Low-fiber diets may break down the mucus lining of the intestines.9 Eat foods rich in fibers like psyllium, pectin, and cellulose.
- Vegetables, especially cooked vegetables. Raw foods are harder to digest and might irritate the gut.
Healing Leaky Gut
In addition to a good probiotic supplement, taking a digestive enzyme formula can go a long way in easing food through your digestive tract. Digestive enzyme supplements can help get rid of irritants from your gut lining. What’s more, digestive enzymes keep food moving through your digestive tract rather than becoming stuck and stagnant. This type of supplement also breaks down the fiber you need for a healthy gut. That means you can eat more fiber without worrying about bloating or gas.
Taking a digestive enzyme formula that also includes ginger is an especially savvy solution. Ginger may boost the strength of your intestinal lining.10 This keeps leaky gut at bay. Marshmallow is another great addition to a digestive enzyme supplement. It supports the health of the mucous lining of the intestines.11 This gives your intestines an added layer of protection against leaky gut.
In the end, healing leaky gut can go a long way in keeping you comfortable and confident throughout the day.
- Obrenovich MEM. Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain? Microorganisms. 2018;6(4).
- Lionetti E, Leonardi S, Franzonello C, Mancardi M, Ruggieri M, Catassi C. Gluten Psychosis: Confirmation of a New Clinical Entity. Nutrients. 2015;7(7):5532-5539.
- Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017;8:598.
- Ristori MV, Quagliariello A, Reddel S, et al. Autism, Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Modulation of Gut Microbiota by Nutritional Interventions. Nutrients. 2019;11(11).
- Feng Y, Huang Y, Wang Y, Wang P, Song H, Wang F. Antibiotics induced intestinal tight junction barrier dysfunction is associated with microbiota dysbiosis, activated NLRP3 inflammasome and autophagy. PLoS One. 2019;14(6):e0218384.
- Cao S, Shen Z, Wang C, et al. Resveratrol improves intestinal barrier function, alleviates mitochondrial dysfunction and induces mitophagy in diquat challenged piglets(1). Food Funct. 2019;10(1):344-354.
- Dodiya HB, Forsyth CB, Voigt RM, et al. Chronic stress-induced gut dysfunction exacerbates Parkinson's disease phenotype and pathology in a rotenone-induced mouse model of Parkinson's disease. Neurobiol Dis. 2020;135:104352.
- Fasano A. All disease begins in the (leaky) gut: role of zonulin-mediated gut permeability in the pathogenesis of some chronic inflammatory diseases. F1000Res. 2020;9.
- Desai MS, Seekatz AM, Koropatkin NM, et al. A Dietary Fiber-Deprived Gut Microbiota Degrades the Colonic Mucus Barrier and Enhances Pathogen Susceptibility. Cell. 2016;167(5):1339-1353.e1321.
- Ma ZJ, Wang HJ, Ma XJ, et al. Modulation of gut microbiota and intestinal barrier function during alleviation of antibiotic-associated diarrhea with Rhizoma Zingiber officinale (Ginger) extract. Food Funct. 2020;11(12):10839-10851.
- 11. Deters A, Zippel J, Hellenbrand N, Pappai D, Possemeyer C, Hensel A. Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from Marshmallow roots (Althea officinalis L.): cellular internalisation and stimulation of cell physiology of human epithelial cells in vitro. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010;127(1):62-69.