As a Naturopathic Doctor who sees a lot of gut issues, I get questioned often by people who have heard the term leaky gut, wondering what it is and if it could be the cause of their health issues. This is something I do see often in practice and I find very important to fix in order to treat a number of different issues, such as IBS, eczema, depression and most autoimmune disorders.
What is leaky gut?
Your gut is actually quite fragile as the lining of your intestines is made up of only 1 layer of cells, called enterocytes, lying between your gut lumen and the blood vessels. A border of microvilli on top increases the surface area to aid in absorption of nutrients, water and electrolytes. The intestinal lining also regulates the trafficking of environmental antigens (1) . These enterocytes are held together by tight junctions, like water-way locks, preventing the cells to come apart when inappropriate. Remember the childhood game red-rover? This is the game your gut is always playing. However, damage to the gut lining from inflammation and stress, releases a protein called zonulin which weakens these tight junctions making the lining more permeable (2) and ultimately creating small gaps between the enterocytes that cannot close up. Food particles, or antigens get absorbed between the cells now instead of through the cells, activating an inflammatory and/or immune response in the gut and blood stream.
What health issues can this cause:
Local inflammation - IBS symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation
Autoimmune conditions (1) - Hashimotos thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus and IBD, MS
Systemic conditions - eczema, psoriasis, acne, joint pain, headaches, seasonal allergies
Mental/emotional issues - depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue
What causes leaky gut:
Gluten - this was the first thing found to increase zonulin levels
Bacteria and infections - or bacterial endotoxins also found to increase zonulin levels
Stress - this decreases stomach acid and digestive enzymes leaving larger particles of food to descend into the intestines which irritate the gut lining
Medications such as proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics and NSAIDs
Simple sugars and food additives
How to fix leaky gut:
If you haven’t read my blog post about the 4Rs in gut health, I’d lead you there to shed a little more light on my whole gut healing protocol. Ultimately we need to reestablish the zonulin-dependent intestinal barrier function to close up those gaps between the cells. There are a few favourites of mine that been shown to be very effective at REPAIRING the gut, but don’t forget to REMOVE, REPLACE and REINOCULATE as well.
L-glutamine - this is my go-to for any gut issues, from mild to major. Always given in powder form to ensure a high enough dose.
Collagen - helps to support and strengthen the gut lining like glutamine. I love the brand Sproos that I carry in my practice.
Zinc carnosine - studied to heal the gut, including the stomach lining after H.pylori or an ulcer or after NSAID use
Mucilaginous herbs - marshmallow, aloe vera, DGL, slippery elm
If you struggle with any of the conditions listed above do not hesitate to reach out to discuss the best treatment options for you! Heal your gut to heal your body and start feeling yourself again.
In health & happiness,