Updated: Jan 27
"Leaky gut" is a popular topic in the health and wellness spheres these days. It's been blamed for many symptoms and conditions that seem to be all-too-common. Allergies, intolerances, joint pain, brain fog, anxiety and even autoimmune diseases can all be linked back to leaky gut.
But what exactly is leaky gut? What causes it? What kinds of issues are related to it? And most of all, what can you eat for leaky gut?
First, let's talk about what your "gut" does.
Simply put, your “gut” (a.k.a. “intestinal tract”) is a tube that makes up part of your digestive system. It’s not as simple as a hose or pipe. It separates the outside world from the inside world by means of a very thin layer of skin cells called epithelial cells.
This “tube” digests the food you eat and houses billions of gut microbes.
It’s through the cells of your epithelial lining that your gut absorb fluids and nutrients from the food you eat. It's meant to be selective about what it allows to pass through its barrier. Your intestinal tract purposefully keeps certain things from being absorbed into your blood stream, so they pass right on through to the other end to be eliminated as waste. You don't want to absorb harmful microbes or toxins into your body, right?
Absorption of fluids and nutrients happens when they're allowed through this cellular tube into the circulation. The blood and lymph then carry the nutrients to your liver, and then around to the rest of your body.
This is how all the cells in your body (even your toenails) get the nutrition they need to be healthy and grow.
FUN FACT: About 70-80% of our immune system is housed around our gut. It's always primed and ready for foreign invaders.
How does a gut become “leaky?”
Your gut can become leaky if the cells get damaged or if the bonds that hold the cells together get damaged. Leaky gut can be caused or worsened by a number of diet and lifestyle factors.
Each person is different in their "cocktail" of contributors.
Common dietary factors include gluten, too much sugar or alcohol, or even foods that you're intolerant to. Lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep, infections, and some medications can also be culprits in this area.
Sometimes, if the balance of gut microbes inside the gut is thrown off, this can also contribute to a leaky gut. Things like antibiotics, a PPI and even a concussion can all disrupt the microbiota.
Any contributing factors that alter the balance in your gut may cause our gut to become "permeable" or leak. At this point, incompletely digested nutrients, microbes (infectious or friendly), toxins, or waste products can more easily get into our bodies.
Scientifically speaking, a “leaky gut” is known as “intestinal permeability.” This means that our intestines are permeable and allow things through that they normally would keep out. They “leak.”
As you can imagine, this is not a good thing.
What are the symptoms of a leaky gut?
Because so much of your immune system is around your gut, the immune cells quickly recognize a “foreign invader” and start their response. This is normal and good if the gut is working properly and not allowing too many things to “leak” in.
But when it happens too much or too often, and the immune system starts responding, the notorious inflammation starts.
Once the immune system starts responding it can look like allergies, food intolerances, and even autoimmune diseases.
Because the first place affected is the gut, there are a number of symptoms right there.
Things such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea. Not to mention that if foods, even healthy foods, aren't properly digested, their nutrients aren't properly absorbed. Poor absorption can lead to lack of essential vitamins and minerals for the optimal health of every cell in your body.
Some of the symptoms can also occur on the skin. Acne, dry skin, itchiness, rashes, eczema, and hives can all be symptoms related to leaky gut. Even rosacea and psoriasis can be linked here due to their autoimmune component.
It’s possible that even some neurological symptoms are linked with leaky gut. For example, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, inability to sleep, and general moodiness can also be related.
Finally, a number of chronic inflammatory diseases are thought to be linked with a leaky gut. Things like Crohn's, colitis, celiac disease, IBS, and MS. Even things like heart disease and stroke are possibilities.
What to eat for leaky gut
The general recommendation is to stop eating inflammatory foods and eat more gut-soothing foods.
Incorporating a gut-soothing diet means cutting out grains, legumes, and dairy. Add to that list, food additives, alcohol, and refined sugars. Many people also have problems with nightshades (tomatoes/peppers) and eggs.
In their place, add in more green leafy and cruciferous veggies. These are full of nutrients and contain fibre to help feed your friendly gut microbes.
You also want to add more sources of vitamin D which can come from fish and egg yolks, and also from the sun.
Eat more probiotic foods like sauerkraut, dairy-free yogurt, and kombucha (fermented tea). Make sure you're getting enough essential omega-3 fats found in seafood and seaweed.
Finally, make sure you're getting some coconut oil and bone broth. Coconut oil has special fats called MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), and bone broth has essential amino acids.
Leaky gut, or "intestinal permeability" can happen when your gut gets damaged due to too much sugar and alcohol, or eating foods you're intolerant to. It can also be from stress, lack of sleep, or imbalance in your friendly gut microbes. The symptoms of leaky gut are vast - spanning from digestive woes to skin conditions, even to autoimmune conditions.
It's important to cut out problem foods and drinks and add in more gut-soothing things like green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and probiotic foods. It's also important to ensure you're getting enough omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and amino acids.