What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Previously only talked about in niche alternative medicine circles, leaky gut syndrome, or LGS is now a somewhat controversial topic within the health community. A quick google search demonstrates the contention; “Is leaky gut syndrome a real condition” vs "How curing myself of LGS saved my life." Although not recognized within mainstream medicine, more and more practitioners, and more importantly, the public, are starting to recognize and acknowledge its existence. So, what is LGS, why is it so common, and more importantly, how can we treat it?

UNDERSTANDING THE ROOT 

LGS is a condition in which the inner lining increases in permeability. With LGS, the ‘tight junctions’ which normally maintain the integrity of our gut lining is stretched. This increased permeability results in bacteria and toxins ‘leaking’ through the intestinal lining and into the body.

To understand the implications of this, we must first revisit the purpose of our gut. Our gut's primary role is to keep out unwanted substances from the body. If you think about it, the stomach is a separate entity within the abdomen. The food we eat travels ONLY through our gut – aka from our mouth to our anus – separated from the rest of our organs. The system is purposely designed to act as a barrier, shielding the rest of the body from foreign substances. When the system is intact, the agency will digest and assimilate essential nutrients, while preventing toxins and bacteria from entering, sending them out the other end. However, when we have LGS, substances that are meant to remove in our feces are allowed to enter the bloodstream, causing a host of issues. 

Leaky gut is often at the root of so many other common digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis, as well as more less severe issues like constipation, gas and bloating. In addition to contributing to gut issues, LGS can also manifest outside the gut, causing problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and a more recent association, autommune disease.

WHAT CAUSES LEAKY GUT

Generally speaking, LGS, as well as digestive issues in general, are common,  because of today's modern lifestyle. There is not one main culprit, but rather many contributing factors that lead to the development of this condition. Common causes include poor diet, overuse of medications including antacids, NSAIDs and antibiotics, stress, hormonal imbalances and neurological diseases. Diet's high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and toxins like industrialized oils/wheat, and low in fermentable fibers are likely to cause gut issues.

What’s more, these issues also contribute to unhealthy gut flora, so chances are if you have LGS, you also have an unbalanced gut flora. Luckily there are many steps you can take on your own to improve your gut health and help heal your intestinal lining. 

TREATING YOUR LEAKY GUT 

  1. Fix your diet - Treating leaky gut starts and ends with a healthy diet. If you do not improve your diet, no amount of supplementation will fix the issue. First, remove toxins that may irritate the gut. (Toxins in this instance are not harsh chemicals, but rather anything that is capable of causing disease or damage to the body.) Refined carbohydrates, such as cereal grains, sugar, processed soy and industrialized oils such as soybean oil and corn oil. After that, ensuring your diet contains lots of fermentable fibers and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi will help repair gut integrity.
  2. Ensure digestive efficiency - Ensuring your body is appropriately digesting food is key to preventing excess toxins from leaking. Specifically, restoring stomach acid and replacing digestive enzymes will be vital to maintaining gastrointestinal integrity. Finding a supplement that contains both HCL, ox bile and a range of digestive enzymes will cover all the basics.
  3. Restore intestinal lining - After removing toxins and improving digestion, restoring the damaged intestinal lining is critical to treating LGS. To tackle this, supplements that help rebuild intestinal cells such as L-glutamine and N-acetyl glucosamine come highly recommended. After that, addressing inflammation will also help prevent further intestinal permeability. Supplements like slippery elm and DGL licorice will help to sooth the digestive tract while MSM and quercetin address chronic inflammation.
  4. Manage stress levels - Always easier said than done, but managing stress levels is key to improving the outcome of any disease or condition. A body under stress is less efficient and more susceptible to damage. It is up to the individual to determine the best methods for reducing stress, but equally as important as diet.