Even though Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) has gained lots of attention in recent years, it is still not a diagnosable condition, at least in the eyes of western medicine. That’s unfortunate because LGS symptoms are real and affect a large segment of the population in the United States. In this article, we’ll take a close look at leaky gut syndrome, its causes, symptoms, and how to get rid of it completely with a customized gut restoration nutrition plan.
The intestinal lining covers over 4,000 square feet of surface area. Its role is to act as a gatekeeper for what enters our bloodstreams. In this extensive lining resides the gut immune system, commonly referred to as GALT (Gastrolymphoid Associated Tissue). It includes lymphocytes and lymph nodes to act as a defense shield against pathogens and ensure that metabolic waste and un-metabolized food particles don’t leak into the bloodstream.
During inflammation, the GALT is activated and recruits other immune system cells that attack what it perceives as a harmful invader. As it tries to destroy the allergen, it damages the mucosa, the vili, and the tight junctions between plasma membranes and adjacent cells, creating a passage for molecules to slip through before they are broken down and ready for transport into the bloodstream. The villi — brush like cells in the gut, equipped with enzymes that extract nutrients from food, also become damaged. Now, the patient can no longer digest food properly and becomes deficient in vitamins and minerals. Slowly, this patient becomes tired, depressed, and can gain weight from overeating the wrong foods. This malnourishment can lead to other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and a plethora of unexplained symptoms.
What Are The Symptoms of a Leaky Gut?
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, bloating
- Chronic fatigue
- Confusion (brain fog, difficulty concentrating, memory loss)
- Indigestion (pain after eating)
- Skin problems, such as acne, rashes, or eczema
- Joint pain
- Widespread inflammation (different aches in the body, sleep disturbance, depression)
What triggers the immune system to attack the GI tract?
Food allergies, medication, and stress are all responsible for the gut inflammation response. A diet poor in fiber and rich in processed food, saturated fat, and refined sugar also contributes to the condition. But most often, we find that allergies to dairy and/or gluten are the root-cause of leaky gut syndrome. In rare instances, an allergy to all grain (rice, quinoa, wheat) can lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Furthermore, LGS can lead to changes in the gut flora (normal colonic bacteria), resulting in bloating, pain, and constipation. Left untreated, an unhealthy gut will cause severe pain daily, malnutrition, and even cancer down the road.
- Poor nutrition (a diet low in fiber and antioxidants but high in saturated fat, and processed foods)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excessive use of antibiotics
- Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus
- Food allergies (mainly dairy and gluten)
How Can It Be Addressed?
Now that you are familiar with LGS and its related symptoms and health risks, the question becomes “what to do about it?” Well, because few medical establishments acknowledge it as a legitimate condition, a trip to your hospital or primary care physician is unlikely to suffice. Even if your doctor recognizes LGS symptoms, most often they may just prescribe a medication that targets a symptom, such as constipation or headaches. Those medications do more harm than good because they give the patient a false sense of security. The symptoms can be reduced but the condition is still ongoing, increasing the damage to the gut lining.
The first step in healing a leaky gut is understanding its cause. As a nutritionist, I start with a thorough investigation of the symptoms, patient’s reaction to different foods, and a dietary history. Once I have a full picture of the patient’s lifestyle, then we can put together a nutrition plan to address the problem. I often recommend a stool test to check the severity of the leaky gut and any damage to the microbiome.
Depending on the test results, recommendations can include a bland diet, supplementation with L- glutamine, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and some botanicals to rebuilt the gut lining. If the microbiome is affected, then we add probiotics and fermented foods.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and non-dairy yogurts add good bacteria to the gut, but they’re not enough when there is severe damage. A high quality probiotic with several billions of organisms and a high number of different strains is necessary to rebuild the microbiome.
After the bland diet period, the patient should be able to consume high-fiber foods and slowly add more regular foods while monitoring the symptoms. It takes three to five weeks to get relief, but healing the complete digestive tract can take years because the GI is outward-facing and is constantly challenged by the entry of pathogens and allergens (pollen, dust, etc…)
In addition to the diet, the best way to heal from a leaky gut is to avoid allergens, keep alcohol drinking to a minimum, reduce stress, eliminate processed food, and develop a healthy eating routine that includes high-fiber foods (prebiotics), fermented foods, and if possible limit the use of medication.