What Is Leaky Gut? (and 10 natural ways to help fix it)
It’s unavoidable. The more invested you are in your health, the more consumed you will become in this critically important part of your body. I’m talking about your gut. Yep, there it is: as you’ve probably heard a thousand times… good health begins in the gut. And that also means preventing “leaky gut.”
This is because the gut is a hub for digestion, absorption, immune function, mood regulation, brain function, heart health, and so on. The gut has been linked to so many different functions of the body, it is often referred to by medical professionals as the “second brain.” So, it only makes sense to make sure it’s in tip-top shape.
What is Leaky Gut?
How can you ensure your gut is healthy? Unfortunately, the gut is not like our hair or skin where we can physically see if it is healthy or not. Regardless, there are many factors which, over time, can cause the structure of the gut to become compromised, specifically when it comes to the gut lining or epithelium.
The intestinal epithelium is composed of a single layer of cells which have “tight junctions.” These tight junctions are protein structures that regulate the permeability of the intestine and selectively allow water and nutrients to pass through to be used throughout the body. 1 However, over time, these junctions can become “loose,” causing increased intestinal permeability, otherwise known as “leaky gut.” This means our once strong barrier between the gut and the bloodstream becomes weakened and unrefined. Now bacteria and toxins can leak into the bloodstream.
Leaky gut can cause an array of issues, including inflammation, bloating, fatigue, digestive issues, skin problems, and even stimulate an immune reaction to fend off the unknown particles entering the bloodstream. 2 This is concerning for overall health as leaky gut often accompanies other chronic health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, migraines, food sensitivities, brain fog, chronic fatigue, celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes. 3,4,5
7 Things That Can Cause Leaky Gut
Despite recent attention revolving around leaky gut, research still needs to be done to truly understand what causes leaky gut and how we can treat it. Until then, professionals have a few suspect sources that can contribute to developing a leaky gut:
Stress has long been known to wreak havoc on the body as it can disrupt almost every system. When you’re stressed out, so is your body. However, when your body is stressed, it amps up your immune system, creating inflammation. Inflammatory flares cause wear on your digestive system and intestinal epithelium. 6
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen have been shown to increase intestinal permeability. This is because NSAIDs appear to be toxic to the intestinal epithelium, potentially causing erosion and ulcers. 7
3. Excessive Alcohol
Alcohol consumption is regularly associated with increased intestinal permeability. This is because ethanol metabolism results in the formation of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde then damages the epithelium, which can result in excessive endotoxin (i.e., a toxin in a bacterial cell that’s released as the cell disintegrates, which can then lead to disease) passage through the bloodstream. 8,9
4. Processed Foods & Excessive Sugar
Processed foods are typically high in pro-inflammatory ingredients such as refined vegetable oils and carbohydrates. These lead to the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria that are linked to many chronic issues, including leaky gut. Further, a diet high in sugar, particularly added sugar in the form of fructose, harms the barrier function of the intestinal wall, thus causing increased permeability. 10,11
5. Nutrient Deficiencies
When you aren’t regularly consuming a varied diet filled with colorful fruits and veggies, it’s easy to develop nutrient deficiencies. Not getting all your essential nutrients can then harm the gut. Research has found that being deficient in certain nutrients such as zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin D can undermine the proteins in the epithelial lining, resulting in leaky gut. 12,13
Gluten is composed of proteins found in certain grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley. When you eat gluten, your small intestine may trigger the release of zonulin. Zonulin is a protein that regulates the tight junctions of your intestinal wall. However, releasing too much zonulin can cause these junctions to loosen, especially in people who are more sensitive, potentially creating increased intestinal permeability and leaky gut. 14,15
7. Overall Poor Gut Health
Poor gut health and an unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to gut infections and leaky gut. Low levels of good gut bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have been associated with increased intestinal permeability. 16 Also, when you ignore your gut health, infections such as Candida overgrowth can develop. Candida is yeast that naturally lives in your body in small amounts. But it can get overproduced and cause the breakdown of the intestinal walls, allowing it to penetrate the bloodstream. 17
10 Ways to Help Fix Leaky Gut Naturally
If you suspect you could be suffering from increased intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut), then you may want to begin paying more attention to your gut. Afterall, this is all the focus in the health community and will be for a long time to come. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to jump on the good gut bandwagon.
Again, as previously mentioned, more research still needs to be done to fully understand leaky gut and what to do about it. Nevertheless, there are several steps you can take that may improve gut health. Even if you don’t think your gut’s leaky, everyone can benefit from strengthening the framework and diversity of the gut. Not only will you feel better, but you may also boost your health as a whole.
Consider the following your Good Gut Guide:
- Avoid or at least limit processed foods. As noted above, a diet high in processed foods can decrease the diversity of your gut microbiome and create gut dysbiosis (or a microbial imbalance within the gut). Steering toward more natural and fresh foods will keep your gut healthy and happy.
- Cut down the added sugar. Added sugar is a known dietary evil, causing issues such as accelerated aging, weight gain, and increased risk for heart disease. But sugar also has a negative effect on your gut. Eating too much sugar can result in decreased microbiota diversity and inflammation. (Please note, the sugar found naturally in foods such as fresh fruits and dairy isn’t the problem—it’s the addition of refined sugars found so abundantly in processed foods that you’ll want to limit or remove.)
- Eat Fermented Foods. Fermented foods aid in the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Some good sources include:
- Supplement Your Gut. Supplements can be a great way to jumpstart your way to a healthier gut. Probiotics, for example, may provide the gut with beneficial bacteria. BioTRUST’s ProX10 has 10 billion CFU daily of SIX “super strains” of probiotics.
- Get Plenty of Sleep. Not getting enough sleep or having poor quality sleep can disrupt your gut, and those who typically don’t get a good night’s rest have lower microbiota diversity. It is recommended that adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
- Hydrate. Staying properly hydrated is critical for the body to function properly. Further, drinking enough water helps lubricate joints, deliver nutrients, and is beneficial to mucosal lining of the intestines. Staying hydrated is also important for the balance of good bacteria in the gut. As we get older, we are at a higher risk of dehydration because older adults do not sense thirst as readily. It is recommended that the average healthy adult drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day—and 9 to 12 cups per day is an even better goal.
- De-stress. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and stressed in day-to-day life. However, it is important to take the time to lower your stress levels by going for a walk, socializing with friends, practicing mindful breathing, or anything else that helps you manage your stress. This is because stress has been shown to contribute to dysbiosis and intestinal permeability.
- Eat Mindfully. Eating on the go has become a norm as our schedules continue to fill up. However, taking the time to sit down and enjoy your food has been shown to be beneficial to gut health. This is because eating slowly allows your body to properly digest your food and helps avoid gut discomfort.
- Eat Your Veggies. Many vegetables are high in fiber, which acts as food for your good gut bacteria. Plus, vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, which help maintain a strong framework for your gut.
- Exercise. Exercise has countless benefits, including increasing the diversity in the gut microbiota. Those who exercise have been found to have an increase in gut microbes that reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases as well as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. 18
Another supplement which has been linked to improved gut health is collagen. Collagen protein is an essential component of the digestive tract and helps maintain the structure of the gut lining. BioTRUST’s Ageless Multi-Collagen has 5 key types of collagen to help you gain the maximum benefits.
What is Leaky Gut? A Recap
Maintaining good gut health is, in fact, the key to a healthier you. Everyone can benefit from taking steps in the direction of better gut health. Whether you experience the symptoms of a leaky gut or just want to be your best self, the gut is an influential part of the body which should be prioritized on your path to wellness.