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Leaky Gut 101: What Factors Can Trigger It?

With gut health being a super popular topic at the moment, you may have heard of a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome. Also known as intestinal permeability, a leaky gut can be involved in a vast array of seemingly unrelated health problems and can make you more likely to develop autoimmune disease. If you’re not familiar with leaky gut, here’s what you need to know about what it is and why it happens.


Leaky Gut

What happens with Leaky Gut Syndrome?


One of the underrated roles of the gut involves forming a barrier between the intestines and the rest of the body.


Normally, the cells in the intestine walls help to keep things tight. Factors such as infection and food sensitivities can change this and allow the intestine walls to be breached a whole lot more easily.


When this happens, the gut is considered “leaky”. Toxins, bacteria and undigested food particles can pass freely through the intestine walls and into the bloodstream.


Here, they’re seen as foreign threats by the immune system and attacked. This causes inflammation and can produce an immune response.


The end results? A leaky gut can go hand in hand with symptoms that may or may not be gut related. From brain fog to low immunity and joint pain, a leaky gut can be hugely debilitating.


What can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome?


There can be a pretty long list of underlying causes linked to a leaky gut. A few common factors can include:


An unhealthy gut: If your gut health is already poor and you have a low diversity of gut bacteria, it can make you more likely to experience a leaky gut.


Diet: Poor diet can be a trigger for leaky gut in itself and some vitamin deficiencies can be involved in increasing intestinal permeability. Vitamin A and vitamin D are two nutrients that are super important for maintaining a healthy gut barrier. In rats, vitamin A deficiency had negative effects on the gut barrier and in mice, a lack of vitamin D had similar effects.


Even people who eat a healthy, balanced diet can have a leaky gut too. Lectins can potentially be a problem.


These are proteins found in legumes and grains, which can bind to cells in the intestines and disrupt the gut barrier. According to studies on rats, lectins can have an effect on intestinal permeability.


Gluten and dairy can also be culprits. Gluten can raise levels of a protein called zonulin, which is hugely important for maintaining healthy tight junctions in the intestines. When zonulin levels are high, these tight junctions are more likely to be compromised and increased gut permeability is more likely. And if you have celiac disease, there’s even more potential for a leaky gut.


Existing health problems: If you have certain health conditions, there can be a strong link to a leaky gut. This includes Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, asthma and cancer.


In patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, a leaky gut is thought to be a major culprit for symptoms. It may even be a factor in obesity, with several studies showing a link between obesity and increased gut permeability.


Infections: Infections involving candida and H.pylori can be involved in leaky gut. Both have potential to pass through the gut barrier and make leaky gut more likely.


Medications: Steroids, over-the-counter painkillers, PPI to reduce stomach acid and antibiotics are just a few of the medications that can contribute to a leaky gut. Taking these types of medications for long periods of time or repeated cycles of use can make this even more likely. With NSAIDs, the gut can become leakier within 24 hours. If you can avoid taking these medications too regularly, it can help to avoid increased gut permeability.


Stress: According to research, stress can increase the potential for a leaky gut. Studies on rats have also shown a strong link between stress and intestinal permeability. Keeping stress levels under control is super important for reducing potential for a leaky gut.


Intense exercise: Regular exercise can be super important for keeping your gut healthy but there’s a fine balance. Strenuous exercise can have the opposite effect and increase the potential for a leaky gut.


Several studies have shown a link between exercising intensely and increased intestinal permeability, even for athletes. In a study involving cyclists, exercising at 70% maximum capacity led to a “leakier” gut and more food proteins entering the bloodstream. Moderate exercise is a great move for a healthy gut barrier. Just don’t overdo things!


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© 2019 Dr. Nancy Miggins

A special thank you to @catherineabegg.com for her amazing photos.

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