Leaky gut syndrome describes hyperpermeable intestinal walls that allow the content of your gut to leak into the bloodstream and lymphatic circulation.
This translates into the direct absorption of indigested compounds, such as toxins, bacteria, and fiber, which can wreak havoc on several organ systems.
In this article, we will cover the causes and symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, as well as a few natural treatments you can try at home.
What causes leaky gut syndrome?
A protein called zonulin is responsible for regulating intestinal permeability. In genetically predisposed individuals, a disruption in this protein can cause leaky gut syndrome.
According to researchers, the only known factors that can upregulate the action of zonulin are bacteria and gluten.
With that being said, scientists believe that gluten uniquely increases gut permeability in patients with celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis).
If you are on a fructose-rich diet, your risk of developing leaky gut syndrome is higher due to the damaging properties of this sugar on the intestinal walls.
Chronic alcohol consumption activates the action of mast cells, which are notoriously known for causing destructive damage to the intestines by releasing massive amounts of pro-inflammatory compounds (e.g., histamine).
Several vitamin deficiencies can trigger leaky gut syndrome. However, the evidence to support this theory is lacking.
What are the signs and symptoms of leaky gut syndrome?
The clinical presentation of leaky gut syndrome is widely diverse.
However, if you are dealing with the following signs and symptoms, you may be having an episodic flareup of leaky gut syndrome:
- Digestive symptoms (e.g., chronic diarrhea, constipation, bloating)
- Exacerbated nutritional deficiencies even after taking dietary supplements
- Chronic fatigue
- Recurrent headaches
- Distractibility (i.e., difficulty concentrating)
- Joint and muscle pain
- Dermatological problems (e.g., acne, rashes, eczema)
When investigating the incidence of leaky gut symptoms, researchers came up with the following percentages:
Participants with leaky gut syndrome experienced abdominal pain (93%), bloating (90%), diarrhea (82%), constipation (79%), and fatigue (73%). Other symptoms reported by the participants included skin rashes (61%), joint pain (58%), and food sensitivities (54%).
General treatments of leaky gut syndrome
There is no specific medical treatment for leaky gut syndrome. Most protocols focus on addressing the underlying cause of the condition and relieving symptoms.
Some potential treatments for leaky gut syndrome include:
Diet changes – Making dietary changes can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing of the intestinal lining. This may include avoiding foods, such as alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods. You should also include fiber-rich foods and fermented foods. This can help to restore the balance of your gut microbiota.
Taking supplements – Certain supplements, such as probiotics, glutamine, and zinc, may help improve the health of the intestinal lining and support the immune system. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking supplements.
Medications – In some cases, medications may be beneficial to dampen inflammation and promote healing of the intestinal lining. These may include corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs.
Lifestyle modifications – Making lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, can be helpful in managing leaky gut syndrome.
Natural solutions for leaky gut syndrome
Treating leaky gut syndrome with pharmacological drugs can lead to severe adverse effects with questionable efficacy since many doctors don’t acknowledge this condition as a real disease, which limits the available treatment options.
For this reason, patients with leaky gut turn to herbal medicine for alternative therapies since it addresses digestive problems in a holistic fashion. This helps in the treatment of acute flare-ups and the prevention of future episodes.
Therefore, instead of treating this disease with drugs, herbal medicine focuses on providing patients with the appropriate herbs that carry therapeutic properties for leaky gut.
For instance, the American Herbal Guild (AHG) states that the best approach to treating leaky gut syndrome can be divided into 4 steps:
- REMOVE – Exclude all the factors that increase your risk of flare-ups (e.g., yeast, bacteria, alcohol, caffeine).
- REPLACE – Replace digestive enzymes (e.g., amylases, bile salts).
- REINOCULATE – Take leaky gut supplements (e.g., probiotics, prebiotics).
- REPAIR – Supplement your gut with the necessary nutrients to repair the inflicted damage (e.g., zinc, L-glutamine, Omega 3 fish oils, DGL licorice, vitamins A, C, E, D, and B vitamins)
Research about leaky gut syndrome
There is limited research on leaky gut syndrome. However, we still have some evidence that suggests a connection between this disease and other conditions.
One study examined the effects of leaky gut syndrome in patients with Crohn's disease. The study included 45 participants. Researchers found that those with Crohn's disease had significantly high levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which are molecules found on the outer surface of certain bacteria. LPS can trigger inflammation in the body. What’s more, a high level of LPS is a biological hallmark of leaky gut syndrome.
Another study inspected the relationship between leaky gut syndrome and type 2 diabetes. To exclude biases, researchers included 100 participants. After that, they divided them into two groups:
- Group One – 50 participants had type 2 diabetes
- Group Two – 50 healthy individuals (a control group)
Researchers found that those with type 2 diabetes had significantly higher levels of LPS in their bloodstream. This suggests a state of chronic inflammation. The authors concluded that leaky gut syndrome may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes by increasing inflammation and disrupting the normal function of the immune system.
A review of the literature found that leaky gut syndrome may also be linked to autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. The review suggests that the leakage of toxins and microbes from the gut into the bloodstream may trigger an immune response, leading to the development of autoimmune disorders.
Leaky gut syndrome is a poorly understood medical condition that manifests with a diverse clinical presentation, which needs proper attention and self-care to improve the symptoms.
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