Leaky Gut Syndrome: Is It a Real Condition?
A gastrointestinal issue known as “leaky gut syndrome” has become a widespread phenomenon in the health and wellness community over the past few years. While many health and gut experts have claimed this disease to be the root cause of all diseases, others have put into question the authenticity of the so-called disease.
If you’re unsure whether or not to believe in this condition, keep reading this guide. We’ll break down all the latest science in order to give you a clear explanation as to what we know, what may be true, and what is definitely not true. Keep reading to learn all about the leaky gut syndrome.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome–also known as intestinal permeability disease–is a theory that claims that leaks along your gastrointestinal barrier could be letting toxins into your body.
These toxins could be the root cause of many diseases, including diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and even cancer.
The reasoning behind this theory is that the digestive tract is in charge of breaking down the food we consume. Once the food is broken down, the GI tract decides what to keep and what to discard. If all negative or harmful substances were accurately discarded, then our gut would be doing a good job at protecting us.
However, what would happen if our digestive system was unable to effectively discard all the toxins and harmful substances we consume?
The theory claims that a “leaky gut” could effectively prevent your gut from filtering out all the toxins that enter your body. That would cause them to “leak” into your bloodstream and ultimately affect the rest of your health.
Is Leaky Gut Syndrome Real or a Myth?
Leaky gut syndrome is real as numerous studies have shown evidence for intestinal permeability.
However, what is still hotly debated is whether or not leaky gut syndrome is a condition that can lead to other diseases.
As numerous studies show, it is quite possible for our guts to “leak” substances into other intestines.
Other studies also show that there is a coincidence of gut permeability along with other gastrointestinal diseases like Celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. However, a causal relationship between a leaky gut has not yet been established.
In other words, we know that there is such a thing as a leaky gut. What we don’t know is whether or not this happens as a result of other related diseases or if it actually triggers said related diseases.
In short: yes, leaky gut syndrome is real. However, we cannot confirm nor deny whether it actually causes all the diseases many wellness experts claim it does. Until scientific studies confirm leaky gut as a causal condition for said diseases, you should keep some reservations about many of the claims made about this disease.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
As this disease continues to be studied, it’s still unclear when and how our guts can begin to permeate. There’s also some evidence showing that everyone’s guts are leaky to a certain extent. So, we still don’t know:
- If leaky guts are harmful for the rest of our body.
- At what leakage level they become harmful.
- What consequences a leaky gut may have.
So, as you can see, there is still plenty left to be understood about why and how a permeable gut can have a negative impact on our gut health. However, the evidence does seem to suggest that we probably do not want to encourage any extra “leakage” in our guts. And we do know of a few things that are likely to increase gut permeability.
Here are the top causes of leaky gut syndrome:
Keep reading to learn more about how each of these could lead to a leaky gut.
A microbial imbalance in your gut flora–also known as dysbiosis–is a leading cause of leaky gut syndrome. An unhealthy gut will have a negative impact on almost every aspect of your gut health, and could cause more harmful conditions like leaky gut.
Specifically, poor gut health could lead to an increase of harmful bacteria that could damage the intestinal wall. It could also lead to an overproduction of yeast, which could have similarly negative effects on the strength of the gastrointestinal wall.
Additionally, one of the most common consequences of a gut in dysbiosis is inflammation. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation could be a significant cause of leaky gut syndrome.
Gut health is so important, in fact, that one of the first things you should do if you suspect that you suffer from a leaky gut is focus on reversing your gut dysbiosis. You can do this by focusing on your gut health.
A poor diet will have a negative impact on your gastrointestinal health. Excessive sugar consumption can lead to debilitated intestinal walls, which may lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Similarly, deficiencies in essential nutrients could also lead to increased intestinal permeability. Some of the nutrients that you should pay special attention to are vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc, as all of these have been shown to impact gut barrier health.
Poor Lifestyle Choices
Poor lifestyle choices can also contribute to developing leaky gut syndrome. For example, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to increased intestinal permeability by numerous studies.
Perhaps surprisingly, chronic stress is one of the most common causes of leaky gut syndrome. Not only has stress been linked to intestinal permeability, but it’s also been found to have negative consequences for other digestive problems, such as:
- Stomach pains.
Managing your chronic stress can be a great way to prevent leaky gut syndrome and other gastrointestinal tract problems.
Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Although their name sounds intense, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are actually quite common. Some of the most popular NSAIDs are:
Sustained, long-term use of NSAIDs has been shown to debilitate the intestinal barrier, which could ultimately lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
If you suspect that you suffer from leaky gut syndrome, you should look out for some of the most common symptoms. Although it can be hard to identify exactly what constitutes leaky gut syndrome, you should talk to your doctor about your concerns if you experience some of the following symptoms:
- Digestive issues.
- Abdominal pain.
- Chronic diarrhea.
- Any autoimmune disease.
- Food sensitivities or intolerances.
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating.
- Skin problems, including eczema, acne or rashes.
Remember that just because you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms above does not mean you have leaky gut syndrome. Consult your physician regarding the possibility of your symptoms being caused by intestinal permeability.
Leaky Gut Syndrome and Related Diseases
The worst part about leaky gut syndrome is that it can cause a whole host of related diseases. Or, at least that is what some health experts say.
This is where there is a big divide in the health and wellness community. Proponents of the leaky gut syndrome theory claim that intestinal permeability is the root cause of almost every disease.
Others claim that there is nowhere near enough research to make those claims.
While this question is hotly debated, there is still some evidence that certain diseases are associated with leaky gut syndrome. Let’s take a look at what the science says.
There are a number of studies that show that increased intestinal permeability is linked with Celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that triggers a severe autoimmune reaction when consuming gluten, a protein found in plants like wheat, barley and rye.
It is still not known whether leaky gut syndrome can trigger Celiac disease or if Celiac disease results in higher levels of increased gut permeability. However, one study found that patients with Celiac disease who consumed gluten would experience a disruption of intestinal barrier function immediately upon consumption of gluten. This would lead to increased gut permeability.
There is mild evidence that suggests that increased gut permeability can lead to the development of type 1 diabetes. Other studies suggest that the beta cell destruction resulting from type 1 diabetes could be due to leakages from the intestinal barrier.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There is a clear correlation between patients with leaky gut syndrome and patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, much of what can trigger leaky gut syndrome can also trigger IBS.
A gut microbiome in dysbiosis is one of the main causes of IBS. This is also the case for leaky gut syndrome. So, it may not be a situation where one leads to the other, but rather that both are consequences of the same problem.
There is ample evidence showing that patients with food allergies have increased levels of gut permeability.
Intestinal permeability may increase a person’s chances of developing food sensitivities. While there is not enough evidence to show a clear causal relationship, studies suggest that particles that cross the intestinal barrier may trigger an autoimmune response, which could eventually lead to a food allergy.
Crohn’s disease is a condition where patients suffer from a chronically inflamed intestinal tract. While the exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown, studies have shown an increased coincidence of intestinal permeability, suggesting that they are correlated.
What’s more, some studies have found evidence suggesting that Chron’s could lead to developing leaky gut syndrome. This would suggest that leaky gut syndrome could be a result of Crohn's disease and not the other way around.
How Is Leaky Gut Syndrome Diagnosed?
Leaky gut syndrome is not a medically recognized diagnosis. No medical doctor will give you an official diagnosis of leaky gut syndrome as this is currently not possible.
However, a doctor may perform a mannitol and lactulose test to assess your intestinal permeability levels. The test involves consuming a mixture of mannitol, lactulose, and water. Mannitol can be easily absorbed by healthy individuals, while lactulose cannot.
A healthy individual’s test would indicate high levels of mannitol (as it can be absorbed easily) and low levels of lactulose. An individual with leaky gut syndrome would show high levels of both molecules, as this would indicate that lactulose is permeating through the intestinal walls.
However, this test can only serve as an indication of intestinal permeability and cannot result in a leaky gut syndrome diagnosis. Other tests are currently in development to more accurately assess intestinal permeability, including:
- Urine tests.
- Blood tests.
- Tissue biopsy.
- Confocal endomicroscopy.
Until a medically-accepted diagnosis for leaky gut syndrome is available, you should work with your physician to interpret these test results.
How Leaky Gut Syndrome Is Treated
Since leaky gut syndrome is not a medically-recognized diagnosis, there is also not a specific treatment to cure leaky gut syndrome or even manage its symptoms. However, most patients who believe they have leaky gut syndrome opt to pursue proven avenues to strengthening intestinal wall health
Here are several ways you can pursue healthier intestinal walls to possibly treat leaky gut syndrome.
Treat Associated Diseases
One of the best ways to alleviate the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome is to treat any associated diseases you may have been diagnosed with. Since there isn’t a formal treatment plan for patients with leaky gut syndrome, you’ll have to look at your specific circumstances and what symptoms you have in order to find the best treatment for you.
If you have been diagnosed with Celiac’s disease as a direct result of your leaky gut syndrome diagnosis, the first thing you should do is cut gluten out of your diet completely. Similarly, if you have been diagnosed with any food allergies, you should cut them out of your diet as soon as possible to allow your intestinal walls to heal.
Consult with your doctor on specific treatment plans for other diseases, like Crohn’s disease and IBS. Allowing your gut to heal from these diseases will give your gut a chance to begin healing itself.
Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to increase intestinal permeability. If you suspect that you suffer from leaky gut syndrome, you should minimize your alcohol consumption as much as possible to prevent a further increase in gut permeability.
Minimize Use of NSAIDs
NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Aspirin have been found to increase intestinal permeability when consumed consistently over long periods of time. Although there’s no reason to immediately suspend all consumption of NSAIDs, you should try to minimize how often you use them in order to prevent further damage to your gut barriers.
Work on Improving Gut Health
Improving gut health is the most common treatment plan for leaky gut syndrome. Not only can a healthy gut prevent further damage to your intestinal walls, but it can actually work to improve the health and strength of your digestive tract.
Check out the following section for more ways to improve your gut health.
Improving Gut Health for Leaky Gut Syndrome
Eat More Vegetables
Eating more vegetables for improved gut health goes beyond just increasing your vegetable consumption. While eating more kale and broccoli will certainly be good for you, you should instead try to focus on eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.
The number one indicator of gut health is a diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The more different types of plants you eat, the healthier your gut will be.
This is because the microbial organisms in our guts feed off of plant fiber. However, not all bacteria species eat the same kind of fiber. While some will survive off of the fiber from–say, broccoli–others won’t. That’s why it’s important to eat a wide diversity of plants, as this will maximize the total number of healthy bacteria species that you can host in your gut.
Avoid Processed Foods
Consuming processed foods will increase the amount of bad bacteria in your gut and won’t provide any nutritional fiber for the ones already there. Remember, bacteria feed off of plant fiber, so unless you eat plant-based foods, you won’t be feeding your gut microbiome.
Eat More Probiotic Foods
Probiotic foods will help introduce new bacteria into your gut. This will allow your gut flora to flourish with more strains of bacteria.
Consuming probiotic foods is easier than you may think, as many are far more common than you’d think. Plus, all probiotic foods have a tangy and acid taste, which makes them yummy additions to many foods!
Here are some of the best probiotic foods for increased gut health:
- Greek yogurt
- Sourdough bread
Increasing your consumption of any of the above will help improve your gut microbiome diversity.
Working out on a regular basis is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing. Beyond the health benefits that you already know about, regular exercise can be incredibly helpful for your gut microbiome.
Physical exercise increases digestion, which will ultimately benefit your gut microbiome. The science is perfectly clear on this: there is a causal relationship between exercise and your gut flora.
Every now and then, we need to take antibiotics to kill off a particularly stubborn infection. While there is a place and time for antibiotic treatments, we need to be careful not to overdo it. Every time we take a course of antibiotics, we end up inadvertently killing off healthy bacteria.
You should only take antibiotics when instructed by a licensed physician. Otherwise, seek alternative treatments before recurring to antibiotics. If you must take antibiotics to treat an infection, you can try to balance out the negative effects by:
- Taking probiotic supplements.
- Eating a lot of fermented food.
- Increasing your vegetable intake.
- Getting plenty of sleep.
While these won’t completely undo all the gut health harm done by the antibiotics, they will minimize the damage and help you bounce back more effectively when you are off your prescription treatment.
Take a Gut Health Test
It’s 2022, and gut health technology has taken the world by storm. Nowadays, it’s very easy to get a full gut microbiome test kit that will give you detailed insights into your gut flora. Beyond that, you can even get personalised recommendations for improving your gut health if you get the right kit.
At OSbiome, our Gut Health Test Kits come with fifteen personalised gut health reports. You will get a detailed breakdown of the status of your entire gut health, along with personalised recommendations on how to improve it. Best of all, you don’t even have to leave your home! All you have to do is order a testing kit online, send us a stool sample back, and wait for your results!
Myths About Leaky Gut Syndrome
Myth: Leaky Gut Syndrome Isn’t Backed by Science
This is a myth that isn’t entirely true. Although many wellness gurus tend to exaggerate their claims regarding leaky gut, there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding intestinal permeability. So, evidence shows that there is such a thing as a leaky gut–we just don’t yet fully understand how this impacts the rest of our health.
Myth: Leaky Gut Syndrome Is a Diagnosable Condition
Though intestinal permeability is something that can be tested and measured, there still is no diagnosis for leaky gut syndrome. In fact, it is very likely that everybody’s intestines have a certain level of permeability. We just don’t know if gut permeability is harmful and at what levels of permeability it becomes so.
Myth: Intestinal Permeability Doesn’t Exist
Intestinal permeability is well-documented in the scientific community. We know that people’s intestinal walls will have different levels of permeability, which will impact how many particles breach the gastrointestinal tract and inadvertently make their way into our bloodstream.
Myth: Leaky Gut Syndrome Can Be Fixed With Probiotic Supplements
While working on your gut health is an effective way to improve intestinal wall strength and thus decrease gut impermeability, probiotics alone won’t be of much help. You need to come up with a holistic approach that will include both probiotics and prebiotics along with lifestyle changes to make lasting impacts on your gut health.
Myth: If You Have Food Allergies, You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome
While food allergies are associated with leaky gut syndrome, having one won’t be an indicator of the other one. It is very common for someone to have leaky gut syndrome and not have food allergies, just as it is common for someone with food allergies to not have leaky gut syndrome.
Myth: Fixing Leaky Gut Syndrome Will Get Rid of Your Food Sensitivities
Unfortunately, once our bodies have developed an autoimmune response to a certain food, it is very hard to come back from it. Managing your leaky gut syndrome probably won’t get rid of your food allergies or sensitivities, but it can help manage the symptoms. A healthy gut microbiome will be much better equipped to deal with food allergies.
Leaky gut syndrome refers to a disease resulting from intestinal permeability that is higher than normal. Although it is not considered an official medical diagnosis, proponents of the theory suggest that toxins that leach into our bloodstream through our intestinal walls are the causes of many–if not all–diseases.
While there is plenty of evidence of gut permeability and its coincidence with a number of digestive and autoimmune diseases, the research is inconclusive on whether intestinal permeability can be a cause for any of these diseases.The best way to prevent and treat leaky gut syndrome is to have a holistic approach to gut health in order to have a well-balanced gut microbiome. Download the OSbiome app today to find everything you need to keep track of your healthy gut habits in the palm of your hand.