Brain fog, memory loss, excessive fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain, depression, diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, nutritional deficiencies, and autoimmune diseases are all potential symptoms of leaky gut. It’s a daunting list, and many are common problems. If you suffer from a variety of these symptoms, it is possible that it is due to leaky gut. Having said that, do be cautious when drawing conclusions and work with your healthcare provider to achieve a diagnosis.
Leaky gut is also known as intestinal permeability, and it is just that. It is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine develops gaps between the tight junctions that make up the outer layers of your intestine. In a healthy gut, these tight junctions effectively regulate which molecules are allowed to pass through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. Think of them as gatekeepers: “only nutritional molecules shall pass!”. In people with leaky gut, non-nutrient particles are able to leak though. Once in the bloodstream, these particles are detected by the body and identified as “foreign invaders” whether they are true toxins or nothing more than undigested food. This causes the body to launch an attack which results in inflammation and many of the above symptoms. As undigested bits of particular foods cause immune reactions in the body, one can develop antibodies to those foods and end up with sensitivities to them. This is why a main indicator of leaky gut is developing sensitivities to foods that were previously tolerated.
There is, then, a cyclic effect as the microvilli, which are damaged by leaky gut, are not able to provide sufficient surface area. This surface area is necessary both for the proper functioning of digestive enzymes and for nutrient absorption. The resulting poor digestion causes more particles of undigested food to be available for passage into the blood stream, as well as causing additional nutritional deficiencies.
The root causes of these gaps between tight junctions can be roughly categorized as foods, infections, and toxins. Some experts believe that the main food culprit is gluten, but other foods such as dairy, sugar, and alcohol can also be causes. The guilty infections are most commonly candida (yeast) overgrowth, or parasites, and the toxins are either medications or environmental toxins such as mercury, BPAs, or pesticides (yet another reason to eat organic).
To heal leaky gut, begin by eliminating the root cause; removing the offending foods, infections, or toxins. This generally means cutting out gluten and sugars, testing and treating for any infections, and eating organic/avoiding other toxins. You should also add in foods which can help to heal your intestine, such as bone broth, non-dairy fermented foods, cooked vegetables, and healthy fats such as coconut oil, egg yolks, wild caught fatty fish, avocados, and ghee.