The guide explains the following – What is Leaky Gut?
The concept of ‘leaky gut’ has recently received closer attention as modern technological advancement in molecular biology has thrown more light on the close relationship between the gut and the immune system.
In this article, we shall discuss this concept using the following outline:
- What is leaky gut?
- What causes leaky gut?
- What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
- What diseases are linked with leaky gut?
- What tests can be done to check for leaky gut?
- How can you fix leaky gut?
What is Leaky Gut?
The human gut serves a very important function of digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. At the same time, it also prevents the passage of harmful substances from food into the body’s circulation.
This selective absorption of substances from food is made possible by the gut membrane, a special membrane made up of a single layer of cells held together tightly by proteins.
A disruption of this barrier function, permitting the absorption of toxins and bacteria into the body is known as ‘leaky gut’ or ‘leaky gut syndrome.”
What Causes Leaky Get?
- Altered gut microbiota: The intestine is a host to over 100 trillion micro-organisms, referred to as the microbiota. Gut microbiota play a crucial role in maintaining the intestine’s barrier function by producing antimicrobial substances and preventing harmful bacteria from occupying the gut. A reduction in the quantity of these ‘good gut bugs’ can lead to a leaky gut.
- Vitamin A and D deficiency: Vitamins A and D have been shown to have a protective effect on the gut membrane, hence, a deficiency of these vitamins can contribute to a leaky gut.
- Eating a lot of sugar: Taking a lot of sugar, especially fructose has been shown to deplete the level of proteins that hold the gut membrane together, resulting in leaky gut.
- Low-fibre diets: Studies have shown that a low-fibre diet can reduce the quantity of protective mucus found on the gut membrane and consequently hamper its barrier function.
- Eating fatty foods: Meals high in saturated fat have been shown to significantly reduce the gut microbiota, leading to leaky gut syndrome.
- Excess alcohol consumption: Alcohol can reduce and alter gut microbiota, leading to gut membrane dysfunction. Chronic alcohol consumption also promotes the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
- Infection: Certain organisms, such as Helicobacter pylori and Salmonella can directly distort the proteins of the gut membrane, leading to leaky gut.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome?
A leaky gut may have non-specific symptoms such as:
- Tummy pain
- Body aches
- Excessive tiredness
- Disrupted bowel habits e.g. diarrhoea or constipation
What diseases are linked with leaky gut?
Many autoimmune diseases have been associated with leaky gut syndrome. The continual leakage of toxins, food antigens, and harmful bacteria into the blood circulation triggers an immune response from the body.
Sometimes, the immune response may become exaggerated and the body can begin to produce antibodies against its own cells – causing autoimmune diseases. Some of these autoimmune diseases include:
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Alzheimer’s diseases
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Autoimmune hepatitis
What tests can be done to check for leaky gut?
- Lactulose/Mannitol test: This test is done by checking the levels of lactulose and mannitol in the urine 24 hours after an oral sugar solution is taken. A high urinary level of these sugars is typical of leaky gut syndrome.
- Measurement of EndoCAb: The body produces antibodies to combat harmful toxins absorbed by a leaky gut. These antibodies are called endotoxin core antibodies (EndoCAb). High levels of EndoCAb in the blood indicate the presence of a leaky gut.
- Fecal calprotectin: A high level of Calprotectin is usually found in the stool of individuals with leaky gut syndrome.
- Butyrate levels: Low levels of butyrate in the stool indicate abnormal barrier function of the gut membrane.
How can you fix leaky gut?
Lifestyle modification. As earlier stated, dietary factors play a big role in causing leaky gut syndrome. Necessary steps to take to ensure that the food you eat does not contribute to leaky gut syndrome include:
- Cutting down on your alcohol intake
- Avoiding sugar, especially fructose
- Staying away from fatty meals
- Eating foods with high-fiber content
- Low – FODMAP diet: FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols. FODMAPS are a class of nondigestible sugars that are found in many foods such as fruits, vegetables, cereals, milk, and dairy products. In curing leaky gut, restricting FODMAPs for a specified period of time helps to reduce gas production in the intestine and modify the gut microbiota in a beneficial manner.
It is important to mention that this diet should only be adopted under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist to avoid nutritional deficiencies in the long term.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast which promote the development of gut microbiota. Current evidence shows that probiotics prevent harmful bacteria from inhabiting the gut, increase the production of helpful mucus and help to build up the immune system. All these functions facilitate the restoration of the gut membrane. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt and kefir.
- Prebiotics: These are a type of plant fibers that serve as food to the healthy bacteria in the gut. They can be taken as supplements and they help to facilitate a healthy gut microbiota.
- Vitamin D supplementation: Taking Vitamin D supplements can help enhance the gut membrane.
- Zinc supplementation: Zinc is a vital mineral that helps repair damaged body cells. Research has shown that taking zinc supplements can restore the intestinal membrane.
- Butyrate: This is a type of fatty acid that is produced from dietary fibers. It helps in improving the integrity of the gut membrane by increasing the production of mucus and proteins to strengthen the membrane.
- Metformin: Some studies carried out on animal models suggest that the antidiabetic medication, Metformin can treat leaky gut by increasing mucus production and promoting healthy gut microbiota.
- Quercetin supplementation: Research has shown that this flavonoid supplement is able to reduce gut inflammation and promote the growth of healthy gut microbiota.
What is Leaky Gut? Final Thoughts
- Leaky gut syndrome occurs when harmful toxins from food pass into the blood circulation from the intestine.
- Diets high in sugar and saturated fats and low-in fiber can cause leaky gut syndrome.
- The lactulose/mannitol test is commonly used to check for leaky gut syndrome.
- Fixing leaky gut involves dietary/lifestyle modification, alongside vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Leaky Gut References
- Bischoff SC, Barbara G, Buurman W, Ockhuizen T, Schulzke JD, Serino M, Tilg H, Watson A, Wells JM. Intestinal permeability–a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterol. 2014 Nov 18;14:189. doi: 10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7.
- Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019 Aug;68(8):1516-1526. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318427.
- Lin R, Piao M, Song Y. Dietary Quercetin Increases Colonic Microbial Diversity and Attenuates Colitis Severity in Citrobacter rodentium-Infected Mice. Front Microbiol. 2019 May 16;10:1092. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01092.
- Michielan A, D’Incà R. Intestinal Permeability in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Pathogenesis, Clinical Evaluation, and Therapy of Leaky Gut. Mediators Inflamm. 2015;2015:628157. doi: 10.1155/2015/628157.
- Yadav H, Ahmadi S, Wang B, Justice J, Ding J, Kitzman D, McClain D, Kritchevsky S. Metformin Improves Cognition by Reducing Leaky Gut and Benefiting Gut Microbiome–Goblet Cell–Mucin Axis. Innov Aging. 2020 Dec 16;4(Suppl 1):133. doi: 10.1093/geroni/igaa057.438.