So, you have a “leaky gut” — what now? What exactly is leaky gut, and what are the various factors that contribute to this common intestinal issue?
First, let’s clarify what leaky gut means. The scientific term for leaky gut is intestinal hyperpermeability, a condition that easily occurs due to the impact of certain dietary, lifestyle, and environmental factors that affect the permeability of the delicate intestinal barrier. The intestinal barrier is thinly lined with a single layer of epithelial cells that separates the intestinal lumen from the tissue beneath it, making the intestinal barrier easily penetrable. Mainly enterocytes (intestinal absorptive cells) compose this thin lining of the intestine, and protein-based junctions bind each cell together and determine what passes through the intestinal barrier.
This is where things get tricky. The function and expression of these proteins can be easily altered depending on outside factors that can weaken the junctions and, in turn, negatively affect the overall permeability of the intestinal barrier. For instance, a common contributing factor for many individuals suffering from leaky gut is the intake of gluten, which is composed of the protein gliadin. Gliadin triggers the release of the protein zonulin, and this release causes the loss of junction integrity, increasing the permeability of the intestine. Even individuals without a gluten intolerance experience this, so you can imagine the gut detriment that can occur in individuals who consume an excessive amount of gluten or those who suffer from celiac disease.
It’s important to note that intestinal barrier permeability constantly fluctuates depending on the combination of external factors — i.e., what we eat, environmental output, lifestyle choices — and other existing internal conditions. The goal is to regulate the permeability so that the fluctuations occur in a minimal and more controlled healthy range. When unregulated, leaky gut can become pathological, resulting in gut damage and chronic health irregularities.
What are some chronic health conditions that are associated with leaky gut? Some common examples are:
- Abdominal distention
- Abdominal pain
- Autoimmune disease
- Brain fog
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Migraine headaches
- Yeast (candida)
If you’re chronically experiencing any of these conditions, it may be beneficial to regulate your gut by minimizing exposure to certain elements that increase intestinal permeability. Likewise, you can strengthen your gut integrity by adding certain elements to your diet and lifestyle that decrease intestinal permeability. It’s all about regulation!
Try to avoid these factors that increase intestinal permeability:
- Fast foods and processed foods
- Food additives
- Food allergies
- Gliadin (gluten)
- Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
- Zinc deficiency
- High-intensity exercise
- Overnight work
- Elevated cortisol
Environmental exposure to:
- Heavy metal
- Parasitic infections
- Oral contraceptives
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Radiation therapy
In order to strengthen and decrease your intestinal permeability, a diet that’s rich in vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, soluble fiber, and glutamine is a great place to start.
Schedule a consultation with Dr. Maria to discuss your symptoms and health concerns, and together we’ll explore your options towards improving your gut health.