What is leaky gut and how can you heal it?

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When your gut is leaky, toxins can escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via the bloodstream. Skin problems, foggy confusion and food intolerances are just some of the symptoms, often caused by poor diet, stress, alcohol and lack of sleep. DOSE is joined by Dietitian Laura Tilt to explain more…

What is leaky gut?

Leaky gut is an expression used to describe the idea that the lining of the gut (the gut barrier) can become porous (or ‘leaky’), allowing large particles (that would not normally be absorbed) to cross from the digestive system into the blood stream. Some practitioners believe that this can trigger a reaction from the immune system, and have linked it with autoimmune conditions.

However, this isn’t widely accepted by the medical profession. There’s no proof that this is a concern for the wider population (although it is seen in conditions like coeliac disease and Crohn’s), yet there are no reliable tests that can be used to measure the permeability of the gut, making this a very grey area.

What causes a leaky gut?

The lining of the gut (or gut barrier) acts as a protective wall between the external world and our internal world. It is made up of a layer of cells that line the gut, plus a mucus layer. Helpful bacteria also interact with the lining, to help form a stronghold.

Many factors can affect the permeability of this lining including the balance of gut bacteria, lifestyle factors (like diet and alcohol), use of antibiotics and painkillers, as well as major trauma, such as surgery. Increased permeability has been linked to conditions like Crohn’s disease, which makes cause and effect difficult to determine.

Probiotics: I tried a 12-week gut health challenge

Common signs you know you have a leaky gut

Symptoms like gas, bloating and fatigue have been linked with leaky gut, but these cross over with IBS, and other digestive conditions. Skin problems, foggy confusion and food intolerances are other symptoms sometimes linked with the concept of leaky gut.

How to heal it

As always, it’s important to rule out any underlying conditions like IBS, or inflammatory bowel disease if you have digestive symptoms. For some people, the short chain sugars in wheat and various fruits and vegetables can trigger gas and bloating – a food diary plus the help of a dietitian or registered nutritionist can help you work out what might be the problem.

We need more evidence to show what the best way to keep the gut barrier in tiptop shape, but several studies have shown that probiotics can support the integrity of the gut lining, and rebalance gut bacteria that have been upset by diet and lifestyle. They can also help to improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome – Symprove was found to improve symptoms like gas, bloating and tummy pain over a 12-week period.

Other lifestyle practices – reducing alcohol and stress, committing to gentle exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and eating a plant-based diet, rich in fibre and prebiotic foods (like leeks, artichokes, garlic, onions and green-ish bananas), are also helpful for keeping your gut happy.

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Main image: The Gut Stuff

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