What You Need to Know About Leaky Gut
Updated: Jan 10
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut has been a buzzword lately, but what exactly does it mean to have a leaky gut? Having a leaky gut means that the intestinal barrier of the gut is weakened or damaged and toxins that are in the gut can slip through these weak or damaged points and into the blood. These toxins can lead to inflammation and other issues in the body themselves too (1).
Leaky gut syndrome is not necessarily a specific disease itself however, but is linked to other inflammatory conditions in the body. Irritable bowel disease, celiac disease, chronic alcohol consumption, and NSAID use are just a few conditions that are associated with this damaged gut barrier. Individuals with autoimmune conditions are also more vulnerable to having their gut barriers disrupted (2).
What does leaky gut syndrome do to the body?
Symptoms of leaky gut include diarrhea, gas, bloating, fatigue, and can even lead to some nutrient deficiencies. However, it is important to get to the root cause of your leaky gut, since IBD, IBS, celiac disease, and other conditions in the body are likely causing this dysfunction in the first place (2). Chronic inflammation and chronic stress on the body can also lead to hormonal imbalances as well, which can lead to menstrual cycle irregularities, irregular sleep patterns, mood changes and so much more!
How can we improve the gut barrier?
Remember, the first step is finding out your root cause (through GIMAP testing and/or other lab tests)! If testing isn't in your budget right now, there are a few things you can implement that can be beneficial to your healing regardless of your root cause.
1. Reduce stress levels - Reducing your stress is so important! Whether it be doing yoga, getting enough sleep, journaling, or another method - reducing stress is often a crucial step in reducing inflammation throughout the body.
2. Eat a variety of foods - Vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, fatty acids, glutamine, and probiotics are just a few of the nutrients that have been studied in reducing inflammation and healing the gut lining (3). Vitamin D deficiency has been known to cause gut dysbiosis and lead to inflammation. Most of our vitamin D comes from the sun, but foods such as fish, egg yolk, and fortified dairy or grains are great sources of vitamin D! Fruits, veggies, beans, buts, and poultry are other great sources of these nutrients that help reduce gut inflammation.
3. Supplementation - While we want to prioritize food as our first level of healing the gut, we can also utilize supplements for leaky gut healing. If you feel you aren't quite eating enough variety or have certain dietary restrictions - working with a dietitian to find a supplement that fits your needs might be the next step. Below are some supplements that may help you heal from leaky gut symptoms.
a. Vitamin D - Individuals who live in the northern hemisphere or have darker skin tones are often vitamin D deficient - especially in the winter months. Including a vitamin D supplement may help reduce inflammation and improve gut diversity (3). 600 IU is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) with an upper limit of 4,000 IU for adults. However, studies have showed that those who are prone to being deficient may need more than 600 IU to prevent deficiency. A blood test with your healthcare provider can test your levels to determine if you'd benefit from supplementing.
b. Probiotics - Probiotics are plentiful in foods such as Greek yogurt, kefir, kimchi and other fermented foods. There are also many supplemental forms available, however, finding a reputable source is important to make sure you are getting your money's worth (this goes for any supplement, FYI!). GIMAP testing can also be helpful in determining which bacteria you may be lacking and supplements can be chosen based on the results.
c. Glutamine - L-glutamine is a supplement that has been getting a lot of talk lately. Glutamine and amino acid and is the intestinal cells preferred energy source and is a major protector of the gut from harmful materials (4). Low levels of glutamine have been associated with leaky gut symptoms like inflammation and diarrhea. Supplementation has shown to be beneficial in reducing inflammation, wound healing, and preventing infection (4). Supplementation has really only been studied in the short term, however. Long-term effects, especially of high doses, are not fully known and may worsen kidney function in older adults (5). Again, discuss supplementation with a health care professional to determine if glutamine supplementation is right for you!
1. Leaky gut is damage to the intestinal lining that may cause inflammation and unwanted GI symptoms.
2. Finding your root cause, managing stress and eating a variety of foods are crucial to improving gut health
3. If your symptoms don't improve with food or you're lacking certain nutrients in your diet, supplements may be helpful in reducing symptoms.
4. Vitamin D, probiotics, and L-glutamine are just a few different supplements that have been studied in healing leaky gut syndrome.
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References: 1. Leaky Gut Syndrome. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22724-leaky-gut-syndrome
2. Kinashi Y, Hase K. Partners in Leaky Gut Syndrome: Intestinal Dysbiosis and Autoimmunity. Front Immunol. 2021;12:673708. Published 2021 Apr 22. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2021.673708
3. Camilleri M. What is the leaky gut? Clinical considerations in humans. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2021;24(5):473-482. doi:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000778
4. Rao R, Samak G. Role of Glutamine in Protection of Intestinal Epithelial Tight Junctions. J Epithel Biol Pharmacol. 2012;5(Suppl 1-M7):47-54. doi:10.2174/1875044301205010047
5. Davani-Davari D, Karimzadeh I, Sagheb MM, Khalili H. The Renal Safety of L-Carnitine, L-Arginine, and Glutamine in Athletes and Bodybuilders. J Ren Nutr. 2019;29(3):221-234. doi:10.1053/j.jrn.2018.08.014