Leaky Gut Syndrome – Is it More Common Than You Think?
Leaky Gut Syndrome – Is It More Common Than You Think?
How to Fix Leaky Gut Naturally
Leaky gut is a condition that is usually associated with chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis (UC), allergies, autism, rheumatoid arthritis, and a variety of autoimmune disorders. We will post protocols for dealing with leaky gut in all of those conditions and discuss how to fix leaky gut naturally.
This article, however, is an article about leaky gut for people who would never suspect that they have it. Leaky gut syndrome is a health condition that can develop very quickly. You can go from not having leaky gut to having to be hospitalized for leaky gut in as little as a few hours.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
And for that matter, what’s the gut?
Your gut is your digestive tract. Food travels from your mouth past your pharynx through your esophagus to your stomach, and then through the pyloric valve to your small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, and ileum). The parts of food that your body can’t digest for itself (but that may feed friendly bacteria) pass down to your colon, rectum, and anus.
When we refer to leaky gut, we are usually referring to the lower section of the gut, the intestines. It is important to understand the gut and all of its parts if one wishes to fix leaky gut.
Other parts of the digestive tract can “leak,” but the intestines are the site of the collection of problems we call “leaky gut.” The lining of the gut, which can “leak,” is actually an amazing, living organ.
To fix leaky gut, one needs to have an understanding of the epithelium and it’s role in the gut.
- The epithelium lining the gut is only one cell thick, but if spread out it would cover an area of up to 400 square meters (4300 square feet, or about 1/10 of an acre).
- The epithelium is made up of at least seven kinds of cells. Most of the cells lining the gut are enterocytes, which are replaced every three to five days.
- The speed at which the gut renews itself is the reason gut injuries can occur very fast and heal very fast. It takes as little as one hour of too-heavy exercise, for example, to trigger leaky gut, by diverting the gut’s blood supply to muscles. Dehydration (especially in infants, the elderly, and athletes working out in hot weather) can have a similar effect.
- The cells of the epithelium are joined together by “tight junctions.” Nutrients from food pass through the tight junctions, but toxins and infectious microorganisms do not. Or at least they are not supposed to. Certain kinds of proteins in the gut can “unlock” these tight junctions so that they leak. However, that is not enough to cause leaky gut.
Mucus in The Epithelium
- The epithelium is coated with not just one but two layers of mucus. Goblet cells in the lining of the gut make a gel-like mucus from a mixture of proteins and sugar. (This is one reason that a no-carb diet may be dangerous to your health; your body could not make protective mucus.) Enterocytes make another kind of mucus. Mucus, of course, is slimy. It helps undigested food pass out of the colon, and it traps bacteria before they can pass through gaps in the tight junctions. If the lining of your gut can’t make mucus, you quickly develop a condition called colitis.
- On top of the two layers of mucus there is yet another layer of protection. It is a lining of friendly, probiotic bacteria. They form a physical barrier against disease-causing bacteria and are one of the most important factors that help fix leaky gut. In addition, they secrete antimicrobial substances that keep “unfriendly” bacteria from colonizing the lining of the colon. Furthermore, they regulate the nutrients that reach the enterocytes. They make sure that the lining of your gut has the nutrients it needs continually flowing, even when you don’t eat, so it can renew itself every three to five days. But there’s more!
- In addition to a physical barrier provided by the enterocytes and a biochemical barrier provided by probiotic bacteria, the lining of the gut is protected by an immunological barrier provided by the immune system. Just below the enterocytes there are Peyer’s patches and lymphoid follicles. The gut is also the site of most of the body’s supply of immunoglobulin A (IgA). And it is the location of specialized immune cells known as transepithelial dendrites, or TEDs. The TEDs reach out into the gut to detect disease-causing bacteria to unleash the immune defense.
Causes of Leaky Gut
For your gut to become leaky, it isn’t just your intestinal lining that has to fail. The probiotic bacteria that lie on top of your enterocytes would have to be inadequate. Additionally, the mucus beneath them has to be eroded. The immune system beneath them would need to be operating less than optimally, too.
Ideally, one doesn’t have to worry about how to fix leaky gut, but rather can focus on prevention. Leaky gut only occurs after multiple levels of protection in your colon fail. A lot of things have to go wrong for your gut to become truly leaky.
However, These Things Can go Wrong More Often Than You Think
- When we don’t eat enough fiber, certain strains of bacteria will feed on mucus. Species of bacteria that are not probiotic but that are also usually harmless, such as Akkermansia muciniphila and Bacteroides caccae, prefer to feed on fiber. When they can’t find enough fiber, however, they will eat their way through the protective barrier of mucus.
- Overindulging in alcohol also weakens the protective lining of the gut. In some alcoholics, and people who abuse alcohol, antibiotics will restore the lining of the gut. However, so can taking Lactobacillus, and it is one of the best ways to fix leaky gut naturally. The advantages of taking Lactobacillus rather than taking an antibiotic are that other friendly bacteria are not killed off, and you aren’t going to get a rebound infection or diarrhea as you might when you finish your prescription antibiotics.
- Certain infections directly attack the gut. Helicobacter pylori, for instance, goes after the proteins that maintain tight junctions so it can find a home in the lining of the gut.  This is how it is linked to both stomach and intestinal (peptic and duodenal) ulcers. Fighting the infection, either with antibiotics or with natural methods, reduces ulceration.
The Most Important Cause of Leaky Gut Is Stress
If you want to fix leaky gut, then you need to be very mindful of stress because it is probably the most important cause of leaky gut syndrome. The neurotransmitter most involved in stress and leaky gut is serotonin. However, serotonin’s role in leaky gut syndrome is different from its role in depression.
You probably know that one of the ways people become depressed is their brains become depleted of serotonin. Without enough serotonin in your brain, you will feel depressed. You will want to sleep a lot and will suffer fatigue when you are awake.
Only about 2 percent of the serotonin the body makes, however, is made in the brain. About 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is made by enterocromaffin cells in the intestines. In the same way that serotonin in your brain stimulates mental activity, serotonin in your gut stimulates the digestive tract.
Serotonin and Your Gut
The serotonin produced by your gut makes food move through your gut more quickly. If you have too much serotonin in your gut, you get diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Serotonin made by the gut can also travel to the peripheral nerves and make them more sensitive to pain.
Excess serotonin outside your brain can make your blood “stickier” and more prone to clotting. It can elevate your blood pressure so your heart does not pump oxygen to your muscles as efficiently as it should. And it is not only your gut and your brain that can make serotonin. When you exercise, bacteria in your gut make serotonin, too.
Are you starting to realize how important stress is for those who want to fix leaky gut? The problem is that the serotonin made by your gut does not travel to your brain. Your brain has to make its own serotonin. Why should that make a difference?
Your body makes serotonin out of the amino acid tryptophan. When you work out too hard, your gut makes more serotonin. It uses so much of tryptophan to make serotonin that there isn’t enough left over for the brain.
And when you exercise so hard that you “get your adrenaline going,” the extra stress hormones open the tight junctions in your gut. It becomes leaky to inflammatory hormones. Tryptophan doesn’t reach your brain, but the inflammatory hormones do. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to fix leaky gut (or avoid it altogether) is to stop stressing.
How Do You Know You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Some cases of leaky gut are not as symptomatic as others, but an ischemic leaky gut (death of the lining of the colon due to lack of blood circulation) can and often does develop very suddenly. About 1 in 200 people will develop a condition like this at some time during their lives.
This presentation of ischemic colitis is most common in physically active adults who get dehydrated in hot weather, and in the elderly, who become dehydrated because they can’t or won’t drink water.
However, it’s a lot more common for leaky gut to play out in a less dramatic fashion. One study found that about 37 percent of people who have autism have a more slowly progressive form of leaky gut syndrome. About 21 percent of the relatives of people who have autism have a “slow” leaky gut.
In another study, 75 percent of people who had rheumatoid arthritis had elevated levels of a gut bacterium called Prevotella copri, which is associated with the inflammation caused by leaky gut. In yet another study, 22 out of 22 type 2 diabetics were diagnosed with “metabolic endotoxemia,” another condition associated with leaky gut.
Leaky gut is also a nearly universal problem of athletes. It only takes one hour of working out hard to trigger a series of biochemical changes that make the colon permeable to toxins and infectious bacteria. But the good news is it only takes one day of appropriate diet and supplementation to reverse that process if you start the healing process in time. Learning how to fix leaky gut naturally is easy.
Sometimes Leaky Gut Is Punishment for Trying Too Hard to Get into Shape
Leaky gut is a vicious circle. You work hard at having better health. You diet and exercise. Then, you make a little progress, but it seems like every time you take one step forward you take two steps back. You resolve to work even harder—so you make one longer step forward and two longer steps back. If you want to fix leaky gut, then you want to be careful not to push your body too hard.
But What if You Don’t Exercise at All?
Leaky gut is a reaction to the stress of “working out” relative to your maximum capacity. If you get tired walking around the block, then walking around the block may be the physical stress that triggers the vicious circle of leaky gut syndrome for you. If you can do 30 minutes of spinning without needing to stop, maybe it’s the day you do an hour that triggers the leaky gut for you. In addition, if you run 4 miles a day, then maybe it’s the day that you run a half-marathon that your colon will tell you “No more!”
The way to remove the risk of leaky gut from physical stress isn’t to resign yourself to living on your couch. The solution is to support gut health with the right diet and supplements as you slowly are able to enjoy more and more physical activity. This is the key to fix leaky gut naturally.
Exercise Won’t Help You Feel Better Unless You Eat Right
That’s how exercise without appropriate nutrition—including probiotics—can make you feel worse. You feel bad, so you work out. You feel OK right after your work out, but then a few hours later, and even more a few days later, you feel even worse than you did before.
What is a conscientious, health-minded individual going to do? Work out harder! You once again feel a boost of adrenaline from your workout. This temporarily makes you feel good, but then you feel even worse than when you started your exercise routine. Fatigue and depression lead to more fatigue and depression, unless you take care of nutrition first. Here lies yet another key for those who want to fix leaky gut naturally.
How Can You Break the Cycle of Failure to See Results From Exercise?
Get enough phenylalanine from the right foods. Your body makes tryptophan out of the protein phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is found in peanuts, avocados, almonds, soy products, and sesame seeds. It is also found in chicken, fish, turkey, and yogurt. It is better to get as much phenylalanine as you can from plant foods, rather than from animal foods.
Consuming too much casein from dairy products feeds the bacteria that eat through the mucus lining of the gut. Eating too much meat encourages the growth of gut bacteria that transform the amino acid trimethylamine into trimethylamine-N-oxide, which interferes with blood circulation.
If you must eat your meat and dairy, you can offset some of their effects by consuming more resistant starch. Resistant starch is formed when rice and potatoes are boiled for a long time (not steamed, fried, baked, or microwaved). Resistant starch feeds the probiotic bacteria that protect the mucus lining of your gut. It gives them the fuel they need to fight the bacteria that would harm it, and it helps you naturally fix leaky gut.
The Importance of Probiotics
Start taking the probiotics you need before you start an exercise routine. It takes about 8 weeks of regularly taking probiotics to make a difference. But they really do make a difference:
- Don’t take probiotics unless you also get enough prebiotics, the fiber that probiotic bacteria feed on. You don’t have to eat so much fiber that you get bloating and gas. Simply making sure you eat 5 servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day is enough.
- Make sure you are getting a mixture of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. In one clinical trial, taking Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidobacterium bifidum for 8 weeks reduced depression, improved insulin response (which helps muscles absorb the glucose and water they need to “pump up” after a workout), and increased production of the antioxidant glutathione, which indirectly reduces inflammation.
- In another clinical trial, taking Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days reduced the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn reduces leaky gut. Reducing the production of cortisol also slows down weight gain should you overeat.
The more you exercise, the more you need probiotics for gut health. But even if you don’t exercise at all, you still need probiotics. The stresses of daily life don’t just affect you. They also affect your probiotic bacteria, and your gut health is a lot more important than you think.
Make sure that you have the friendly bacteria you need by taking probiotic supplements on a daily basis, and make sure they are well fed by including as many plant foods as possible in your diet. By doing so, you will give yourself the best chance to fix leaky gut naturally (or prevent it from happening altogether). Plus, you will get the added benefit of naturally feeling better in general. It’s a win-win.