Have you suddenly developed sensitivity to certain foods? Do you experience excessive fatigue or suffer from insomnia, joint pain, headaches and digestive disorders? Chances are you may have a leaky gut.
So, what is this condition? And why it is so important to address this?
The cells lining the intestinal wall are glued together with the help of ‘tight junctions’. In a healthy body, these tight junctions keep the intestines permeable to a certain degree – allowing nutrients to pass through but keeping toxins, undigested food particles and harmful microbes from crossing the intestinal barrier and leaking into the bloodstream.
But damage to the gut membrane, from inflammation or imbalance in the gut flora, may break-apart these tight junctions. This leads to abnormally large spaces or holes between the cells of the gut wall – making the gut hyper permeable and allowing its content to leak straight into the blood circulation, hence the name leaky gut.
The liver works harder than usual to remove these toxins but may fail to keep up with constant demands for detoxification. All these toxins may accumulate in various tissues and put in place the base for disease, allergies and infections in the body. When the liver becomes overloaded with toxic burden, your immune system begins to treat these undigested food particles and metabolic gunk (that was not supposed to slip through but is now freely floating in the bloodstream) as foreign invaders.
What follows is a cascade of immune and inflammatory responses throughout the body – gradually leading to inflammation. Worse yet, your overactive immune system starts attacking even the healthy cells, leading to more inflammation. It even remembers these harmless triggers, creating new food allergies or intolerances.
Many health experts blame leaky gut to be a root cause of many health problems. In fact, studies are now exploring the role of a leaky gut in the development of auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and Hashimoto thyroiditis.
What causes leaky gut?
- Poor food choices: Highly processed foods loaded with sugar, refined flour, preservative and artificial colours can irritate the gut and increase intestinal permeability.
- Chronic infections: Intestinal parasites, candida overgrowth, digestive disorders and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can all contribute to gut inflammation and leaky gut.
- Medications: Over use of NSAIDs and antibiotics affect the mucosal lining in the gut, thus making it more susceptible to yeast, inflammation, and irritation by food passing through the gut.
- Exposure to chemicals and environmental toxins: Your risks of leaky gut increases if you are exposed to toxins in the form of heavy metals, alcohol, pesticides and other chemicals.
- Chronic stress: It sends immune system into an overdrive, makes intestines more permeability and causes inflammation.
- Zinc deficiency: Zinc deserves a special mention here. The trace mineral is integral to maintaining membrane barrier integrity.  Zinc deficiency can compromise the organization of tight junctions, making gut more permeable. Studies show that supplementing with Zinc can strengthen the integrity if the mucosal lining of the GI tract and tightens leaky gut in Crohn's disease.  
- Food allergies and food intolerances
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease.)
- Nutritional deficiencies arising due to poor absorption
- Inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea and psoriasis
- Excessive fatigue and fibromyalgia
- Depression, anxiety or ADHD
- Candida overgrowth
- Seasonal allergies
- Getting sick more often (poor immunity)
- Headache and brain fog
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Skin conditions
There are no standard therapies to help heal a leaky gut, but lifestyle changes and simple nutritional changes show immense potential in restoring intestinal integrity – which in turn may help reverse leaky gut to a great extent.
- Eliminate foods that increase inflammation in the body.
- Treat any intestinal infections you may be suffering from.
- Include probiotics in your diet to restore beneficial bacteria in the gut. A healthy gut flora keeps a check on bad microbes, heal the gut lining and help in optimal absorption of nutrients.
- Add lots of raw foods in your diet to introduce digestive enzymes. These enzymes break-down food into smaller particles, and help in proper digestion and uptake of nutrients.
- Leaky gut results in poor digestion and poor absorption of nutrients, leaving you with all sorts of nutritional deficiencies, especially poor levels of vitamin B12 and magnesium. Supplementing a healthy, whole food based diet with high quality multi-vitamin, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, and Zinc can help individuals with leaky gut syndrome.
- S Skrovanek et al. Zinc and gastrointestinal disease. World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2014
- GC Sturniolo et al. Zinc supplementation tightens "leaky gut" in Crohn's disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2001