The term “gut instinct” has been around for many years but it was only in recent years that scientists have discovered the important role that gut health or the health of the digestive system plays in our overall health. The state of our gut health has an impact on other parts of the body including our skin, our moods, sleep patterns, blood circulation, kidneys, joint health and of course, our digestion.
At any one time, there are trillions of microbes and at least 700 species of bacteria in our intestines or our gut. Taken together, they form an ecosystem of their own which is known as the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora”. While about 85% of these microbes are beneficial and aid in digestion, the other 15% comprise bacteria which can be potentially harmful to us if their numbers increase. When this 85:15 balance is maintained, all is well and the gut is said to be in a state of eubiosis. When the number of harmful bacteria increases, it is called dysbiosis and can have potentially serious consequences.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut (also known as Small Intestinal Permeability) is a digestive condition in which the lining or “wall” of the small intestine becomes damaged or inflamed. This allows tiny particles of waste matter and other toxins to “leak” through gaps in the small intestine into the bloodstream.
To understand what “leaky gut” is, we need to understand exactly what happens during the digestion process. When the food we eat passes through our small intestine, it comes into contact with millions of tiny “bristles” that line the wall of the small intestine or the gut. When gut health is good, these bristles which are known as “microvilli ” are coated with a layer of friendly bacteria. These beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus and bifida bacteria help with the conversion of food into smaller particles and strengthen the gut lining so that only proteins, vitamins and other nutrients seep into the bloodstream and toxic waste stays in the gut. They prevent the gut wall from being colonized by bad bacteria like coliforms.
When the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria, the gut will have a layer of harmful bacteria like pseudomonas, clostridium difficile and bacteroides which cause constipation and produce gas. They interfere with the absorption of nutrients, make the gut lining weaker and toxins leak into the bloodstream resulting in chronic inflammation over a period of time.
Causes of Leaky Gut
There are many factors that can disturb the balance between beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria and lead to a state of dysbiosis:
- Diet: Foods like beans, peanuts, lentils, wheat and other grains contain lectins. Though lectins are a natural preservative, they are a gassy food and can irritate the gut if consumed in large quantities. Both cooking and fermentation destroy lectins, so they can be consumed if they are cooked in the right manner. A diet that is high in unhealthy foods like chips, sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed food like deli meats has a negative effect on gut health.
- Antibiotics: Consumption of antibiotics can irritate the gut. Antibiotics will kill all the bacteria in the gut including both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria.
- Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt the hormone balance in the body. This can cause levels of the stress hormone, cortisol to rise. Greater levels of stress have been linked to “leaky gut” leading to bloating, food sensitivities and changes to the gut microbiome.
- Pharmaceutical medications like acid blockers: An article published in “Scientific American” says that the use of medications like acid blockers can cause leaky gut. These medicines are commonly known as proton-pump inhibitors which are used to treat gastric disorders like peptic ulcers, indigestion and acid reflux change the environment in the gut in ways that could increase the risk for intestinal infections.
Researchers at the University of Groningen, Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared the stool samples of subjects who took such medications and those who didn’t. They found that those who took such medications had less bacterial diversity. These medications reduce the acidity in the gut making it possible for harmful bacteria like Salmonella or C.difficile to flourish
Symptoms Of Leaky Gut
- Chronic fatigue: Poor digestion interferes with the conversion of food into energy as most of the food that is consumed leaves the intestines before proper absorption can take place. Whatever nutrients are available will be diverted for powering crucial systems like the heartbeat. This leads to fatigue. Fatigue also increases due to an increase in the level of toxins resulting in inflammation. The body uses its scant reserves of energy to fight this inflammation.
- Joint pain: Joint pain, especially in younger people is the result of a higher level of inflammation, especially in those who already have a tendency to inflammation in their joints. The best solution is to reverse the imbalance in the gut and avoid the foods that trigger sensitivities.
- Digestive disorders: Changes in the regular pattern of elimination can be one of the first symptoms of a “leaky gut”. This can later develop into constipation, bloating and diarrhoea.
- Headaches; The toxins that are released through the gut lining like cytokines can cross the barrier between the blood and the brain and cause headaches and mood fluctuations. These neurological symptoms can cause further gut issues.
- Skin outbreaks: With most of the body’s resources being diverted to support vital organs and systems when a person has a leaky gut, there is little to spare for the skin, though it is the largest organ in the body. Inflammation in the gut causes a drop in the natural antimicrobial peptides that are produced by the skin leading to a drop in the skin’s integrity and protective function. This leads to recurrent skin disorders like acne, eczema and rashes.
- Food sensitivities: Food sensitivities can be both the cause and outcome of a leaky gut. When the body sees certain foods as foreign invaders, it produces antibodies to attack itself, leading to more inflammation.
- Nutrient deficiencies: It is the gut or small intestine that is largely responsible for the absorption of nutrients from food. Poor absorption due to leaky gut translates into lack of good gut health and can lead to nutrient deficiencies
- Memory loss/brain fog: Short-term memory issues are common in those with leaky gut as the brain prioritizes vital functions like breathing over retaining memory with the limited resources at its disposal. This leads to brain fog characterized by confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
- Depression/anxiety: The gut produces 95% of serotonin or the “happy hormone”. Changes in the serotonin level due to leaky gut can lead to “chemical depression” If you are always feeling low, it might be time for a gut microbiome test.
- Autoimmune Disorders: Research studies have confirmed that a leaky gut contributes to autoimmune disorders which leads to more inflammation and the cycle continues.
There are many digestive issues having symptoms similar to leaky gut symptoms. We need to take a gut health test to have a correct idea of our gut status before we take proactive steps to restore the balance between good and bad gut bacteria.
How to recover from leaky gut?
- The first thing that a person with a leaky gut should do is to get a comprehensive gut microbiome test like the Gut Microbiome test from Bione. The gut health test is a simple at-home test that gives an accurate picture of the amount and types of different microbes in the gut, as well as the balance between beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. The more diverse your gut bacteria, the healthier you are.
- Based on the results of the gut microbiome test, you will get customized recommendations to add or remove certain foods from your diet. Generally, foods that can trigger insensitivities like gluten and dairy, high-fat foods, high-sugar foods and processed foods need to be reduced or removed from your diet as they can have an impact on your gut flora.
- You may be asked to add more prebiotic and probiotic foods to your diet like bananas, yoghurt, berries, kefir etc to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
- In general, you need to follow a gut diet that is high in fibre and low in refined carbohydrates, sugar, fat and processed foods. Avoiding alcohol, reducing stress and taking regular exercise are other steps you can take to promote good gut health.
Bione delivers individually-focused services and wellness solutions that can help you achieve your full health potential – physically, mentally and emotionally. The gut might be complex, but keeping it in good shape need not be complex. With Bione as your partner, achieving optimal health becomes a lot easier through precision nutrition and fitness.