There is much talk about gut health these days, and the term "leaky gut." Good gut health is generally defined as having normal, balanced gut flora, or in other words, having the proper microbial balance in the digestive system.
The natural health industry has developed a variety of treatments addressing digestive health issues. Your gastroenterologist will likely begin her or his recommendation for your gut health by prescribing a healthy diet that eliminates excess sugar, processed foods and alcohol.
Leaky Gut Symptoms Include a Range of Medical Issues
Gut health problems have has been linked to conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to mental health, and one of the most talked-about conditions in recent years is leaky gut syndrome, or simply “leaky gut.” While it is not currently a recognized medical diagnosis, many people have experienced one or several of its symptoms:
- Food sensitivities
- Digestive problems
- Skin problems
These are very general symptoms that could be associated with any number of medical conditions, including more serious gastrointestinal problems.
It is true that leaky gut is thought to be a contributing factor in patients who have been diagnosed with conditions such as Celiac disease, Type 1 Diabetes, food allergies and even Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as well as Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is also true that some of us are more predisposed to leaky gut syndrome than others. Consulting with your gastroenterologist will help you to determine whether you are one of these people.
Increased intestinal permeabilty
How Does Leaky Gut Syndrome Happen?
Leaky gut happens normally in the human digestive tract, as part of a process that allows the food we consume when broken down and digested to be absorbed into the body. Sometimes, however, the gut can become too leaky and allow bad stuff or too much stuff to cross over and our bodies' immune system, including the gut immune system to react. Here are a few points that explain how leaky gut syndrome works:
- The intestinal walls act as gatekeepers that control what substances enter our blood and organs when we digest food.
- Small gaps in the intestinal wall, called “tight junctions” allow water and nutrients to pass through, while blocking the passage of harmful substances.
- When these tight junctions become loose, the gut becomes more permeable, enabling bacteria and toxins to pass into the bloodstream.
- The most common reaction to leaky gut is systemic inflammation, which can result in body aches and pains, swelling of muscles and tissue and tired feeling or lethargy.
There has been comparatively little research conducted on leaky gut, although that is changing rapidly, because the condition is drawing increased attention from gastroenterologists and holistic practitioners alike.
Leaky Gut: Diagnosable Condition or Side Effect?
Some gastroenterologists stress that leaky gut is itself only a symptom of a larger medical problem, while others in the medical community view it as a condition all its own.
An article from the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research refers to leaky gut syndrome as “a proposed gastrointestinal disorder…currently the topic of numerous debates throughout the medical and natural health communities.” The article states, “Some alternative medicine practitioners claim that leaky gut syndrome is a prevalent problem responsible for ill health in many people.” However, “most physicians maintain that there is not enough research to prove that it is a legitimate issue.”
Recent studies have found that the only known regulator of (leaky gut or) intestinal permeability is a protein called zonulin. When zonulin is activated in patients with a genetic susceptibility, this can lead to leaky gut. Bacteria in the intestines and gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) have been found to trigger leaky gut.
Other studies have shown that gluten only leads to leaky gut in those patients who are already predisposed to intestinal permeability—people with Celiac disease.
The Impact of Diet and Alcohol on Gut Health
If you have sensitivities to food like wheat, grain or gluten, for example, you should consult your gastroenterologist about diet alterations that could help alleviate discomfort and reduce the symptoms of leaky gut.
Gastroenterology studies have also linked leaky gut with the modern American diet, which is full of processed foods and high in sugar. According to alcohol abuse experts, people who consume large amounts of alcohol have been found to be more susceptible to leaky gut. Those who drink to excess commonly experience changes to their intestinal function. These changes can often trigger the onset of leaky gut syndrome, or worsen its effects.
The Good Gut Health Diet
Are you wondering what you can do to fight leaky gut syndrome? Gastroenterologists and homeopaths agree that a proper diet can go a long way in improving overall gut health. The following foods are beneficial to good gut health.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, arugula, carrots, kale, eggplant, beetroot, Swiss chard, spinach, ginger, mushrooms and zucchini.
- Roots and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, squash and turnips.
- Fermented vegetables: Kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso.
- Fruit: Coconut, grapes, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, oranges, mandarin, lemon, limes, passion fruit and papaya.
- Sprouted seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and more.
- Gluten-free grains: Buckwheat, amaranth, rice (brown and white), sorghum, teff and gluten-free oats.
- Healthy fats: Avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil.
- Fish: Salmon, tuna, herring and other omega-3-rich fish.
- Meats and eggs: Lean cuts of chicken, beef, lamb, turkey and eggs.
- Herbs and spices: All herbs and spices.
- Cultured dairy products: Kefir, yogurt, Greek yogurt and traditional buttermilk.
- Beverages: Bone broth, teas, coconut milk, nut milk, water and kombucha.
- Nuts: Raw nuts including peanuts, almonds and nut-based products, such as nut milks.
Avoiding excessive sugar and alcohol and heavily processed foods can go a long way toward helping digestive function.
If you think you may be experiencing leaky gut syndrome or having poor gut health issues, consult your gastroenterologist. Finding out what you can do to fight this emerging health issue early on can be your best defense.
Gastroenterologists in NYC
Drs. William Erber, MD and Jonathan Erber, MD specialize in Gastroenterology and Endoscopy at their offices in Brooklyn, New York.
Schedule a consultation with us today to learn more about leaky gut and other digestive health issues.