What is leaky gut syndrome?
The foods you eat and the way you feel are often connected. Eating too much at dinner can make you feel bloated, while a healthy breakfast provides you with the energy you need to power through the morning. Digestion problems like gas, diarrhea, and constipation affect millions of Americans, and more than 15% of people in Western countries have severe gut sensitivity.
One particular digestive condition affecting general health is leaky gut syndrome, referred to in the medical community as intestinal permeability. Inside your body, there's an intestinal lining that forms a tight barrier to control what substances your body absorbs. If you have a leaky gut, it means your intestinal lining has large cracks and holes that allow toxins and partially digested food to pass into your bloodstream.
Over time, leaky gut syndrome may damage your gut flora, the healthy bacteria in your stomach. Some research suggests this condition can trigger inflammation and cause problems in your digestive tract and throughout your body, leading to chronic disease.
Diseases linked to leaky gut
Leaky gut syndrome is considered an intestinal barrier defect. It is associated with many diseases, including:
- Food allergies
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Celiac disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
However, there aren't many studies that prove leaky gut syndrome actually causes these illnesses.
Symptoms of leaky gut may vary depending on the underlying disease.
People with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder, may experience:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excess gas
- Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
- Weight loss
Symptoms may be local to one area or spread throughout the entire body.
Lifestyle choices like smoking, the foods you eat, and your general health may all contribute to your leaky gut in some way.
Certain food ingredients and nutrients can alter your gut flora. Some research suggests that diets low in fiber allow bad bacteria to flourish in your digestive system. This bacteria thins the mucus in your intestinal lining and can make you more susceptible to digestive illnesses, like colitis.
Diets high in saturated fats have also been strongly correlated with intestinal permeability.
Anxiety isn't good for your health, and over time constant stress can affect your food choices and gut flora. A stressed body creates a stressed immune system, which can make it harder for your gut to fight bad bacteria and prevent digestive disease.
Research suggests drinking too much or too often causes intestinal barrier dysfunction and damages gut bacteria.
Other causes include autoimmune diseases, infections, and diabetes.
Who is at risk
The intestinal lining isn't impenetrable. Otherwise, the nutrients in your food couldn't reach the bloodstream and nourish your body. Everyone has some degree of leaky gut. However, if your diet is high in fat and sugar and low in fiber, you may be more at risk for developing leaky gut syndrome.
Diet for leaky gut syndrome
Foods to Avoid
There are many foods and substances that can cause inflammation and contribute to the development of a leaky gut, including:
- Refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta
- Glutinous grains, like barley, rye, and oats
- White sugar found in candy, baked goods, or cereal
- Dairy products, including milk, ice cream, and some cheeses
- Vegetable oils including soybean and canola
- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose
- Alcohol and sugary drinks
Foods to Eat
There are still plenty of things you can eat while trying to heal a leaky gut. Start with removing some of the inflammatory foods listed above, like gluten, dairy, and refined sugar. Then try adding more:
- Brown rice and other whole grains
- High-fiber foods like beans and vegetables
- Leafy greens, including kale and spinach
- Low-fructose fruits like berries
- Salmon, chicken, or other lean proteins
- High-quality fats including olive oil and avocado
- Fermented foods with probiotics like plain yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut
Research suggests plant fibers from fruits and vegetables interact particularly well with the bacteria in your gut.
Risks and outlook
How Long Will It Last?
Intestinal permeability isn't typically considered a medical condition. It's usually regarded as a set of symptoms that often reflect an underlying issue, like IBS or celiac disease. Determining your outlook may be a challenge because digestive problems don't always have a simple, direct treatment.
Digestive Disorders Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Food & Function: "Impact of increasing fruit and vegetables and flavonoid intake on the human gut microbiota."
Frontiers in Immunology: "Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?"
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "5 Foods to Avoid If You Have IBS."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of Celiac Disease.”
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”