Do you have leaky gut?
By Allison Riehs | Naturopath
The gut plays a vital role in our overall wellbeing, so when the microbiome is compromised – so too is our health.
And it’s not just responsible for belly aches and bowel troubles.
Everything from allergies to skin complaints and headaches can stem from poor gut health. And there are a variety of ways in which the gastrointestinal system can be harmed.
In this article we take a closer look at the condition best known as ‘leaky gut’, which may be linked to a wide range of health issues.
What is ‘leaky gut’?
Leaky gut refers to increased intestinal permeability, which is the ability for microorganisms to permeate through the lining of the intestinal wall.
This occurs when the tight junctions between intestinal cells are opened, allowing larger than usual microparticles including food particles or bacteria to escape the intestine and enter the bloodstream or other parts of the body.
The repercussions of this increased permeability are not yet fully understood, but evidence suggests an association with inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and potentially even obesity and metabolic disease.
Causes of leaky gut
While no single or definite cause of leaky gut has been identified, it appears any modulating factors on the microbiome can result in increased intestinal permeability.
Studies have shown zonulin plays a key role in opening the tight junctions which lead to leaky gut.
The gut microbiota is also important in supporting a healthy intestinal barrier, emphasising the importance of diverse and thriving gut flora.
As a result, the intestinal epithelial lining can be compromised by a range of factors including genetic predisposition, inflammation, infection and antibiotic use.
Signs and symptoms of leaky gut
You could be living with leaky gut without realising it.
It also possible cases of leaky gut can present as skin disorders such as acne and dermatitis, food allergies and intolerances, and increased sensitivity to environmental allergens.
Research also suggests an affiliation between leaky gut and autoimmune diseases including coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
How to heal a leaky gut
The naturopathic approach to addressing a leaky gut is with foods, herbal medicines and supplements that nurture and restore gut health, as well as healthy lifestyle changes.
Several recent reports have shown probiotics can reverse leaky gut by enhancing the production of tight junction proteins. Similarly, therapeutic doses of key nutrients can be used for a ‘heal and seal’ approach to repairing compromised intestinal lining.
As a naturopath, I provide a personalised approach to addressing leaky gut in each individual, using a combination of foods, herbs and nutritional supplements.
Key nutrients for a leaky gut
Vitamin A: Retinoic acid is a metabolite of vitamin A, which can strengthen the barrier function of epithelial cells. Retinoic acid can also increase the abundance of the probiotic Lactobacillus spp, which is responsible for enhanced intestinal barrier function. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115935/
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency leads to dysbiosis of gut microbiome and is associated with colitis and inflammatory bowel disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6116667/
Collagen: Collagen peptides may reduce intestinal barrier cell dysfunction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28174772
Essential fatty acids: Essential fatty acids may act as a prebiotic in supporting gut health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5751248/
Fibre: Fibre is fermented by the gut flora creating a short-chain amino acid called butyrate. Research has found butyrate supplementation may stimulate mucus production and improve tight junctions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637104/
L-Glutamine: A restorative amino acid, L-glutamine may improve the survival of intestinal cells and regulate the function of the intestinal barrier during times of stress. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24965526
Zinc: Research has found zinc can reduce gut permeability by closing tight junctions in the intestinal lining. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24965526
Think you’re living with leaky gut? Book an appointment with Allison today.
Campos M, 2017, ‘Leaky gut: What is it and what does it mean for you?’, Harvard Health Publishing, <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451>
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Qinghui M et al, 2017, ‘Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases’, Frontiers in Immunology, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/>
Kelly JR et al, 2015, Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders,’ Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604320/>
Abdelhamid-Lou, 2018, ‘Retinoic Acid, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Diseases,‘ Nutrients, 10(8): p1016, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115935/>