LEAKY GUT: WHAT DO WE KNOW SO FAR?
Leaky gut syndrome is a medical condition that is thought to affect your small intestines causing several digestive and non-digestive problems. Doctors and scientists are still not really sure whether leaky gut is a real syndrome that causes medical problems, however, there is some early scientific evidence to suggest that it’s linked to certain diseases.
People who argue that leaky gut syndrome is an actual medical condition suggest that when the guts are over-permeable (leaky), certain toxins and microbes pass into the bloodstream causing inflammation in the gut and diseases that might affect the whole body. This article will discuss the currently available evidence to help clear fact from fiction.
So, what exactly is a leaky gut?
Your intestines form a critical part of your digestive system as they serve many functions like providing your body with nutrients, maintaining water balance, contributing to immunity, among many other more complex functions. Researchers are now even studying possible links between our guts and our behavior and mental health. Our intestines have a very large surface area (around the size of a tennis court) that’s made of specialized cells that control the movement of molecules and nutrients across the gut wall. In a healthy gut, these cells are usually joined together by tight junctions that prevent anything from leaking through the tiny spaces between your cells. In an unhealthy gut, these junctions might not be so tight, and certain toxins or bacteria (gut flora) might leak into the bloodstream causing local inflammation or other systemic diseases.
What conditions are linked to leaky gut?
Many studies have been done over the years to search for links between leaky gut and other medical conditions, however, there’s still no proven link to make leaky gut syndrome an actual medical diagnosis. Here are some conditions that might possibly be linked to increased gut permeability:
- Celiac disease: An autoimmune disease characterized by gluten intolerance. Researchers have found that people who have celiac disease have a more leaky gut after consuming foods containing gluten.
- Diabetes: Some studies claim that there’s a connection between diabetes type 1 and leaky gut. Diabetes type 1 is characterized by autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta cells (cells that produce insulin). It has been suggested that this autoimmune response is activated when a foreign antigen leaks through the gut wall triggering your immune system.
- Crohn’s disease: Crohn’s disease is one of the inflammatory bowel diseases. People who have Crohn’s disease and those related to them both seem to have increased bowel permeability. This suggests that genetics might play a role in developing leaky bowels.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Some research has shown that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is linked to leaky bowels. A link was particularly found in those who have IBS with predominant diarrhea.
- Food allergies: Some scientists believe that food allergies originate in people who have increased gut permeability. It is thought that in these people, certain proteins cross the gut barrier to trigger an immune response, which is the hallmark of food allergy.
Some studies have also found links between leaky gut and medical conditions like lupus, mental illnesses, asthma, fibromyalgia, obesity, acne, multiple sclerosis, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, however, the data is still not very strong.
Is leaky gut a cause or an effect?
It is still not yet clear whether a leaky gut is the cause of these conditions or just a result of the chronic inflammation they lead to. Just because people with these conditions have increased gut permeability does not automatically mean that it’s the reason why they have them. Much more research is still needed to establish the cause-effect relationship suggested by proponents of leaky gut syndrome. Early research, however, has shown that in people with IBS and type 1 diabetes, for example, leaky gut comes before the diseases’ onset, which might support the argument that it plays a role in their development. On the other hand, in people with celiac disease, increased intestinal permeability was observed after ingesting gluten, which brings the theory that leaky gut is a cause to question.
What’s the treatment for leaky gut syndrome?
Since leaky gut is not a standard medical diagnosis, there’s still no routine treatment prescribed to treat it. However, even if leaky guts are not the root of all your medical problems, there’s still a lot of benefit in maintaining good gut health. Here are a few ways you can improve the health of your gastrointestinal system:
- Increase your fiber intake: Foods high in fiber are well known for improving gut health. These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and others.
- Avoid eating too many carbs: It is thought that carbs stimulate the proliferation of bacteria in your guts causing an imbalance in your intestinal flora.
- Try taking probiotic supplements: Probiotic supplements are supplements that contain “good bacteria” that are beneficial for your body. Several studies have found that these supplements can improve your gut health.
- Avoid using anti-inflammatory drugs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen are known to cause some degree of harm to your gastrointestinal system, so try to avoid them unless they become necessary.
A lot of research is still needed to see where leaky guts fit into our understanding of chronic medical illnesses. Despite this fact, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is without a doubt very beneficial for your body’s health so you might want to start there and see how your body responds.
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