“Trust your gut.”
“What does your gut tell you?”
There’s a reason phrases like these are so common. The gut, or the “second brain,” plays a huge role in body functioning and health and wellness. The gut is comprised of over 100 million nerve cells and continues to be studied by scientists for its role in both physical and mental health. So what if the gut goes on the fritz?
Intestinal health is essential for overall health. If the intestinal tract becomes inflamed, infected, or damaged, it will begin acting up. Symptoms of intestinal upset can be felt throughout the body and can often lead to chronic health conditions. So how do you know if a stomachache is more than just a stomachache? When should a condition like leaky gut syndrome be investigated? Keep reading to learn about what exactly leaky gut is, including causes, symptoms, and how to fix it.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome, also called increased intestinal permeability or leaky bowel, is a condition that is still somewhat misunderstood. It often means a variety of symptoms are present which a physician cannot link to any other condition.
When the intestinal lining is working correctly, it controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. However, if the intestinal lining is not working correctly, or is not healthy, then food and toxins can break through the tissue and cause multiple issues with the digestive tract and throughout the body. Leaky gut is associated with other gastrointestinal disorders, including celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, and may also be linked to other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, Graves’ disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
According to Harvard Medical School, everyone has leaky gut to some degree. However, some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing a more severe case. In addition, lifestyle choices such as diet and prolonged periods of stress may play a critical role in who develops leaky gut syndrome. Dietary factors that may contribute to an increased likelihood of developing leaky gut include:
- Low fiber
- High sugar
- High saturated fats
- Heavy alcohol use
Leaky Gut Symptoms
According to the nonprofit My Leaky Gut Syndrome website, there are a variety of symptoms that accompany leaky gut or leaky bowel.
Leaky Bowel Symptoms
- Yeast overgrowth, leading to yeast infections
- Persistent diarrhea
- Chronic fatigue
- Food allergies
- Seasonal allergies
- Joint pain
- Skin rashes from inflammation
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Weakened immune system
- Brain fog
Diagnosing Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut is not considered an official disease or condition by many physicians. So receiving a diagnosis can be tricky. No single test can diagnose leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut often presents with symptoms that could be due to a multitude of conditions. Therefore, testing for leaky gut often consists of ruling out other conditions first. Additional tests are usually run to determine how the intestinal tract and digestive system are functioning. Once other possible culprits have been eliminated, a diagnosis of leaky gut is sometimes made.
Common Tests for Leaky Gut Include:
- Mannitol/lactulose: The patient will drink both mannitol and lactulose. Intestinal permeability and malabsorption will be evaluated based on which of these two liquids is better absorbed. Leaky gut can be indicated if both liquids end up testing high in the body.
- Urine test: A urine test can check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies and can measure the levels of yeast.
- Stool analysis: This test checks the stool for yeast levels and bad bacteria and to see if enough food enzymes are being produced to break down nutrients.
- Organic acid test: This test checks for nutritional deficiencies as well as yeast or bacteria overgrowth.
- Sugar test: A sugar test evaluates the blood sugar in the body.
- Breath test: Also called a hydrogen methane breath test, this test checks for bacterial overgrowth.
- Blood test: A blood test can check for nutritional deficiencies, yeast in the bloodstream, and food allergies.
- Diet: If someone suspects he or she has leaky gut syndrome, they can do an at-home test by eliminating certain foods from their diet to see if any of them are culprits or triggers for symptoms. Common triggers include dairy, soy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, grains, and nuts.
Leaky Gut Treatment
Unfortunately, since leaky gut syndrome is not often diagnosed and not even considered a condition by some, doctors have yet to outline a specific plan of action when it comes to treating it. Healing leaky gut usually involves changes to diet and lifestyle.
Common treatments for leaky gut:
- Reduce stress.
- Eliminate any foods or medications that are found to trigger symptoms.
- Increase fiber intake.
- Increase water intake. Without proper hydration, high-fiber intake can lead to constipation.
- Exercise regularly.
- Try supplements such as the amino acid glutamine. Glutamine has been studied for its potential benefits in intestinal health, though no studies so far have been able to show that it improves leaky gut syndrome. Although glutamine may offer intestinal health benefits, it’s best to take a balanced mixture of all essential amino acids to make sure that the blood concentration of amino acids is optimal.