Leaky gut syndrome is not well understood by modern medical practitioners. But this condition can wreak havoc in your body, and it’s definitely something you want to avoid.
Also known as increased intestinal permeability, leaky gut syndrome (LGS) is a condition that begins in the small intestine, where nutrients from food are absorbed by microscopic pores that cover the intestinal lining.
These pores regulate what enters the bloodstream. But when one suffers from leaky gut, the gaps in the intestinal lining widen. This causes food particles and toxins that should remain in the small intestine to enter the bloodstream.
The immune system identifies these food particles and toxins as invaders and attacks them, along with healthy cells. This triggers the immune system into action, causing inflammation that can lead to a long and varied list of symptoms, including joint pain, mood issues, acne, psoriasis and fatigue, to name a few.
Anyone can suffer from leaky gut syndrome, but certain risk factors make you more vulnerable to this mysterious condition.
Here are the key factors that raise your risk of having a leaky gut.
1. Poor Diet
The most common risk factor for leaky gut syndrome is a poor diet. There are several components in food that can damage the intestinal lining, leading to inflammation.
One popular culprit is the proteins found in unsprouted grains, sugar, genetically modified foods (GMOs) and conventional dairy products. These foods also contain a good amount of nutrient blockers called phytates and lectins.
For instance, the sugar-binding proteins called lectins act as a natural defense system for plants. They protect plants from outside invaders like mold and parasites, but they are harmful for the human body. Lectins attach to the digestive lining, cause damage to your gut and lead to inflammation.
Also, high amounts of refined sugars, processed foods, preservatives, refined flours and flavorings introduce high amounts of chemicals and toxins into the body that can ultimately cause inflammation.
2. Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is one of the major causes as well as risk factors for leaky gut syndrome.
Stress not only signals bacteria to multiply and mutate, it also affects the functionality of the digestive system and suppresses the immune system.
A weakened immune system cannot maintain the balance of pathogens in the gut. This can lead to an overall increase in inflammation including in the gut, which in turn alters intestinal physiological function, increases gut permeability and causes inflammation.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology highlights the link between stress and gut health. The study shows that the major effects of stress on gut physiology include alterations in gastrointestinal motility, increased visceral perception, changes in gastrointestinal secretion and increased intestinal permeability.
Any painkiller medication (prescribed or over-the-counter) taken in excess can irritate the intestinal lining and reduce the mucosal level (a membrane that produces mucus on the intestinal lining as a natural protective measure). Over time, this can lead to inflammation and an increase in permeability.
Even nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can damage the gut. These medicines kill good bacteria and often create an imbalance in gut bacteria. When bad bacteria take over the good ones, it leads to inflammation and ultimately LGS.
Also, long-term use of oral contraceptive pills increases a woman’s risk.
Occasional use of these medicines is typically harmless, but long-term or excessive use increases your susceptibility to LGS.
4. Excess Toxins
The chemicals and toxins that you come in with on a daily basis is another worst offender for causing leaky gut.
If your natural detoxification process is not working properly, toxins build up in the body.
Over time, these toxins can irritate the intestinal lining and lead to inflammation as well as weak immunity. The constant inflammation and low immune system activity together causes more permeability in the gut wall.
5. Candida Overgrowth in the Intestines
People with an intestinal yeast infection or candidiasis are at a higher risk of suffering from leaky gut syndrome.
Candida is a type of yeast that is a component of normal gut flora. When the yeast begins to grow out of control, it can cause inflammation in the gut that prevents healing, no matter how healthy your diet is.
Basically, candida sticks to mucosal tissue of the small intestine, which can cause inflammation and weaken the immune system.
6. Zinc Deficiency
Zinc is important for maintaining a strong intestinal lining. A deficiency of zinc can lead to the mucosal lining losing strength, which can lead to an increase in gut permeability.
It has been found that zinc supplements can dramatically improve intestinal lining integrity. Zinc is also helpful in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Another leading cause of leaky gut is a condition called dysbiosis.
This condition leads to an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut. More of the harmful bacteria in the gut leads to irritation and inflammation in the small intestine. This ultimately causes an increase in gut permeability, and your chances of having LGS.
Some people suffer from this condition from birth because of a C-section or due to poor gut health of the mother herself.
8. Alcohol Consumption
Drinking alcohol in excess amounts heightens susceptibility for intestinal permeability.
Alcohol leads to a buildup of toxins in the body, which in turn can inhibit hormones in the gut that moderate inflammation. These toxins also hinder necessary nutrients from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
A 2008 study published in Alcohol reports that alcohol exposure leads to increased intestinal permeability due to endotoxin and subsequent injury to the liver and other organs. In fact, alcohol exposure promotes the growth of bad bacteria in the intestine, which may result in accumulation of endotoxin.