In recent years, inflammation and other digestive issues have made their way to the forefront of the discussion among the health-conscious. Second only to ‘celiac disease’ and ‘gluten-free’, the most talked-about term is definitely Leaky Gut Syndrome. Though everyone seems to have their own opinion on this relatively new ailment, reports of symptoms and treatment plants vary from person to person, and many people debate whether or not Leaky Gut Syndrome even exists.
Before we get into commonly reported symptoms and how people have treated them, it is important to note that ‘leaky gut syndrome’ is not a recognized medical diagnosis. Doctors do not study it in medical school, your nurse will not be able to provide a leaky gut care pamphlet, and some experts insist that the illness simply does not exist.
If you have severe stomach problems, it is important to seek professional medical help before you begin experimenting on your own. Digestive symptoms can often be vague and difficult to diagnose— and left untreated, an incorrect self-diagnosis can be dangerous or even deadly. A doctor should rule out gut problems such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or digestive cancers before you diagnose yourself with Leaky Gut Syndrome.
That being said, many people have experienced immense success in alleviating their digestive symptoms by using the leaky gut treatment plans that gurus, nutritionists and holistic healers have constructed.
Mainstream medicine is still sadly lacking in knowledge when it comes to gut health, so ‘leaky gut syndrome’ is the term we use to describe a set of symptoms that don’t quite fit with any one acknowledged gastric disease. Since there is no official diagnosis, the criteria can differ somewhat based on who you talk to, but we can cover the basics of the illness.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is thought to be the result of poor function of the barriers located in the intestine. In order to function properly, every tissue in your body must demonstrate selective permeability, which allows certain things to flow through the cells (vitamins, minerals, medicines, etc) but bars other, potentially harmful chemicals from entering or exiting. If these barriers fail to function properly, the intestinal tissue becomes increasingly more permeable, which means that harmful particles—everything from bacteria and viruses to bits of food and intestinal waste— can ‘sneak through’ and contaminate the rest of the body. Once these particles get into your bloodstream, they are able to flow to the rest of your body, wreaking havoc with seemingly unrelated systems. Your body responds defensively, and you wind up battling chronic inflammation on several fronts. This is why so many of the leaky gut symptoms seem, at first glance, to have nothing to do with ill digestive health.
In addition to flooding the body with undesired bits of food, viruses and waste products, a leaky gut does a poorer job of absorbing the chemicals that your body needs to function properly. This can result in mild to severe nutritional deficiencies, which come with their own sets of unpleasant symptoms.
This is why this such a difficult problem to pinpoint! When most people find out they are iron deficient, it doesn’t occur to them that the problem may not be with the amount of iron they’re eating, but with their body’s ability to absorb it.
Leaky Gut Syndrome Symptoms
Now that we understand the mechanics of leaky gut, let’s get to how to figure out whether or not you may have it. Some commonly reported symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome include the following:
- Depression, irritability and mood swings.
Common signs of mental distress include chronic sadness or hopelessness, a lack of motivation, chronic anxiety, panic attacks, sudden fits of anger or irritability, and even suicidal ideation. If your mental health has plummeted without any obvious external stressors or preexisting mental illness, a leaky gut may be to blame. Several studies have shown a strong correlation between inflammation and depression or anxiety, so it only makes sense that the chronic inflammation caused by a leaky gut can destabilize your mood. There are also some thoughts that leaky gut syndrome can contribute to or worsen autism, but there is little evidence to support this.
Important note: if you are feeling suicidal, seek professional help immediately. Suicidal ideation is considered a medical emergency and should not be approached with attempts at self-diagnosis.
- Multiple or unexplained vitamin deficiencies.
As we discussed earlier, damage to the intestinal lining can greatly reduce the amount of nutrition your body reaps from its food. Leaky Gut Syndrome can hurt your body’s ability to absorb any vitamin or mineral, the most common deficiencies caused by this disease are: Vitamin B12, magnesium, and iron. How can you tell if you’re deficient in these key nutrients? Here’s a quick run-down of deficiency symptoms:
Vitamin B12: weakness, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, numbness or tingling in the extremities, vision problems, depression, or memory loss.
Magnesium: muscle spasms, cramps, or involuntary eye/facial twitches.
Iron: pale skin, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold extremities, headaches, or brittle nails.
- Joint pain and other autoimmune symptoms.
Leaky Gut Syndrome can masquerade as a whole host of other autoimmune diseases because it causes chronic inflammation. Thyroid problems in particular seem to have a strong correlation to increased intestinal permeability—many people who receive treatment for leaky gut report that their Hashimoto’s symptoms, like depression and weight gain, lessen or disappear entirely.
- Multiple food sensitivities.
This is a red flag. Because large amounts of undigested food particles leak into the bloodstream, your body’s immune response attacks them again and again. Eventually, this results in symptoms akin to an allergic reaction, as your body has trained itself to attack the food particles it commonly finds in the bloodstream. The most common trigger foods are gluten and dairy products.
- Skin problems.
Acne, dry skin and even psoriasis may be exacerbated by the chronic inflammation resulting from a leaky gut. If the pills or skin creams your doctor prescribes don’t seem to have much effect, you may need to treat your underlying digestive problems!
Leaky Gut Syndrome Treatment
Though there are several highly specific treatment plans you can find on the Internet, they all cover the same basic ideas. Here are the steps that those who self-diagnose Leaky Gut Syndrome seem to have the most success with:
- Eliminate trigger foods.
This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people continue to eat the things that make them sick! Remove the foods you are sensitive to, as well as common inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, artificial sweeteners, processed meats and sugar, trans fats, and carbonated beverages.
- Incorporate superfoods and nutrient-dense foods.
Include a probiotic and a whole-food multivitamin to ward off nutritional deficiencies. In addition to getting rid of all the ‘bad’ stuff in your diet, start eating a lot more of the good stuff. This means to make sure you get several servings of whole plant foods every day. For optimal absorption, you should eat a mixture of cooked and raw plant foods.
- Reduce stress levels.
Your stress levels can make or break both your physical and mental health. High levels of stress lead to chronic inflammation, which, if you have a leaky gut, is exactly what you’re trying to combat! Take steps to prevent stress by organizing your life, keeping your living spaces clean and writing in a planner. Combat existing stress through meditation, journaling, exercise, or psychotherapy. If you experience unbearable levels of stress that seem unreasonable given your current situation, have yourself evaluated by a mental health professional.
- Add fermented foods into your diet.
Loaded with probiotics and other chemicals that encourage healing, fermented foods are a must for anyone looking to heal any range of digestive problems. Some good foods (or drinks) to try include kombucha, sauerkraut, kvass, kimchi, pickled garlic, tempeh, miso, and of course, pickles. These foods are powerful even in small amounts, so you don’t have to eat a ton of them to begin to notice a difference.
- Supplement, supplement, supplement.
Most people don’t need to take supplements, but if you think you may be suffering from Leaky Gut Syndrome, there are a few supplements on the market that can alleviate your symptoms. The big ones are L-Glutamine and licorice root. L-Glutamine provides essential amino acids which your body can use to repair and rebuild the damage done to your gut. Licorice root is a herb, which will lower the cortisol in your blood, fight stress, and encourage healing. Those who struggle with significant emotional stress also report success with common stress relievers such as chamomile and green tea.
- Take digestive enzymes.
When your gut is damaged, you need all the digestive help you can get, and one way to support a compromised digestive tract is with enzymes. Pop a capsule or two before your main meals to help your body break down the food before it has a chance to leak into your bloodstream. This is the best way to get relief from bloating or intestinal cramping after meals.