Leaky gut syndrome might sound like something from a science fiction movie, but it’s a real condition that affects your digestive tract. Leaky gut is another term for intestinal permeability. It’s known to play a role in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms and is a potential root cause of IBS.
This article provides an overview of the signs, symptoms, and causes of leaky gut, and why it’s important to manage it, especially if you have IBS.
What is Leaky Gut?
Your digestive tract is where food is broken down and the nutrients from food – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, etc. – are absorbed into your bloodstream. Remarkably, the intestinal lining of your GI tract has more than 4,000 square feet of surface area, which not only helps absorb all of the nutrients in your food, but also acts as a barrier between the inside of your intestines and your bloodstream, controlling what gets let in and what gets removed as waste.
Your microbiome (the collection of friendly bacteria and other microbes that live in your gut) play a vital role in maintaining the strength and integrity of your intestinal lining.
Under healthy conditions, the cells that line your intestines have structures (called tight junctions) that hold the cells together to create a continuous surface. The tight junctions prevent food antigens (compounds that can cause inflammation imbalance and immune system activation), bacteria, and toxins from entering your bloodstream and traveling to other parts of your body.
When the gut is in an unhealthy state, the tight junctions become loose, or leaky. That makes your intestinal lining more permeable than it should be. As a result, food particles, bacteria, and toxins easily escape into your bloodstream and cause inflammation imbalance and immune responses throughout your body.
This increased permeability is known as leaky gut syndrome. Although scientists have much more to learn about this condition, evidence is pointing to a link between leaky gut and many digestive disorders, including IBS.
Leaky Gut Symptoms
Intestinal permeability isn’t a disease itself, but it’s a root cause of other diseases or health conditions. Thus, it can lead to a wide range of symptoms related to your digestive tract and other parts of your body.
However, leaky gut symptoms are hard to pinpoint, and they’re not the same for everyone. Some people might have a leaky gut and hardly notice the symptoms, while for others, the symptoms are severe.
Some common symptoms/conditions include:
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Poor immune system function
- Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
- Cravings for sugar or carbs
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn’s
Many of these are general symptoms that might be related to any number of health conditions. It’s always smart to talk to your doctor to rule out specific diseases, but if you have ongoing symptoms like these, without a clear cause, a leaky gut might be at the root of the problem.
In the case if IBS, research studies show that intestinal permeability is found in up to 62% of those with diarrhea-predominant IBS, and up to 50% of people with IBS that’s triggered after a gastrointestinal infection (such as food poisoning). (1)
What Causes Leaky Gut?
It’s not clear exactly why the gut lining becomes more permeable in some people than others. However, it’s thought that these different factors play a role: (2)
- Eating a high calorie diet, especially one that is high in sugar, refined carbs, and fats
- Having low fiber intake
- Eating large amounts of animal protein
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Having insulin resistance or high cholesterol
- Chronic stress
- Environmental toxin exposure
- Dysbiosis – an unhealthy balance of microorganisms in your gut
Interestingly, many of these risk factors for leaky gut are also risk factors for dysbiosis, which means a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in more unfriendly bacteria. And dysbiosis is also strongly associated with IBS. It’s not clear what comes first, dysbiosis, leaky gut, or some other trigger, but the end result is often IBS and the unpleasant symptoms (constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc) that come with it.
How to Manage Your Leaky Gut
Managing your leaky gut and reducing intestinal permeability requires an integrative approach. There isn’t a magic bullet (or medication) you can take, or any one thing that will manage a leaky gut. Instead, it calls for a holistic healthy lifestyle approach. That means:
- Expand your diet by replacing highly processed packaged foods with more servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds. All of these foods are high in fiber, which supports your microbiome. And in turn, your microbiome will help repair and strengthen your intestinal lining.
- If you drink alcohol, be more mindful of your consumption. Opt for mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails), flavored sparkling water, and other low-sugar beverages as alternatives. And if you have exposure to environmental and everyday toxins like artificial fragrances, cigarettes, air pollution, herbicides and pesticides, or heavy metals, work with your doctor to identify them, reduce your exposure to them, and explore ways to decrease your toxic load.
- Increase your movement. Research shows that the health of the gut AND modulation of the inflammatory response can be improved with certain types of routine movement and exercise. This means that by growing our daily movement practices we can improve the health and diversity of the microbial community that lives in us and helps us maintain our health! Most importantly, find a fun activity or a group of fun activities to keep your brain engaged and out of obligation mode. Aim for at least 30 minutes daily mix of aerobic activity, strength training, stretching, and play.
- Let’s talk about stress. In today’s society full of never-ending demands on your time and the persistent feeling that you could always be doing more, it’s hard to avoid stress. The key to keeping stress manageable and preventing it from causing negative health effects is to learn how to leave a stressful situation behind you once it’s over.
Before I tell you how I like to de-stress, I want to be clear – there is no one best way to relax and relieve stress. Everyone manages their stress differently, so don’t stress yourself out over trying to follow the perfect de-stressing routine! The important thing is to find what works for you personally, whether that’s doing yoga, going for a run, spending time with your family, spending time alone, working in your garden, going to church, or any other activity.
Here are a few of my favorite de-stressing tips to get you started.
- Going on a hike
- Taking a relaxing bath with homemade bath salts
- Infrared sauna therapy
- Sensory deprivation floatation session
- HeartMath Inner Balance app
- Use a medical food specifically designed for IBS. Medical foods are specially formulated and intended for the dietary management of a disease or condition, like IBS. Ther-Biotic ProTM IBS Relief with IBS DefenseTM is a medical food that contains specific probiotic strains clinically shown to benefit individuals with IBS. Not only can it help repair your gut lining and restore your microbiome, but also, it can help reduce your IBS symptoms.
If you live with the discomfort of IBS, there’s a good chance you also have a leaky gut. Try this healthy lifestyle protocol land discuss a trial of Ther-Biotic ProTM IBS Relief with IBS DefenseTM with your healthcare provider. These strategies could provide a solution to managing your IBS symptoms.
|†Ther-Biotic® ProTM IBS Relief is a medical food for the dietary management of IBS. It is not a replacement for any medication. Use under medical supervision. A prescription is not required for purchase.
General Notice & Disclaimer: This information has been provided as educational material for use by physicians and other licensed healthcare professionals only; it is to be used as a basis for the development of personalized protocols or recommendations for their patients. The information provided herein is based on a review of current existing research; SFI Health USA does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of the information itself or the consequences from the use or misuse of the information.
- Hanning N, Edwinson AL, Ceuleers H, et al. Intestinal barrier dysfunction in irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2021;14:1756284821993586. Published 2021 Feb 24. doi:10.1177/1756284821993586 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7925957/
- Leech B, McIntyre E, Steel A, Sibbritt D. Risk factors associated with intestinal permeability in an adult population: A systematic review. Int J Clin Pract. 2019;73(10):e13385. doi:10.1111/ijcp.13385 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31243854/