Your intestinal lining serves as a highly selective barrier with microscopic pores that absorb essential nutrients from your food while blocking harmful pathogens, large food particles and waste products from entering your bloodstream. But what happens when your digestive lining becomes damaged and more porous?
The unfortunate result is called leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability, a condition that can lead to unpleasant digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and cramps along with seemingly unrelated maladies like chronic sinus infections, achy joints, skin rashes and even brain fog.
What makes treating leaky gut so difficult is that there is no diagnostic testing for it. Nor is there a way to determine the exact cause of increased intestinal permeability. For some patients, Crohn’s or celiac disease is at the root of the problem. When these conditions are effectively treated, the symptoms of leaky gut disappear.
However, in many cases leaky gut cannot be traced to an underlying condition or known causes of intestinal permeability like food allergies, radiation treatments or certain drug use. This is when patient and physician must put on their thinking caps and look for lifestyle factors that may be causing or contributing to the condition.
Some possible culprits include:
- Chronic stress
- Yeast overgrowth caused by too much sugar consumption
- Bacterial imbalance in the gut
- Parasite infection
- Excessive alcohol intake
Once one or more of these factors are controlled or eradicated, the various symptoms of leaky gut may disappear or become significantly reduced. But it’s important to remember there is no cure. Many doctors that successfully treat patients with leaky gut find an integrative approach that includes certain nutritional therapies, dietary modifications and stress reduction techniques works best.
Here are some lifestyle strategies that have been shown to help.
- Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet with the goal of healing inflamed intestinal tissue and reducing other inflammatory symptoms in the body. This includes eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners, dairy products and gluten in favor of anti-inflammatory omega-3 rich fatty fish coupled with high-fiber, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain healthy gut bacteria (probiotics) that are crucial for strong immunity and the absorption of water-soluble vitamins your body needs. Natural sources of probiotics include fermented foods like sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables, Greek yogurt, kefir, miso and tempeh. A high-quality probiotic supplement taken daily is also recommended by many doctors.
- Improve intestinal permeability by taking L-glutamine supplements. Healthy quantities of this semi-essential amino acid can be produced in the body under normal circumstances, but with physical trauma, it may be deficient and lead to increased intestinal permeability. Supplemental L-glutamine has been shown to improve intestinal permeability in malnourished children and people with inflammatory bowel disease.
- It’s well-known that chronic stress can lead to a variety of intestinal ailments and even produce toxic metabolites that lead to other health problems. That’s why learning to reduce your stress with meditation, exercise and even a sense of humor is so important.
While many people see noticeable improvement in their leaky gut symptoms in about 6 weeks, in extreme cases it can take months or even years for a damaged intestinal lining to heal. The key is to find a caring physician with experience in treating patients with the symptoms of intestinal permeability and then working closely with her to successfully heal your gut.
Melanie Segala is the past editor of the alternative medicine reference book, Disease Prevention and Treatment, and the author of numerous health-related articles. She is currently a health writer for BlessedHerbs.com nutritional supplements.