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Experts explain leaky gut syndrome and its treatment

A guide to help identify leaky gut syndrome and what you can do to prevent or heal it

By Web Desk
July 01, 2023
This picture shows an illustration of the human gut. — Holistic Bodyworks/File
This picture shows an illustration of the human gut. — Holistic Bodyworks/File

If you have chronic diarrhoea or constipation, skin problems, or headaches, you are most likely suffering from leaky gut syndrome. People frequently discuss "leaky gut" or "leaky gut syndrome" on #GutTok, the popular TikTok section devoted to gut health.

However, there is more that you should know about leaky gut syndrome before confirming that you have it.

The term "leaky gut" describes the idea of relative intestinal permeability, or the potential for objects to pass through the intestinal lining.

"Your intestines are part of your digestive system that is about 25 feet long, that has a strong protective lining inside it that prevents food, digestive juices and bacteria from leaking out," explains Dr. William Li, a physician and bestselling author of "Eat to Beat Your Diet: Burn Fat, Heal Your Metabolism, and Live Longer." 

"When that lining is damaged, these substances leak from inside the gut to its outside, like a punctured garden hose, and can cause a severe inflammatory response in your belly," he added.

Causes of a leaky gut

According to Harvard Health, every individual's gut "leaks" to some extent because the barrier is "not completely impenetrable (and is not supposed to be)." This allows things like water and nutrients to pass through, but it can cause problems if the permeability increases.

According to research, people with specific chronic gastrointestinal diseases have leaky guts that permit larger molecules, including potentially toxic ones, to pass through.

Dr Li says that conditions like celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease may be the cause of leaky gut. Additionally, it may be linked to other autoimmune conditions, such as asthma, food allergies, excessive medication use, chemotherapy, or ongoing stress.

"We know that the condition of having intestinal permeability or a 'leaky gut' is real, but we don't know that it's a disease in itself, or that it causes other diseases," the Cleveland Clinic says, but adds, "It's not currently a recognized medical diagnosis."

Symptoms of a leaky gut

According to CBS, Li claims that typical emotions related to a leaky gut include indigestion, stomach pain, burning sensations, bloating and gassiness

"The constant irritation from these symptoms can lead to fatigue and irritability," he says.

Naturally, it is possible to experience these symptoms without having a leaky gut, so it is crucial to talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Treatment for a leaky gut

Li asserts that there is no simple treatment for leaky gut because the condition is still poorly understood, but some interventions can help heal leaky gut.

For instance, consuming foods that promote gut health with a balanced, healthy diet can promote a healthier microbiome or gut flora.

Additionally, avoiding foods that cause stomach irritation and modifying lifestyle variables can also improve gut health. 

According to Li, improving your gut health can be facilitated by exercising, getting enough sleep, and reducing your stress levels.

Treatment of the underlying condition may also be helpful if you have leaky gut brought on by another gut problem.

"Specific treatments for (inflammatory bowel disease), celiac disease, and others associated with intestinal permeability have been shown to repair the intestinal lining in those who were affected," the Cleveland Clinic says.