A leaky gut is characterized by perforations in the intestinal wall that allow molecules or microorganisms to pass through into the bloodstream. The phenomenon is a profound failure of the intestines’ duty to act as a protective barrier. Leaky gut syndrome is difficult to diagnose; many physicians do not know to look for it when diagnosing patients who are experiencing a complicated array of symptoms.
What Exactly Is the Gut?
The gut encompasses the intestinal mucosa (lining), the microbial community (and its genes) in the intestines, and the immune system and nerves. In addition to being the most important organ in the digestive system, the intestines are the largest immune organ, with roughly 2,700 square feet (or 250 meters) of surface area. Eating or drinking exposes this tennis court-sized area to the outside world. The digested molecules (micro-, macro-, and phytonutrients) in food are supposed to filter through the intestinal mucosa, which is made up of the epithelial cells on the surface of the small intestine. The contents of the intestines are supposed to remain in the intestinal lumen and continue the journey to the colon. But, with a leaky gut, the contents of the intestine can slip, unregulated, between the epithelial cells of the intestine.
The spaces between the intestinal cells, known as tight junctions, are supposed to form a seal between the inside of the intestinal lumen and the rest of the body. When the tight junctions aren’t tight enough, things slip past the intestinal gatekeepers and into the bloodstream. From here pathogens, toxins, and antigens can circulate throughout the body, wreaking havoc and provoking a systemic inflammatory response. The loose gaps between the cells in the intestinal mucosa are associated with a myriad of conditions and syndromes including:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Type 1 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Food allergies
- Celiac disease
What Causes Leaky Gut?
The tight junctions are not a perfect barrier. A number of factors can cause them to relax or contract—diet, medication, hormones, inflammation, and more. When the tight junctions relax or contract, their function may be disrupted.
Few things affect health as much as diet. Several primary offenders appear to contribute to the development of leaky gut:
- Alcohol: When the human body metabolizes alcohol, the metabolic product acetaldehyde can increase intestinal permeability.
- Sugar: Sugar and artificial sweeteners cause inflammation that compromises gut health. Additionally, a urine analysis that measures glucose in the urine is a useful indicator of the severity of leaky gut.
- Dairy: Dairy products are linked to gastrointestinal disorders—–particularly among individuals on the autism spectrum.
- Gluten: Consumption of gluten contributes to increased intestinal permeability in those with gluten sensitivity.
- Additives: Industrial food additives such as emulsifiers, solvents, microbial transglutaminase, glucose, and salt contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
- Pesticides: Glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria, which can contribute to the development of intestinal permeability.
Several species of candida are known to disrupt the makeup of the gut microbiota. The resulting imbalance in the microbiota is called dysbiosis. These disturbances can lead to the development of digestive disorders including leaky gut.
3. Chronic Stress
It’s no secret that stress negatively affects your health but it’s especially taxing on gut health. Psychological stress increases the presence of inflammatory cytokines, a class of signaling proteins created by the immune system that contributes to the development of leaky gut. Animal studies have shown that both psychological and physical stress compromise the integrity of the intestinal barrier.
4. Environmental Toxins
The environment is flooded with harmful chemicals and substances, many of which pose a significant risk to your health. Mercury, BPA, fungicides, and insecticides can all negatively affect intestinal permeability.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen have demonstrated a tendency to increase intestinal permeability and provoke inflammation.
6. Zinc Deficiency
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that supports the immune system and plays a significant role in irritable bowel diseases. Zinc deficiency can lead to intestinal permeability, while supplementation with zinc supports the function of the tight junctions.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
You might think the symptoms of leaky gut are all digestive disorders but, because leaky gut allows foreign bodies to enter the bloodstream, it can exert a wide range of effects the body as a whole and produce a varied array of symptoms. Some of the more obvious symptoms include allergies, cardiovascular disturbances, and a multitude of metabolic disruptions. Chronic fatigue syndrome and depression are separate and unique conditions, but both are known to result from compromised integrity of the intestinal mucosa.
Intestinal permeability allows foreign microbes access directly to the bloodstream. In response, the immune system releases antibodies, which mistakenly attach to normal proteins in the blood, tagging them for immune action. Fortunately, there are ways to ease the burden of living with a leaky gut.
What’s the Best Solution for Leaky Gut?
Following a healthy diet is one of the most effective measures to help manage leaky gut. Foods that are a source of probiotics are helpful for mitigating the effects of the disorder. Nutrients like glutamine and curcumin support the intestinal environment by balancing the overstimulated immune response and the oxidative stress that weakens the intestinal wall.
Monitoring what goes into your body is one of the best natural remedies for managing leaky gut. If you suffer from a digestive disorder, whether it’s leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or any of the many disorders associated with hyperpermeability, try keeping a daily food journal to identify the foods that trigger symptoms. If you experience frequent flare-ups, it’s time to make significant lifestyle changes such as incorporating the best foods for leaky gut into your diet to support your health and quality of life.
The innumerable health benefits of turmeric may seem like a recent discovery, but it has a long history in the Ayurvedic tradition, especially for digestive and gut health. In fact, this brilliant gold spice has been appreciated in India for over four thousand years. When used in conjunction with other bioactive herbs, turmeric encourages normal digestion and regulates digestive hormones, bile, and gastric acid.
Traditional Therapeutic Uses of Turmeric
Many of the recent headlines pertaining to turmeric focus on its effects on inflammation and cancer. However, in India and other South Asian countries, there is a well-established history of using turmeric for a wide range of traditional remedies. In Nepal, powdered turmeric root is applied to bruises, wounds, swollen joints, and sprains. Indian folk medicine prescribes turmeric for respiratory and liver health, and to stimulate appetite.The benefits of turmeric are largely owed to a powerful class of antioxidants called curcuminoids, collectively referred to as curcumin, and turmeric is the only source.
Effects of Turmeric on the Gut and Digestive System
The idea of gut health might bring to mind images of probiotic supplements or fermented foods. Those are applicable but there are a lot of different ways to promote gut health, and it seems that consuming turmeric is one of them. The clinically established benefits of turmeric extend throughout the body, and it has specific actions that support gut and digestive health.
Turmeric and the Intestines
Curcumin supports digestion by relaxing the smooth muscles of the digestive tract and gently pushing digested food through the intestines. It also discourages gas and bloating.
Turmeric and the Colon
A healthy, well-balanced colon is essential to gut health, digestive tract comfort, and the growth of beneficial bacteria. Curcumin facilitates a balance between the microbiota and the immune response in the colon.
Curcumin encourages the colonic crypts—glands on the inner surface of the colon—to regenerate and heal. This can be especially beneficial when leaky gut or hostile organism overgrowth are present.
Curcumin suppresses EGR-1, a protein that may allow damaged DNA to get coded. In other words, curcumin acts as the quality control agent and ensures that cells replicate proteins properly. Further, curcumin drives apoptosis—the body’s natural method of recycling old, worn out cells.
Turmeric and the Stomach
Turmeric offers a multi-tiered approach to protecting the integrity of the stomach lining. First, turmeric inhibits enzymes that compromise stomach health. It also boosts the secretion of stomach mucous—the primary defense against damage from gastric acid and other irritants.
It’s also worth mentioning that, in animal models, curcumin disrupts the growth of harmful organisms and eradicates them from the body while helping to repair the stomach lining.
Turmeric and the Liver
In the liver, turmeric helps increase cholesterol elimination by boosting bile production.There are a number of ways to encourage normal cholesterol levels and consuming foods that help your body use its cholesterol stores is one of them. Combining regular turmeric consumption with fiber-rich meals even more effectively cleanses your system of cholesterol by trapping and ushering it to the colon for elimination.
Curcumin also protects liver cells from damage caused by toxins such as peroxide, galactosamine, tobacco smoke, and household chemicals.
Turmeric, Digestive Wellness, and Gut Health
Turmeric’s therapeutic value makes it a natural choice for supporting gut and digestive health. There’s no shortage of scientific evidence supporting the link between a healthy gut, a robust microbiome, and overall well-being.