Is a leaky gut the cause or an effect of GI distress issues? The relationship between “leaky gut” and other GI distress factors is still unclear, but we do know that there is a connection, so best to hit multiple birds with one stone.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
“Leaky Gut Syndrome” is not a medically recognized diagnosis, but leaky gut is a physical state in the intestines that may be caused by or contribute to a variety of factors. Intestinal permeability, which can also be called intestinal hyperpermeability, is a condition where the tight junctions that in the gut do not work properly. The tight junctions are the connections between neighboring cells that help keep them connected, preventing any molecules from passing freely in between. There are many different proteins and other molecules that are involved and when functioning properly, they help regulate the permeability of the space between cells based on selective factors. Because “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability is linked with many other GI distress factors, the signs and symptoms are often undistinguishable from those of other GI stressors. Signs and symptoms can include diarrhea/constipation, gas/bloating, nutritional deficiencies, headaches, fatigue, skin rashes, other skin problems (acne/eczema/rosacea), etc.
Although “leaky gut syndrome” is not a recognized medical diagnosis, we do know that intestinal permeability is a documented issue. What is still unknown is whether intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” is the cause of or the symptom of other GI distresses. Intestinal permeability has been linked to a variety of diseases, especially those in the autoimmune category. When someone with celiac disease consumes a food product containing gluten, the body attacks the lining of the intestines, this can cause gap junctions to loosen, making the cells of the intestine walls more permeable. It has also been found that people who already have a “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability are at a greater risk of developing one of the GI related autoimmune diseases listed above, especially if they have specific genetic markers as well. Therefore, it is so hard to determine if intestinal permeability is a symptom or a cause of these other issues.
Without a firm diagnosis, it can be hard for a doctor to offer a medically supervised treatment. However, some studies have shown that certain lifestyle factors, especially diet, can play a large role in having a leaky gut or intestinal permeability. Consumption of foods that cause a reaction in the body can lead to intestinal damage, which can be a contributing factor to a leaky gut. Also, with the GI specific autoimmune diseases, there are certain foods that can cause severe reactions, including inflammatory responses that again can damage the intestinal lining. Diets high in processed foods can also cause damage to the body, including the intestines. Chronic stress may also be a contributing factor to a leaky or permeable gut. As we have discussed in previous weeks, chronic stress can cause a significant amount of widespread damage in the body. Smoking is a habit that many people across the world still take part in. It is the leading cause of lung cancer and can also contribute to cardiovascular disease, decreased bone density, high blood pressure, metabolic disease and much more. Damage and inflammation due to smoking can be a contributing factor to a leaky gut. Just like many other things, a sedentary lifestyle (and/or inadequate physical activity) can lead to issues that can increase systemic inflammation and the release of related hormones causing damage to the body, including the intestines. Consumption of more alcohol than recommended or habits such as binge drinking can lead to dehydration, compromised immune system, body toxicity and inflammation. These things can lead to damage in the intestines that can result in increased permeability.
Why is it important
Since there is no medical diagnosis for “leaky gut” and because the cause and effect relationship with other GI distress factors is still unclear, it can be hard to figure out what the is the underlying issue. It is important to really listen to the body and note any signs or symptoms of GI distress. The symptoms of many of the different GI distress factors, as well as intestinal permeability are very similar. Take note of any symptoms and any patterns or correlations that can be identified. However, a professional, such as a gastroenterologist or dietitian, may be needed to help identify the cause of the symptoms. Healthy intestines are extremely important for not only proper digestion and absorption of essential nutrients, but also plays an important role in protection, being a critical part of the immune system. A leaky gut or intestinal permeability can result in larger molecules and other potential invaders being allowed to sneak through the cell wall of the intestines and into the bloodstream. Also, because the cause and effect relationship between intestinal permeability and other GI disorders is not clearly understood yet, a “leaky gut” can be an indicator of or risk factor for a larger problem.
i. As in previous weeks, being aware is always the first step to making changes. Review this week’s presentation and write-up.
ii. Take note of the different disruptions to the GI system that are discussed above and the symptoms that go along with them.
i. Continue your food journal from previous weeks. Complete for at least 4 days, but is best if you can complete for an entire week.
ii. Make sure to include any GI symptoms that may come up throughout the day.
iii. Go back and look for any patterns or correlations:
1. Specific food intake and GI distress symptoms
2. Specific habits and symptoms
3. Lifestyle changes or stressors and symptom
i. Eliminate: If you notice a possible link between a specific food and GI distress symptoms, try eliminating that food product from your diet for 1-2 weeks and see if you notice a difference in your symptoms.
ii. Consult: If you are having trouble identifying patterns, culprits of GI distress or just want more guidance in your diet patterns, consult a registered dietitian.
iii. Test: If you are still unsure about what foods might be causing you distress, set up a food sensitivity test through Fluid Health. Get more information online or from your trainer or dietitian.