Though technically not a diagnosis in and of itself, leaky gut syndrome is a condition that is gaining more attention in the medical field. From the name, you might think that leaky gut syndrome affects only the digestive system, but it can actually have widespread effects throughout the body, and may be a factor in many common health problems.

Gut health is vital to our overall well-being. Our digestive health determines how well we absorb vital nutrients from the food we eat, and how effectively we eliminate toxins. Gut health also has a huge influence on our mood and mental health. The gut is also the largest immune system organ, and is responsible for guarding against harmful pathogens and microbes.

The medical community is just now beginning to gain an understanding of leaky gut syndrome and how it contributes to other health conditions. “We don’t know a lot [about leaky gut syndrome], but we know that it exists,” says Linda A. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center. As more and more people are afflicted with chronic stress, internal inflammation, and the negative health effects of a poor diet, leaky gut syndrome appears to be becoming more widespread.

Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability, is caused by something known as intestinal tight junction malfunction. These tight junctions in the gut control what is allowed to pass from the intestines into the bloodstream. In a healthy gut, this intestinal barrier allows the body to absorb essential fluids and nutrients while blocking the passage of harmful substances, pathogens, undigested food particles, and other toxins. But in a “leaky” gut, this barrier is dysfunctional, and these harmful substances are allowed to pass into the bloodstream.

Effects of leaky gut syndrome

Dysfunctional intestinal barriers have been associated with numerous health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, allergies, headaches, fatigue, and other food sensitivities. This contributes to inflammation throughout the body, which in turn is associated with every major degenerative disease.

Multiple food sensitivities can be one of the biggest indicators that you have a leaky gut. Many people with leaky gut syndrome are particularly sensitive to gluten and dairy.

Other health conditions associated with a leaky gut include:

  • Thyroid problems, which may cause impaired metabolism, fatigue, depression, weight gain, and other health issues.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, due to poor absorption of essential nutrients. Vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiencies are common with leaky gut syndrome.
  • Inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne and psoriasis.
  • Mood problems, including depression.

How do you treat leaky gut syndrome?

In the medical world, because there is no official diagnosis for leaky gut syndrome, there is also no standard treatment. Antacids and other drugs may be prescribed, but these typically fail to address the underlying issue.

The first step towards healing a leaky gut is to remove any foods that may be causing damage to the gut. This often includes sugar, wheat, and dairy. Many people are also sensitive to eggs, corn, and soy. You can conduct an elimination diet to help heal internal inflammation and determine which foods may be causing negative reactions.

Periodic fasting also allows the digestive system to rest so that the body can heal and reduce inflammation. If fasting sounds difficult, there are numerous approaches you can take that don’t involve completely abstaining from food, including time-restricted fasting or a fasting mimicking diet. The more often you fast, the easier it becomes, and the more benefits you’ll likely experience.

Consuming plenty of anti-inflammatory is also essential to restoring a healthy environment in the gut. All coconut products are good for the gut, as are fermented foods, steamed vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids.

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