Feeling a bit sick lately? Bad mood or low energy? Can't quite put your finger on it? Perhaps you've had digestive distress, despite not changing your diet at all. According to clinical nutritionist and detox specialist Autumn Bates, BS, CCN, there's a culprit behind your physical depletion, but you may not have heard of it: leaky gut syndrome.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The theory is that there's permeability in your intestinal lining, and points called "tight junctions" are opened and compromised. "Leaky gut is where the lining of your intestines begin to form larger holes so that food that hasn't been fully digested passes through into your blood stream," said Bates. "This can lead to food allergies and sensitivities as well as inflammation throughout your entire body."
Why haven't you heard about it before? Your doctor may not know about it — or necessarily believe in it. "From an MD's standpoint, it's a very gray area," gastroenterologist Donald Kirby, MD, told WebMD. "Physicians don't know enough about the gut, which is our biggest immune system organ." Different organizations take different stances, so it can be a confusing topic all around.
How Does This Happen?
"Scientists don't know the exact cause of leaky gut," said Bates, "but a few strong suspects are GMO and nonorganic foods as well as stress."
Other factors that some sources say contribute to leaky gut include alcohol, sugar, NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), and nutrient deficiencies.
This can vary, but it usually results in digestive distress. "Common signs and symptoms usually include bloating, various food sensitivities and/or allergies, acne, headaches, and even hormone imbalances," said Bates. Some naturopathic practitioners say that this can impact your mood, thanks to the hormonal imbalances — and one study even linked gut permeability with depression.
A 2013 study showed that intestinal permeability is linked with gastric ulcers, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, celiac disease, allergies, infections, arthritis and chronic inflammation, metabolic diseases, and even cancer, though there are not many studies backing these claims up individually.
What Should You Do?
"If you suspect you have leaky gut, it's best to see a professional who is well-versed in leaky gut and its symptoms in order to reverse it," said Bates. But there are a handful of things she suggests you try at home as well!
"A few steps you can take on your own to prevent leaky gut and reverse it include switching your diet to all-organic, removing potential allergens and foods that cause bloating, try taking collagen or sipping on bone broth daily, and taking a strong probiotic — 50 billion CFU is great," she said. "Intermittent fasting is another tool that can be used to give your gut a rest from digestion and allow it to heal itself."
One last step? "You may want to look into pairing your gut health with an elimination diet for two to three weeks," Bates suggested. "This will help to reduce gut irritation and inflammation while you repair your gut."