What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome? 4 Things To Know About Intestinal Permeability

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Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates famously stated that "all disease begins in the gut." Modern medicine is only beginning to catch up with this early prediction. One of the most significant medical discoveries as of late is of the huge role the gut plays in the rest of our health. Because of this, many ailments can be traced back to leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability.

Our intestines are lined with cells called tight-junction proteins (TJ proteins), Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com and author of the upcoming KETO DIET, tells Bustle. For someone with a healthy gut, these cells let nutrients enter the bloodstream and keep waste products called xenobiotics out. But when your gut is leaky, it can't do that.

"Leaky Gut occurs when the lining of the gut is porous and allows food particles, bacteria, toxins, and environmental pathogens through the lining of the gut into the bloodstream," functional medicine doctor Wendie Trubow, MD tells Bustle. "When that occurs, the immune system recognizes all these foreign items and begins to mount an immune response, and can cause the system to be on high alert." A doctor might diagnose Leaky Gut based on a number of tests that measure your levels of the protein zonulin, which lets food particles pass through the intestinal wall, among other things.

Here are some facts to know about Leaky Gut Syndrome, according to experts.

1. It Can Lead To Autoimmune Diseases

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Once the immune system begins attacking food particles, it will also start to attack anything that looks similar, whether that's a thyroid, pancreas, or joint, causing "autoimmune responses at the weakest link in the body," Evan Chait, a certified nutritionist and president and co-founder of Acu Wellness and Kinetic PT, tells Bustle. "There are over 300 diseases that fall into the autoimmune spectrum."

Leaky Gut has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, autoimmune hepatitis, type 1 diabetes (T1D), multiple sclerosis, and systemic lupus, according to a paper in Frontiers in Immunology.

2. It Has A Number Of Causes

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Leaky Gut can stem from Celiac Disease and other forms of gluten sensitivity, says Trubow. Gluten can lead to elevated zonulin levels, nutritional therapist and health coach Darshi Shah tells Bustle. Chronic stress can also contribute, since it can compromise your healthy gut bacteria's ability to keep harmful bacteria that can elevate zonulin levels in check. Parasites in the intestine can also elevate zonulin levels. Dysbiosis — an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut that can stem from excessive antibiotic use — can also contribute to Leaky Gut, says Axe.

3. Its Symptoms Extend Outside The Gut

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"Inflammation causes changes not only in the gut flora (the term we use to describe normal bacteria found in the gut) and digestive tract, but also in other parts of the body as the immune system starts over-reacting in response to intestinal hyerpermeability," says Axe. "This is why inflammation stemming from leaky gut may play a role in the development of various common health problems."

Leaky gut can cause not only bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation but also fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, adrenal and thyroid issues, and even hair loss, says Trubow.

4. There Are Natural Ways To Heal It

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There aren't any highly effective medications to treat Leaky Gut Syndrome, so diet and lifestyle changes are your best best, says Axe. To heal a leaky gut, Axe recommends eating bone broth, probiotic foods like raw cultured dairy and fermented vegetables, coconut products, sprouted seeds, and omega-3 fatty acids. It also helps to take a probiotic supplement. Trubow recommends exercise, rest, stress reduction, and supplements like aloe and L-glutamine to treat Leaky Gut Syndrome.

"If leaky gut persists, it gets worse. Over years, it can lead to a genetically vulnerable autoimmune condition," says Shah. "So it is ideal to catch thing thing early and start working on healing that gut."