What Is Leaky Gut? Everything You Need To Know
Learn all about leaky gut: what it is, where it comes from, and why caring for your gut can mean a healthier body and mind.
If you want a healthy body and mind, you’ll need to care for your gut. Gut health plays a key role in how you feel physically, mentally, and even emotionally, and paying close attention to how your microbiome is doing can make a major difference in your overall wellness.
In this post, we’ll focus on leaky gut syndrome, a gut microbiome issue with a lot of mystery surrounding it. We’ll unpack what leaky gut is, what to do about it, and other essential tips for a happy, healthy gut microbiome.
What Does Your Gut Do?
Before we dive in and look at the basics of leaky gut syndrome, let’s first discuss the role your gut plays in your overall health.
What Exactly is the “Gut?”
The term “gut” refers to your gastrointestinal tract, which runs all the way from your mouth to your rear end. The food you eat passes from end to end, traveling through several key parts of your body along the way.
The mouth, where you chew your food and break it into pieces that are easier to swallow and digest
- The pharynx (your throat), which is where food goes to be swallowed
- The esophagus, which is the tube that your food passes through to get into your stomach
- The stomach, where the digestion process begins with stomach acid
- The small and large intestines, where the digestive process continues as food moves through and nutrients (and water) are absorbed
- The rectum, the final destination for your stool before it passes out of your body
- The anus, which is where you expel waste when you use the bathroom
All of these distinct parts of your body play key roles in the digestive process, but there’s more to the gut’s functions than just digestion.
Below are some of the most important purposes your gut serves, as well as explanations of why gut health matters.
Gut Health: Why Should You Care?
- Gut health affects more than just your ability to digest food. In addition to handling digestion, your gut also serves a key purpose in other processes that constantly go on within your body.
- The beneficial bacteria in your body keep the harmful bacteria from running rampant and causing problems for your health. A healthy balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria is known as gut equilibrium (or microbiome equilibrium).
- Those beneficial gut bacteria are essential for a healthy heart and strong kidneys. That’s because those bacteria help regulate the amount of cholesterol that builds up in your blood vessels and keep your kidneys from getting overburdened.
- Gut bacteria can also affect your mental and emotional health. The impact of your gut on your mind is often referred to as “the mind-gut connection,” and it’s one factor that many functional health practitioners and psychiatrists alike consider when treating mental health issues.
- Gut equilibrium may affect your weight, too. An overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut correlates to a higher body weight. This may be due to the impact of your gut microbiome on the hormones that regulate feelings of fullness and satisfaction when you eat. However, the jury is still out on exactly how the connection between weight and your gut works.
- Your gut is also connected to your immune system. The beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome are part of your body’s immune response, helping you fight off infections and other threats to your health.
- Your gut helps produce hormones for other systems. In addition, these bacteria help to send signals to your nervous system and endocrine system, supporting your body in its production of hormones and the sending of signals between your brain and your other organs.
What Makes an Unhealthy Gut?
So, how does your gut become unhealthy and overrun by bad bacteria?
There are several key factors to consider on the negative side of gut health. There’s no one single cause for poor gut equilibrium – it’s usually due to multiple health issues coexisting. Let’s briefly look at some of these factors before diving into leaky gut syndrome.
Your Diet Can Affect Gut Health
What you eat is one of the primary determining factors when it comes to gut health. Your diet is literally what feeds the billions of microorganisms in your gut, so the quality of your food matters!
The foods that have the most positive impact on gut health are probiotics. These foods contain beneficial bacteria that add to the population of your thriving gut microbiome. Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt are all members of the probiotic food family, as are drinks like kombucha and kefir.
On the other hand, foods with added sugar, highly processed grains, and other forms of junk may have the opposite effect on gut health. These foods can build up the levels of bad bacteria in your gut, making you more vulnerable to the issues associated with poor gut equilibrium.
In addition to what you eat, the substances you consume can affect your gut, too. Excessive alcohol and tobacco use, as well as the use of antibiotics may all negatively impact the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut.
(We want to note that we’re absolutely not recommending you not take antibiotics, but you should talk to your doctor about the use of a probiotic supplement during or after your course of antibiotic treatment).
Stress Can Also Affect Gut Health
When you’re stressed, you’ll feel the effects throughout your body. The key systems that get the brunt of your stress are your nervous system, your endocrine system, and your immune system, all of which have links to your gut. Because of these connections, periods of chronic stress – i.e. stress that stays elevated for weeks or even months – can have a profound negative effect on gut health.
Some Health Conditions Impact Your Gut
If you suffer from a condition like celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s disease, you may be at a greater risk of gut health problems. All of these conditions impact your gut health, and they also are thought to increase your risk of developing leaky gut syndrome (LGS).
What is Leaky Gut?
Put simply, “leaky gut syndrome” is another term for increased intestinal permeability. In official medical and scientific terms, leaky gut syndrome isn’t technically a diagnosable health condition. However, it is a real issue – just a difficult one to pinpoint.
Increased intestinal permeability is the medical phrase used to describe a gut that is more vulnerable to intrusive substances like bacteria or toxins, which can cause major problems for your health in the long run.
If you suffer from increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), you’re also at a greater risk of higher levels of inflammation throughout your body.
What To Do About Leaky Gut
Handling the issue of leaky gut syndrome is tricky for one simple reason: the condition isn’t diagnosable.
However, while leaky gut syndrome isn’t a medically recognized health condition, that doesn’t mean that gut health isn’t incredibly important. In addition, it’s worth discussing with your doctor if you think you have it.
Overall, one of the best ways to avoid problems with increased intestinal permeability – in other words, a “leaky gut” – is to promote gut health through a healthy lifestyle. Below are our tips for promoting gut health with the way you live each day.
How To Get a Healthier Gut
These are some of the simplest and most practical ways to promote gut health, and you can implement them into your daily routine starting now.
Be Intentional With What You Eat
As you’ve learned, your diet affects the health and equilibrium of your gut microbiome. When you feed your body junk, your gut gets junk, too. The effects of your diet on your gut are just one indicator of the importance of eating healthy food – a balanced, nutrient-dense diet is one of the building blocks of a holistically healthy person.
When you’re aiming for a healthier gut and a healthier life, starting out with some simple changes can help. Changes like:
- Reducing your overall added sugar intake
- Getting tested for any food allergies and intolerances that you might have
- Monitoring and limiting your caffeine intake
- Adding probiotic and prebiotic foods to your meals or taking a probiotic/prebiotic supplement
Making these simple tweaks to the way you eat can have a major positive effect on your gut in the long run, as well as on your overall health.
Add De-Stressing Practices to Your Routine
Stress and an unhealthy gut go hand-in-hand, which is just one of the many reasons to work towards a calmer life. De-stressing can be difficult at first, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
You can start the process of reducing stress in your life with habits like:
- Daily exercise
- Meditation or another similar calming practice
- Plenty of high-quality sleep
- Regular counseling
- Healthy communication with friends, family members, and coworkers
The Bottom Line on Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is a tricky subject, especially because it isn’t technically a medical condition. However, while it’s tough to pinpoint the causes of increased intestinal impermeability, it’s very possible to see the connection between gut health and how healthy you are overall.
With that connection in mind, an excellent place to start is promoting gut health by making simple changes to your diet and stress levels.
Connect with your primary care provider for more guidance on how best to manage your symptoms.
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