Do you struggle with constant feelings of fatigue, despite getting a good night's sleep? Perhaps you experience unexplained aches and pains, headaches or brain fog? Finally, diarrhea, upset stomach or bloating, that doesn’t seem to improve no matter what steps you take. These niggling symptoms can affect your everyday life and make it that little bit tougher. So, what’s going on?
You could be experiencing the effects of leaky gut syndrome.
In this three-part blog series, we’ll be exploring the causes of leaky gut syndrome, its impact and most importantly, steps you can take to improve it. This article will cover what exactly leaky gut syndrome is, its causes, and the systemic knock-on effects
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that causes increased intestinal permeability – confused? Let me explain...
Our gut helps us to digest and absorb nutrients from the food we eat, but did you know that most of our immune system is also located in the gut? The cells of the gut lining (known as the mucosal layer) are joined by tight junctions which create a barrier between the outside world and our inside world, helping to filter out pathogens to prevent them from entering the bloodstream. When this system functions normally, foreign pathogens are presented to immune cells in the gut lining. If they are harmful, a normal immune response is activated, where antibodies are produced to destroy the pathogen so that it cannot pass into the bloodstream. However, if this barrier is compromised, as we see in leaky gut syndrome, harmful pathogens are able to effectively bypass the immune cells in the mucosal layer and pass straight through, which activates an inflammatory response (1).
What causes the tight junctions to become compromised?
Zonulin is a protein that mediates the integrity of the tight junctions in the gut lining. Increased production of zonulin interrupts this balance, causing loosening of the tight junctions between the cells of the gut lining – hence leaky gut syndrome – and the inflammatory response by the body. Furthermore, the inflammatory response causes production of pro-inflammatory cytokines which, over time, can lead to further loosening of tight junctions, which further exacerbates the condition. As such, the passing of pathogens to the bloodstream without being ‘filtered’ by the immune cells has been linked to inflammation and allergic responses (2).
What causes leaky gut syndrome?
Dysbiosis refers to the imbalance of microbes in the gut, resulting in less ‘friendly’ bacteria and more harmful bacteria. Microbial dysbiosis can result in excess zonulin being produced, which can cause the tight junctions to become loose. There are many environmental factors that can contribute to dysbiosis of the gut, including the use of antibiotics (which destroy both healthy and harmful bacteria), high stress, the contraceptive pill, excess alcohol and a poor diet. Several autoimmune conditions can also cause leaky gut syndrome, such as Chrohn’s, coeliac disease (3) and type 1 diabetes (4), as well as infections like salmonella (2).
What are the effects of leaky gut syndrome?
While leaky gut syndrome is not currently recognised as a medical condition, increased gut permeability is well documented in research and has been shown to play a role in conditions such as ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis (5). It has also been associated with a host of other ailments, including anxiety and depression (6), food allergies, weight gain and type 2 diabetes, linked to its effects on hunger hormones and insulin resistance (2).
In part two of my three-part blog series on leaky gut syndrome, I'll be taking a deeper dive into the effects of leaky gut syndrome to discover what the research is saying about the links between this mysterious syndrome and so many seemingly unrelated health conditions.
Do you recognise some of the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome in yourself? I would love to hear about your experiences. Share your comments below.