Every so often, the health and beauty industries come up with new diets—some backed by scientific studies, and some seemingly developed out of weird pseudo-scientific beliefs. The main goal of any diet is to promote health, be it through weight loss or holistic health, but unfortunately, some of these diets may leave us with gut issues. Some are lucky enough to just end up with some form of diarrhea, which, although terrible, is an issue that usually lasts for only a week, as we explained in our post on ‘What is Diarrhea?’ Others, however, are not so lucky and end up with something called “leaky gut syndrome”.
Leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability is the inflammation and weakening of the lining of the intestines. Zandra Palma, M.D., a physician at Parsley Health, explains that “Just like the skin, the gut barrier is an interface to the outside world, except it’s only one cell thick, rather than seven cells, as in the skin.” The membrane of the intestinal wall acts like a gate that allows nutrients, vitamins, and water to travel in and out of the intestines. However, “sometimes, the gates can get stuck open, and stitches between the cells can break,” allowing molecules to access the immune tissue in the gut wall, causing inflammation.
The gut lining, even in its healthiest state, is not completely impenetrable and as such, every one of us has leaky gut to some extent. Because of this, it is hard for mainstream practitioners to diagnose leaky gut syndrome, although there is scientific evidence proving its existence. Medical News Today also claims that diagnosis is made even more problematic by the fact that many of its known symptoms are shared by many other diseases: chronic diarrhea, skin problems, joint pains, nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, headaches, and widespread inflammation. Leaky gut syndrome can also be associated with many other diseases, such as Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, Fibromyalgia, and even mental illness. While the scientific community is still in the midst of figuring out whether leaky gut syndrome is in itself a disease or just a symptom of an underlying one, Harvard Health points out that some studies suggest there’s growing evidence that the average American diet coupled with chronic stress are the primary drivers causing gut inflammation and intestinal permeability.
Integrative and alternative medicine practitioners suggest that the best way to address leaky gut syndrome is to work towards a healthier gut. Be Well suggests eating foods that support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria such as probiotic yogurt, and fermented food. It’s also important to avoid foods that are difficult to digest or foods that experts refer to as fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs). An individual suffering from leaky gut syndrome must also work towards a heavily plant-based diet that will help ease inflammation and irritation from sugars and gluten. With the growing evidence on leaky gut syndrome’s relation to chronic stress and even poor mental health, it also pays to practice better stress management. Simple exercises such as breathwork, as well as any mind-body practice, are found to lessen the immune system’s inflammatory response to toxins found in the gut.