Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition that affects the structural integrity of your gut lining, otherwise known as your gut barrier.
Leaky gut and the gut barrier
Your gut barrier is a multilayer system made up of intestinal epithelial cells and proteins. Your intestines are protected by a single layer of cells that are linked together by tight junction proteins.
These tight junctions are the entry point between your intestines and bloodstream and have a very precise role: to maintain the delicate balance between allowing nutrients into your bloodstream while preventing potentially harmful substances from passing out of your digestive system into the rest of your body.
When the structural integrity of your gut barrier is compromised and becomes damaged, large proteins and other molecules escape from your gut into your bloodstream. This is what happens when you have a leaky gut. An example would be when partially digested proteins and fats pass through the gut lining, making their way into your bloodstream and causing an allergic response.
There are also other common abnormalities found in the guts of people with leaky gut that cause unwanted immune activity and major problems, as the vast majority of your immune system is found inside your gut. This can result in a disruption of acute inflammation and sometimes autoimmune reactions. When this normal part of your immune response becomes overactive it leads to chronic inflammation, which is at the root of many health complaints.
Leaky gut syndrome symptoms
One of the most common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome is experiencing multiple food sensitivities. Allergies are believed to be one of the most common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome due to the high levels of toxins that enter the bloodstream in this condition.
This causes the immune system to become overactive and overproduce various antibodies. This can make their bodies more susceptible to antigens in certain foods, especially gluten and dairy, and cause an imbalance in gut bacteria. Allergies are believed to be one of the most common leaky gut syndrome symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms
If you experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome-type symptoms such as gas, diarrhoea or bloating, this could also be a sign of leaky gut syndrome. In addition, a direct correlation between intestinal barrier damage and the progression of irritable bowel disease (IBD) has been found.
Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to certain autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s natural immune response is compromised, causing it to fight against itself. These disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and biological factors, and intestinal barrier dysfunction, so leaky gut syndrome may also play a role in triggering them.
Thyroid issues and hormone imbalance
One of the autoimmune diseases that leaky gut syndrome may directly affect is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This disorder is presented with low thyroid function, impaired metabolism, fatigue, depression, weight gain and many other concerns.
The gut microbiota also plays an important role in regulating oestrogen levels in your body. So, when there's an imbalance in your gut microbiota, your natural hormone balance can be disrupted, contributing to conditions like endometriosis and PCOS.
Inflammatory skin conditions
Our understanding of the gut-skin connection has helped us to learn more about how leaky gut can cause many skin conditions, particularly acne, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis. Part of the root cause of these skin conditions may exist in the gut, due to inflammation and imbalance of gut microbiota.
Leaky gut syndrome has been shown to play a part in mood. The inflammatory response caused by leaky gut triggers the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other chemicals that are thought to affect mood negatively. The impairment of the immune system, increasing gut dysbiosis and chronic inflammation leads to a vicious cycle.
When your gut is inflamed, it can produce an immune reaction that extends to other areas of your body, including your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder characterised by persistently swollen and painful joints) has been linked to gut dysbiosis.
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that's thought to affect millions of people, many of whom don’t even know they have it. It not only impacts digestive health, but it can lead to many other health conditions and symptoms like food allergies, fatigue, joint pain, thyroid disease and autoimmune conditions. Understanding and being able to recognise the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome are key steps on the road to improved gut health.