Leaky Gut Syndrome: Symptoms and Common Causes to Know

The only guide to leaky gut syndrome causes that you'll ever need

leaky gut syndrome causes

Your digestive system plays an essential role in protecting your body from harmful substances aside from food digestion and absorption.

The intestinal walls normally function as the guard. This ‘guard’ identifies substances, allow entry into your bloodstream, and transport them to your organs. 

If foreign bodies from the food you ate were able to get into your bloodstream, that might indicate that there’s something wrong with your intestinal lining. That can be a sign of a leaky gut.

What is that about? How does it happen? In this post, you’ll learn about the symptoms and common causes of leaky gut syndrome.

What is leaky gut syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome remains a mystery in medical studies and body of research continues to grow.

Here’s something researchers know:

If we look closely into your intestinal walls, there are small gaps called tight junctions (TJ). These small gaps allow nutrients and water to get through and block the entry of harmful substances.

The performance of these tight junctions (TJ) will depend on your intestine’s permeability. If the tight junctions (TJ) loosens, your gut “leaks,” and it becomes more permeable.

Therefore, this creates higher chances for bacteria and toxins to pass through the walls and get into the bloodstream. This, in turn, causes inflammation and dysbiosis. 

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This unhealthy gut lining phenomenon is called the mysterious “leaky gut syndrome.” 

Inside your intestines contains billions of bacteria called the gut microbiota. The live colonies thriving in your gut aids food digestion, support normal immune function, and protect your intestinal walls.

A leaky gut syndrome can happen if there is a disruption in the balance of the colonies in your gut.

A study reported that such imbalances in the gut condition result in inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. 

Symptoms of leaky gut syndrome

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Before we look into the common causes of leaky gut syndrome, let’s first dive into what it looks like to have one.

Although leaky gut syndrome is not yet a legitimate medical diagnosis. And identifying if you have it is tricky because its symptoms are similar to other health conditions. 

Studies report the symptoms leaky gut syndrome to include:

Common causes of leaky gut syndrome

The critical role of the tight junctions (TJ) in the intestinal walls is often overlooked. Tight junctions act as the barrier that tightly controls antigen trafficking.  

Zonulin is a human protein that acts as a regulator of intestinal permeability.

If this is activated by the intestinal bacteria or gut dysbiosis and gluten, a protein substance commonly found in grains like wheat.

Genetically susceptible people are more prone to have a leaky gut. There are likely multiple contributing factors to leaky gut syndrome. These are:

1. High sugar and high-fat diet 

Excessive sugar consumption, particularly fructose, is unhealthy. These sugars can be destructive to the function of your gut barrier. 

In an in vivo study, it was revealed that fructose affects the intestinal barrier’s function in mice.

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Also, the study concluded fructose is associated with the increase of intestinal permeability and overgrowth of intestinal bacteria.

According to another study, the western dietary pattern contributes to metabolic disorders. For example cardiovascular diseases (CVD), obesity, and chronic systemic inflammation.

The famous Western diet is a low fiber diet with high consumption of heavily processed food and saturated fat and sugars.

Such diet potentially disabled the gut microbiome to protect the body, resulting in increased gut permeability or gut leakage. 

2. Nutritional deficiencies

Studies implicated an increase in the intestinal wall’s intestinal permeability if one is deficient in vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc

3. Stress and depression

According to a study, stress and depression can potentially increase gut barrier permeability leading to a leaky gut. Both stress and depression can trigger inflammation and gut leakiness.

4. Excessive alcohol intake

Research revealed that chronic alcohol consumption is associated with the inhibition of nutrient transport.

But that’s not all. It’s also linked to reduction in water and sodium absorption, and increased intestinal permeability.

High levels of acetaldehyde, a by-product of ethanol metabolism, is the culprit for making the but barrier more permeable. 

5. Use of Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are taken to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and bring down a high body temperature.

These are widely used to alleviate specific symptoms such as: headaches, muscle pain, dysmenorrhea, sprains and strains, arthritis, colds and flu, and other causes of long-term pain.

But here’s the shocking thing:

Studies show that analgesics, and antipyretic NSAIDs can increase intestinal permeability. And can result in a leaky gut syndrome. This is especially the case when you take NSAID over the long-term.

Furthermore, the accumulation of NSAIDs can become toxic for the living cells, and it reduces the proliferative potential.

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Ironically, NSAIDs which are meant to relieve pain, are one of the significant causes of leaky gut syndrome.  

6. Inflammation

Research shows that systemic inflammation can increase intestinal permeability. This is one of the common causes of leaky guy syndrome over the long term.

Here are some chronic inflammatory diseases that are associated with the activation of zonulin (a biomarker of gut permeability):

  • aging, autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease and
  • Type 1 diabetes, a metabolic condition such as obesity, intestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and
  • non-celiac gluten sensitivity,
  • cancer,
  • neuroinflammatory diseases such as schizophrenia and major depressive disorders. 

7. Poor gut health

Your gut contains millions of bacteria. Some benefits for your gut health, while some are harmful.

A healthy gut should have a balance between the two. If dysbiosis happens, it disturbs the performance of the intestinal barrier

It is essential to keep a healthy gut flora to maintain the normal function of the intestinal barrier.

Hence, it should be noted that your tight junctions (TJ) should not loosen. To support it, you can take probiotics such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

This can help hold the development of autoimmune diseases in genetically susceptible or obese individuals.  

8. Yeast overgrowth

Yeast, particularly Candida albicans, is naturally present in the gut. Research suggests that the overgrowth of Candida colonies in the microbiome can contribute to a leaky gut. 

Improving your gut health

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Your gut microbiome plays a vital role in your health. You should always take care of it with the help of a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Here are some dietary and lifestyle tips you should take note of to have a healthy gut:

  • Make room for fruits and vegetables to increase your fiber intake for a good digestive cleanse. 
  • Take more probiotics to boost microbiome activity. 
  • Eat adequate amounts of meat, dairy, and eggs.
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Control or steer away from foods that are high in bad fats, sugars, and artificial sweeteners.  
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Get adequate hours of sleep
  • Minimize your intake of NSAIDs

Takeaway

A “leaky gut” refers to the loosening of the gaps or tight junctions (TJ) in your intestinal lining.

This creates an opportunity for harmful bacteria and toxins to join your bloodstream and negatively affect your organs’ health. 

Although a leaky gut is still a medical mystery, researchers have already unraveled significant evidence that proves the existence of leaky gut syndrome.

Nevertheless, further research is still on-going in uncovering how a leaky gut can lead to the progression of these diseases. 

To avoid having a leaky gut, you need to keep an eye on your gut’s health by choosing to live a healthy lifestyle. Plan your meals well. 

Make sure that your body is sufficiently fed with the nutrients it needs.

Take some probiotics when you can, and limit your intake of NSAIDs, alcohol, and sugars. And of course, don’t forget to take great care of your mental health.

(Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian)

Dorothy is a Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian and a candidate for a master's degree in Public Health (MPH) major in Public Health Nutrition. She has a passion for teaching to her university students about food, nutrition, and health. Dorothy is a coffee lover and she enjoys traveling, writing, cycling, running, cooking, baking, and cooking.