With Dr Min Yeo
If you’ve heard of the term but never knew what it meant, leaky gut—also known as intestinal permeability—means that your gut wall has been damaged or irritated, triggering an immune response in the body.
You see, our gut wall is covered in tiny little hairs which assist in the absorption and assimilation of nutrients, and when the gut lining is strong and healthy, it also forms a protective barrier between us and our external environment.
When this delicate lining is damaged (or leaky), endotoxins—which would ordinarily be processed and eliminated by the body—enter the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response that may eventually cause many health and skin related issues.
“Many people assume that our gut is water-tight, however each intestinal cell in the intestinal wall is joined by so-called ‘tight junctions’ which we now know play a dynamic role in immune regulation,” says Functional and Integrative Medicine Doctor, Dr Min Yeo.
Given that 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract, it’s therefore essential we develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between our gut, our gut bacteria, immune system and our overall health and wellness.
Below, Dr Yeo explains some of the key causes and contributing factors of leaky gut as well as some simple tools to help heal and restore good gut health...
What is leaky gut?
“Better known to medical doctors as “increased Intestinal Permeability” or sometimes, “Bacterial Translocation”, leaky gut is when the so-called ‘tight junctions’ in the gut lining open and close.
One could think of these ‘tight junctions’ as working like gates or channels (in a dam) that open and close in relation to various stimuli, thereby affecting the body’s immune response. It’s also important to note that each individual’s genetic predisposition will also determine the outcome and direction of the immune response.”
What are some common symptoms of leaky gut?
“The way leaky gut manifests is unique depending on our immune response—but the inflammation caused by leaky gut can contribute to skin issues such as eczema or acne, food sensitivities, hormonal or digestive issues, joint pain, constipation or bloating, chronic fatigue, brain fog or mental health issues, autoimmune diseases and allergies.”
What are some of the underlying causes of leaky gut?
“Unfortunately there are countless causes of leaky gut including bacterial overgrowth or dysbiosis in the gastrointestinal tract which may be related to decreased gastric acid or decreased pancreatic digestive enzymes, dietary causes such as gliadin (a protein found in gluten), chronic stress, use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen, chemotherapy, extreme exercise, food allergies and intolerances, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even ageing.”
How to heal leaky gut
“The first step is to start with a nutrient-dense, wholefoods diet—avoiding ultra-processed and refined foods and carbohydrates such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, white pasta and flours, as well as refined sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Instead, focus on consuming a variety of fruit and vegetables which are prebiotic and contain polyphenols—anti-inflammatory compounds that give fruit and veggies their colour—which may have a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome and encourage the proliferation of good bacteria. While the science around diet is still in its infancy, we are learning and unlearning something new everyday.
While it may seem obvious, being judicious with the use of antibiotics (as important as they are for some medical conditions) and optimise digestive function by chewing your food well. Some people also find it helpful to take digestive bitters or enzymes to aid this process.
In terms of supplements, consider taking Lactobacillus Rhamnosus LGG which has been shown to improve intestinal permeability as well as l-glutamine which can be taken as a supplement or indirectly from gelatin which may also assist with intestinal permeability. And finally, eat lots of gut healing, collagen-rich foods packed with amino acids like beef, bone broth, chicken, fish and eggs and ensure you have adequate vitamin D levels.”