The concept of leaky gut is becoming more widely accepted—even Dr. Oz talked about it on his show recently. It’s important to know the cause of leaky gut can be different for each person. For instance, it could be the result of a junk food diet for one person and chronic stress for another. Knowing why you have leaky gut can help you address the right target to restore gut health.
What is leaky gut?
Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, damaged, and porous, allowing undigested foods, bacteria, fungus, and other foreign invaders into the sterile environment of the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream these toxins trigger the immune system, causing inflammation and leading to a long and varied list of symptoms. Chronic conditions associated with leaky gut include depression, joint pain, Crohn’s disease, food allergies, eczema, psoriasis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and more.
Ten causes of leaky gut
Although the causes of leaky gut can be ambiguous, Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS has identified 10 factors that contribute to leaky gut:
- Diet: Most people blame poor diet, and rightly so, as many popular foods can damage the gut. Gluten in particular is associated with gut damage. Dairy, processed foods, excess sugar, and fast foods are common culprits. Excess alcohol is another gut saboteur.
- Medications: Certain medications increase the risk of leaky gut. They include corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, and some medications for arthritis. Some medications may also contain gluten as a filler.
- Infections: An overgrowth of H. pylori, a bacterium in the stomach, can cause ulcers and leaky gut. Overgrowth of other harmful bacteria, yeast infections, parasitic infections, and intestinal viruses can also cause leaky gut.
- Stress: Chronic stress raises the adrenal hormone, cortisol, which degrades the gut lining and contributes to leaky gut.
- Hormone imbalances: The gut depends on proper hormone levels for good health. When estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, or thyroid hormones are deficient or out of balance, this imbalance can contribute to leaky gut.
- Autoimmune conditions: We often think of leaky gut contributing to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis. While this may be true, sometimes other factors can trigger an autoimmune condition, including toxic exposures or stress. In these cases, the autoimmune condition can be the cause of leaky gut and managing autoimmunity is a strategy to improving leaky gut.
- Industrial food processing: The food processing industry uses a variety of methods that can increase intestinal inflammation and leaky gut. These include deamidating wheat to make it water soluble, high-heat processing (glycation) of sugars, and adding excess sugar to processed foods.
- Environmental toxins: We are surrounded by toxins in our environment. Some of these toxins have been found to break down immune barriers like the gut. One way to shore up your defense against environmental toxins is to make sure your body is sufficient in glutathione, the body’s primary antioxidant.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Sufficient vitamin D is vital to good health and helps preserve gut integrity.
- Poor glutathione status: Glutathione is the body’s primary antioxidant and is necessary to defend and repair the gut lining. Poor diet and lifestyle factors deplete glutathione. Ask my office for ideas on how to boost your glutathione status.
These are just some of the factors Kharrazian has identified in the scientific literature as contributing to leaky gut. By better understanding the cause of your leaky gut, you will have more success restoring health to your gut and hence your immune system.
For more information on how to support leaky gut, contact me at HealthWise Clinical Nutrition, 818-704-5685 or info@DrFlannery.com.