You may have heard someone complaining about about having a ‘leaky gut’ before but never thought too much about what it actually is.
But, if you’re suffering from digestion issues, cramps, gas or even migraines and tiredness then it may be worth looking into.
The term essentially means an increase in the permeability – or penetrability – of the gut wall.
‘Inside our gut, we have a lining that forms a tight barrier.
‘This controls what substances enter the bloodstream,’ explains Berta Corbera, nutritionist on behalf of Probio7.
‘When this barrier is compromised it allows partially undigested food, toxins and pathogens (bacteria) – which would not normally be absorbed – to enter into our bloodstream.’
It’s still not widely recognised as a medical term, but the NHS says some medications and certain conditions can cause a gut to become ‘leaky’ – though the individual symptoms aren’t agreed upon by all experts.
Sufferers will typically experience varying degrees of bloating, gas and cramps.
However, some experts say it can lead to more severe health issues.
‘It’s thought to be able to cause a whole host of other problems like food allergies and intolerances, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome and inflammatory conditions such as asthma and eczema ,’ says Berta.
A leaky gut and food sensitivities
The undigested food and bacteria getting through the compromised gut lining can trigger an immune response, which some experts say can result in sensitivities or intolerances to certain foods.
‘It’s been suggested Crohn’s and Coeliac disease can arise or be made worse by leaky gut for this reason,’ explains Berta.
Some people are just unlucky enough to have a predisposition to a leaky gut – regardless of age or gender – but lifestyle factors could also be to blame.
‘Sometimes an overgrowth of yeast (candida) in the bowel – which can build up when our immune systems get compromised due to illness – can cause it,’ Berta says.
However, the NHS advises some practitioners believe a poor diet, heavy drinking, stress and overusing antibiotics can either weaken your gut’s lining or cause the unhealthy overgrowth of yeast or bacteria that can trigger symptoms.
How to repair the damage
It’s not something you can do overnight, as it takes the gut a minimum of 2-3 weeks to rebuild its lining, and the process will involve cutting out bad lifestyle habits and food aggressors which otherwise could keep on causing repeat damage.
*Eliminate foods that cause inflammation
Bad bacteria feed off sugar, so minimise the amount you eat or drink.
‘Gluten and dairy are often culprits for making a leaky gut worse,’ says Berta.
*Introduce some good gut bacteria
…with a high-quality probiotic that helps to balance out the bacteria levels in your gut.
Try Probio7 advanced, £19.08 for 60.
*Cut down on damaging habits
You can’t always avoid taking antibiotics, but speak to your doctor if you’re taking them regularly as they have been linked to weakening the lining of your gut.
You may also find your symptoms improve by cutting down your alcohol intake or by reducing stress.
‘I spent years in agony before realising I had a leaky gut’
Notebook’s Zoe went through the tricky process of fixing her gut problems…
‘I had no problems until five years ago, when it came out of nowhere.
After every meal or snack I’d be doubled over with cramps, bloating and pain and, though I tried cutting out the main culprits – like dairy and gluten – in the hope it was a simple food intolerance, the pain didn’t get better.
‘After a particularly bad week about a year ago, I decided to get help and saw a nutritionist.
‘She asked me a lot of questions, like whether I suffered from extreme tiredness, whether I was experiencing skin problems like eczema and dryness.
‘Yes to both.
‘It was only then that I really learnt how a leaky gut can affect so many parts of my body.
‘I did the IgG Food Intolerance Indicator Test, from £20, at Smartnutrition.co.uk, which showed I reacted to gluten, dairy, rice, eggs, oats and most nuts – most likely caused as a result of a leaky gut.
‘My nutritionist also determined I had an overgrowth of candida.
‘The steps to fixing it seemed straightforward: cut out those aggravating foods so they didn’t cause more damage, repair my gut lining and balance bacteria with supplements, then reintroduce foods.
‘The whole process took me around eight months, so it was by no means a quick- fix.
‘I struggled to follow the strict elimination diet, but I managed it, and I had to be regimented about taking supplements (I was put on probiotics as well as more targeted herbal remedies).
‘I didn’t feel any difference until about three months in (which is apparently normal), then I started feeling a little better.
‘I could get up earlier and exercise without feeling so tired, and my mood lifted a little.
‘After six months I’d say I was 70% better, which to me was a miracle.
‘I’m careful about eating the foods I know can aggravate symptoms, I try and avoid too much alcohol and only take antibiotics when I really have to – because life is just so much easier now I have a healthy gut.’