What is leaky gut syndrome?
Andrey Popov/ShutterstockAlmost exactly what it sounds like, says David Edelberg, MD, medical director of WholeHealth Chicago. Your gut is naturally porous—that's how your body absorbs nutrients through the intestinal lining. But should the lining become damaged, larger molecules (called macromolecules) can escape the digestive tract and enter your bloodstream. "It's like the intestinal lining has a skinned knee," says Dr. Edelberg. The result can be inflammation, bloating, stool changes, and fatigue. No one's really sure how prevalent leaky gut is, he says, and it can be very difficult to diagnose. Check out these potential symptoms of leaky gut to see if you may be at risk.
You're grappling with food sensitivity
Alexandra Lande/ShutterstockLeaky gut can trigger inflammation, but it may also be caused by inflammation in the gut. And the one way your gut can become inflamed is through food sensitivities—here's how to tell if you have food sensitivities. Dr. Edelberg notes that there are few good tests for symptoms of leaky gut; as a result, one of the better ways to get nearer to a diagnosis is to eliminate foods that are most likely to cause problems. There are six he focuses on, and he asks patients to try going without them for two to three weeks: dairy, egg, corn, gluten, citrus, and soy. Patients can then reintroduce the foods one at a time to identify their trigger.
You have gluten intolerance
Africa Studio/ShutterstockYes, it's in the previous list, but gluten is one of the most common triggers for leaky gut, says Dr. Edelberg, and it deserves to be called out separately. If you notice you feel crummy—GI upset, bloating, lethargic—after eating bread, pasta, cereal, or other gluten-containing foods, your body may have trouble digesting this problematic protein. "Gluten is an inflammatory grain," he explains. These are the signs you might have celiac disease and can't process gluten.
You have joint pain
ESB Professional/ShutterstockDr. Edelberg occasionally will get patients complaining of a general joint pain as one of the symptoms of leaky gut. "There's the sense of being achy all over," he says. Their doctors will have run tests to look for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that come back negative, he says, and that's when his ears perk up: Often their pain can be a result of leaky gut syndrome symptoms. (Here's what you should know about rheumatoid arthritis if you do have it.) Research suggests that the condition may have a root in autoimmune diseases, such as RA.
Your GI system is wonky
gpointstudio/ShutterstockYou eat, you get bloated—here are some causes of bloating. Or maybe you've noticed that you're running to the bathroom after eating certain foods. Changes in stool the other way—constipation—can also happen. You may also suffer chronic indigestion or nausea. "These symptoms may come and go for years," says Dr. Edelberg. The problem is that patients will shrug off these issues or simply learn to live with them.
Your skin is going haywire
ARTFULLY PHOTOGRAPHER/ShutterstockWhile the connection is still a bit murky, it's possible that leaky gut may be one of the root causes of acne in some patients, according to a 2011 study in the journal Gut Pathogens. Pimple-plagued patients reacted to certain inflammatory markers of leaky gut, the researchers found. Recurring eczema or psoriasis are other skin symptoms. Here are some other causes of an adult acne breakout.
You have high blood sugar
JPC PROD/ShutterstockLeaky gut can trigger body-wide inflammation, and that can worsen insulin resistance, finds a 2017 Swedish study. Because insulin is crucial for managing your blood sugar, insulin resistance can lead to surges in blood sugar surges. That can lead to all kinds of trouble for your health: Elevated blood sugar along with high blood pressure and triglycerides can ultimately raise the risk of metabolic syndrome, a dangerous condition that worsens your odds of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These are the signs you might have metabolic syndrome.
You can't figure out what's wrong with you
Pressmaster/ShutterstockMaybe you've gone to several doctors. The various treatments aren't helping, and you're still battling pain. "Patients will go to their doctor, get tested for different types of conditions, and then be told that the tests are normal. Then patients will follow up with a specialist who still can't find anything. That's what leads them to our office," explains Dr. Edelberg. When a patient has stumped everyone else, Dr. Edelberg will try ruling out the symptoms of leaky gut.
Is leaky gut treatable?
Syda Productions/ShutterstockAbsolutely. The first step is to eliminate the trigger, says Dr. Edelberg. Then he has his patients take a glutamine supplement. "Glutamine is the fuel of the cell lining of the intestine and it helps regenerate the cells," he explains. "Intestinal tissue is one of the fastest healing tissues in the body," says Dr. Edelberg. The key is to learn how to meet the unique needs of your body. Other triggers can include painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin and drinking too much alcohol. Try tracking the times when you feel lousy, and see if you can spot a pattern. That will go a long way toward helping you reach a diagnosis and find a way to eliminate your troubles. It can be a long learning experience, but one that's worth it to help you feel your best every day.