A leaky gut is actually a leaky small intestine. That's where most of the nutrients in the foods you eat are absorbed. The small intestine is full of microscopic pores that allow the nutrients to make it into the bloodstream where they can be delivered to where they are needed. The small intestine wall is semipermeable, so certain things can pass from the intestine into the bloodstream and other things cannot. A healthy gut makes a difference in how all your bodily systems function. With leaky gut, the pores in the intestine enlarge, and things that don't normally leak into the bloodstream do. These can cause a number of reactions from the immune system. In some people, consumption of gluten can cause the cells in the small intestine to release a protein called zonulin, which causes intestinal pores to enlarge and the gut to leak. Leaky gut has many causes and consequences, and sometimes it's difficult to tell which came first: a leaky gut or an off-kilter immune system. Causes of Leaky Gut: Autoimmune Conditions Researchers in Sweden have recently found connections between leaky gut and the autoimmune condition multiple sclerosis (MS). In mice with an MS-like disease, leaky gut was also present. Moreover, the intestinal mucous membranes showed inflammation even before the mice showed MS symptoms. The inflammatory response in the mice appeared to increase as MS progressed, causing a vicious spiral where more inflammation caused a leakier gut, which caused more inflammation. Was the MS causing leaky gut syndrome, or is the leaky gut syndrome causing the MS? The lead researcher on the mice study believes that "once the immune system develops the ability to attack tissues of the body, the gut is the first victim. Rather than a leaky gut causing the dysfunctional immune system that leads to autoimmune disease, it might just be the other way around." Do Foods Contribute to Leaky Gut? Foods do affect leaky gut, for good and ill. Gluten is considered a leading cause of leaky gut. Dairy products, sugar, and alcohol are also suspected of contributing to leaky gut. But foods aren't the only contributors. Infections can cause intestinal problems as well. These infections include candida (yeast) overgrowth, bacterial overgrowth, and intestinal parasites. Toxins from commonly used medications like steroids and antibiotics, as well as environmental hazards like mercury, pesticides, and BPA are also believed to contribute to leaky gut. Symptoms of Leaky Gut Leaky gut can cause symptoms ranging from anxiety to digestive problems to allergies. Some of the symptoms of leaky gut are things you might expect from the name, such as irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Food allergies and intolerances are other common symptoms. But other symptoms may not directly point to a leaky gut being the culprit. For example, allergies and asthma, hormonal imbalances, and chronic fatigue may be due to leaky gut, as may autoimmune diseases like lupus, celiac disease, or rheumatoid arthritis. Leaky gut can lead to mood issues like depression and anxiety, and skin problems like eczema and acne. Healing the Leaky Gut Healing the leaky gut means caring for your intestines by what you put into your body and what you avoid putting into your body. Inflammatory and toxic foods, or foods that "don't agree with you" should be removed and replaced with healthy foods that have not been genetically modified. Buying whole, organic foods is one way to avoid consuming genetically modified products, because organic produce must never be genetically modified, and organic meat should not have been raised on genetically modified feeds. It's also important to provide your body with nutrients that help the gut repair itself. One popular supplement for this is an amino acid called L-glutamine, which helps rejuvenate the gut wall lining. Many people find taking a probiotic helpful as well. Probiotic supplements contain healthy bacteria that help restore the balance of the flora in your intestine. People who tolerate dairy can eat Kefir, which is high in probiotics. Omega-3 supplements are good for a number of reasons, including their ability to combat inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in fish like salmon. Leaky gut may cause problems that you wouldn't normally associate with digestion, but your diet can make a positive difference if you eliminate foods associated with leaky gut and incorporate whole, organic foods and perhaps supplements to help rebalance digestive flora. If you would like to learn more about eating healthy, we encourage you to contact us. We would love to answer any questions you may have.