Disease, discomfort, allergies and intolerances often arise from problems in the digestive tract. Around 80 per cent of our immune cells reside in the stomach and it’s known as the gatekeeper of the body; the gut is responsible for letting the good things in – like nutrients from our food; while keeping the bad things out – like toxins and undigested food particles. In the case of ‘leaky gut’ these foreign substances ‘leak’ into your blood stream. The immune system responds by increasing inflammation around the gut wall, which can exacerbate food allergies and worsen conditions like eczema, IBS and chronic fatigue.
The link with leaky gut and allergies
Several studies over the last decade show a correlation between food allergies and leaky gut. In a 2013 study published in the journal Pediatric Allergy Immunology, researchers concluded that intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut) may be an intrinsic trait in certain children with food allergies. In a separate 2009 study, Dutch scientists suggested a link between leaky gut and coeliac disease.
What causes leaky gut?
Leaky gut occurs when there is damage to the lining of the digestive tract. So what causes the intestinal wall to become damaged in the first place? The latest research shows that gluten may play a role. In one study researchers found that gliadin, a protein in gluten, increased intestinal permeability. In addition, bacterial imbalance can also lead to leaky gut. Bad bacteria – which is driven by a low nutrient diet – actually creates toxins that damage healthy cells and creates holes in the intestinal wall. Finally, certain types of pain medication, in particular non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) can damage the intestinal lining leading to leaky gut.
Signs and symptoms
Leaky Gut Syndrome can occur at any age, however as we get older our ability to make stomach acid decreases and this can trigger leaky gut. Signs to look out for include fatigue, joint pain, headaches or a sudden intolerance to certain foods like dairy, eggs and gluten. If you suspect you may have leaky gut you can take an intestinal permeability test, which measures the ability of two sugar molecules to pass through the gut lining. The patient drinks a small amount of lactulose and mannitol and the level of these two sugars are subsequently measured in a urine sample.
Helping leaky gut
Most doctors will tell you that repairing leaky gut is difficult and takes time, but you can accelerate your recovery by making a few simple changes. Nourish your intestinal tract with healthy bacteria by eating foods like yoghurt and kefir. If you are allergic to dairy then you may want to try fermented vegetables – like sauerkraut and kimchi – or take a supplement instead.