What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
While it is not currently medically recognized as a disease or disorder, leaky gut is described as a state of chronic inflammation and irritation in the gut. With prolonged inflammation, intestinal cells become less tight and develop “leaks” between cells that allow toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to “leak” through the intestinal wall and into the body.1
Normally, inflammation is a natural and necessary part of your immune response. It usually results in red, swollen tissue and creates spaces between cells to allow immune cells to get to the site of inflammation.
It’s not certain if leaky gut is an actual disease. Inflammation in the gut does exist in different degrees of intensity, and severe inflammation of the intestines occurs in several known conditions, including inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
While the Internet is rife with information referring to conditions associated with leaky gut, there are actually only a small number of known symptoms linked to an inflamed gut and low-grade inflammation in general.
Several studies suggest that chronic gastrointestinal inflammation can cause anxiety-like behavior. In one study, mice were infected with a noninvasive parasite to induce mild to moderate colonic inflammation. Researchers then evaluated their behavior. Results of the study found that the mice displayed anxiety-like behavior with altered levels in several proteins associated with inflammation and neural function. This suggests that chronic inflammation in the GI tract can induce anxiety and alter biochemistry in the central nervous system. This means that chemical messengers released from the inflamed gut may travel through the bloodstream into the brain.2
Studies also show that low-grade inflammation in the gut may play a role in obesity. Obese people tend to have higher concentrations of inflammatory markers, which can cause metabolic disturbances. It can be something of a cycle as adipose tissue (body fat) also contributes to the release of inflammatory mediators.3 Other studies show that obesity can cause an increase in the infiltration of macrophages into adipose tissue. Macrophages are one of the primary cells involved in the inflammatory response.4
Another study suggests that low-grade inflammation may contribute to cardiovascular issues. Participants in the study included 506 men who either died from a coronary heart disease or had a non-fatal myocardial infarction as well as 1,025 men who did not have any sort of cardiovascular disease. These men were evaluated for biochemical inflammatory markers, including leukocytes, serum albumin, and C-reactive protein. Results of the study showed a strong association between these inflammatory markers and risk of cardiovascular disease, suggesting that chronic inflammation may contribute to coronary heart disease.5
Foods That May Increase Inflammation
Sugar has become a common additive in nearly all foods in the typical Western diet. Multiple studies suggest that sugar may play a significant role in inflammation. In a randomized controlled crossover study, researchers assigned 29 subjects to one of six groups receiving sugar-sweetened beverages containing various amounts of added sugar (in the forms of sucrose, fructose, and glucose). The last group was given dietary advice to consume low amounts of fructose. Results of the study found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages resulted in higher inflammatory markers and markers of cardiovascular risk.10
In a meta-analysis, researchers looked at data for 3,690 women and evaluated their red meat intake in relation to common inflammatory markers. Researchers found that higher intake of both processed and unprocessed red meat was associated with higher inflammatory markers across the board.9
Foods and Supplements That Reduce Inflammation
Probiotic-rich foods are some of the most prominent tools for soothing gastrointestinal inflammation. A meta-review identified 13 randomized controlled studies looking at the effect of probiotics on the remission and maintenance of ulcerative colitis. Results of the study found that those who had taken probiotics had a higher remission rate than those given a placebo. Supplementation with Bifidobacteria strains showed a 75 percent less chance of ulcerative colitis recurrence, while Lactobacilli had 31 percent less occurrence.6 This suggests that probiotics can be effective in reducing gut inflammation.
Ginger and Turmeric
The main ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin has been found to significantly reduce levels of C-reactive protein, MDA, and other common biochemical markers for inflammation compared to those who took a placebo.7
Ginger contains a variety of compounds, including gingerols, paradols, and shogaol that may inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals like leukotriene and prostaglandin. Other compounds in ginger may inhibit the synthesis of cytokines (another pro-inflammatory).8
Lean Meats, Nuts, and Legumes
The previous study on red meat consumption and inflammation found that women who substituted red meat with nuts, legumes, or leaner meats (fish and poultry) had lower levels of inflammation.9
Leaky gut syndrome may or may not be a real medical disease, but inflammation is real, and there are ways to lower inflammation in the gut through dietary changes. Avoid sugar. Substitute red meats with lean meats like poultry and fish. Consume nuts, turmeric, ginger, and Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria probiotics. A good anti-inflammatory probiotic, such as Nexabiotic® Advanced, combines both kinds of probiotics.
Read next: Studies Say These are the Best Probiotics for Yeast Infections