What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
To understand gluten and leaky gut syndrome, we first must understand what leaky gut is! “Leaky gut syndrome” refers to when the tight junctions in your small intestine become impaired, leading to intestinal permeability. This allows food particles to flow in and out of these junctions. When food particles flow in and out of the junctions, the body gets confused and views these particles as invaders, which activates an immune response. This can then lead to a physical reaction from eating specific foods, which we refer to as a “food sensitivity”. This is not how the digestive system is meant to function.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Symptoms of food sensitivities, like gluten, and leaky gut can include digestive disturbances (bloating, heartburn, nausea, irregular bowel movements), skin issues (rashes, acne), joint pain, headaches, anxiety, and fatigue.
Does Gluten Cause Leaky Gut?
Gluten and leaky gut are linked, however, gluten itself is not the cause of leaky gut syndrome. If you have a sensitivity to gluten, or gluten intolerance, it can contribute to the condition of leaky gut. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a term that refers to individuals that do not have celiac disease, but do not feel physically well when they consume gluten. This condition is becoming a lot more common today. Leaky gut on its own is often caused by a variety of factors – most commonly from overuse of antibiotics, overuse of NSAIDs (pain relievers like Ibuprofen), chronic stress, imbalances in the microbiome such as dysbiosis, and excess consumption of alcohol and other processed foods that are difficult on the digestive tract. Gluten intolerance and leaky gut are interrelated because gluten can cause something called “zonulin” to increase in individuals with gluten sensitivity. Zonulin is a protein that modulates permeability of the tight junctions of the intestinal tract; so the higher the zonulin, the worse the leaky gut. So therefore, eating gluten could absolutely contribute to a leaky gut if you have gluten sensitivity. High serum levels of zonulin have also been correlated with autoimmune diseases, so I don’t recommend consuming gluten if you have an autoimmune condition (that would just be adding “fuel to the fire”).
What Diseases are Associated with a Leaky Gut
Research has shown that many diseases may arise or be exacerbated due to a leaky gut, including autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, autoimmune hepatitis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Some other diseases and conditions that leaky gut has been associated with include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, arthritis, acne, obesity, and some mental illnesses.
What to Do About Gluten and Leaky Gut Syndrome
One of the first things that I recommend clients do when working towards healing a leaky gut is transitioning to a whole foods based style of eating. This means consuming all (or the majority of) your meals from whole foods such as organic vegetables, fruits, animal protein, and healthy fats. Removing items like processed food and gluten are also recommended. I also strongly recommend completing a gut test so that you can see if there are imbalances in the microbiome that are contributing to leaky gut. It is very common to see overgrowth of bad bacteria (dysbiosis) when leaky gut is present, so it is crucial to correct the imbalance and support the body back to balance while healing the leaky gut. Specific supplements can be helpful for this. I also recommend implementing lifestyle changes to reduce stress such as deep breathing, regular exercise, good sleep, etc – as stress can contribute to leaky gut. Working with a nutritional therapist for leaky gut is a great step on the healing path.
Can You Eat Gluten After Healing a Leaky Gut?
If you have successfully healed your leaky gut, are feeling much better, do not have an autoimmune condition or chronic health condition mentioned above, AND feel totally fine after consuming gluten – then yes, you can eat gluten after healing leaky gut. However, for the majority of my clients, I recommend limiting it to minimize the chances of their leaky gut returning since leaky gut and gluten are interrelated. Almost all of my clients say that they feel better eating less gluten, and it’s not a surprise since gluten in this country is sprayed with pesticides and glyphosate, which are not ideal to consume. Luckily, there are so many great alternatives these days for gluten-free foods. Once you find your favorites, you may not even miss gluten and leaky gut may no longer be an issue.