Many people with diabetes are extremely health-conscious, for this reason, they are constantly searching for ways to manage their diabetes more efficiently. How can they make a difference, though, if they don’t even know they are suffering from a condition they’ve never heard of? There is a multitude of conditions that affect diabetes. Some things are thought to cause it, and others are known to make it worse.
Leaky gut is one of those conditions; some theorize that you can’t even have type 2 diabetes without also having a leaky gut. Moreover, not only could it cause diabetes, it can also perpetually make it worse.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut can be described as “intestinal hyperpermeability”. In simpler terms, it means that certain toxins in your gut can actually pass through your intestines and leak into your body. As can be expected, this causes a number of health problems.
Essentially, leaky gut happens when your digestive tract is weak from a poor diet, among other factors. The intestines are thinning and worn down. The “good bacteria” that assist you in breaking down your food and getting rid of toxins are not flourishing.
Leaky gut allows toxins to reside in the body which should have been expelled rather quickly, causing symptoms such as these:
- Inflammation (sometimes severe)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn and ulcerative colitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Food allergies
- Chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Skin rash
With such a long list of conditions related to a leaky gut, you might start to think it’s a super-disease or something. Don’t worry, it’s not. Although it contributes to or causes some really messed up stuff in your body, it’s avoidable and even reversible. Some professionals even believe you could reverse serious and chronic disease (like diabetes) by plugging that leaky gut.
You won’t hear much about leaky gut from mainstream doctors. Surprisingly, most doctors don’t even test for a leaky gut yet. It’s actually somewhat of a mystery to most medical professionals. Linda A. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at John Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center says “We don’t know a lot, but we know it exists.” She continues. “In the absence of evidence, we don’t know… what therapies can directly address it.”
Other professionals, like Donald Kirby, MD, refer to a leaky gut as a “very gray area”. Since leaky gut itself isn’t really a diagnosis of a disease, it means that more research needs to be done, and an individualized diagnosis still needs to be made. What does that mean? It means that the causes of leaky gut can be any number of things, so you need to find the cause on a personal level. On that note, let’s take a look at some of these causes.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
To reiterate, there isn’t any one conclusive cause due to the lack of research done. However, there are a number of things agreed upon that could contribute to your intestines becoming weak, inefficient, and leaky. These include:
- Excessive alcohol usage (which can irritate the intestinal wall)
- A poor diet (we will talk about this more)
- Prescription hormone medicine
- Prescription corticosteroids (like hydrocortisone)
- Enzyme deficiency (like having lactose-intolerance)
- Toxic metals
- Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Your gut has a lot of hard work to do. Not only does it have to digest all the food you eat and break it down into nutrients to nourish your entire body, it also has to protect you from all the waste products and toxins that would otherwise enter your bloodstream. This heavy responsibility warrants that we take good care of our guts. Unfortunately, the greater majority of people today probably don’t even give a second thought to their digestive tract.
Your typical American diet is full of sugary soft drinks, white flour, and otherwise high-fat, low-fiber foods. This contributes to an unhealthy gut where good bacteria are weak and useless while bad bacteria thrive and damage your intestines. Once the damage is too severe, the walls of your intestines begin to fail. They become permeable and start to allow the toxins and waste, that was meant to stay in your gut, straight into your bloodstream.
Some of the other things on the above list, like alcohol and some prescription and over-the-counter drugs, also have a negative effect on the internal flora of your intestines. When the good bacteria is killed off in your gut, you have a harder time digesting your food and fighting off all the bad things that pass through it. As the good bacteria make way for bad bacteria, your gut likewise becomes unhealthy and can begin to leak.
How Exactly is Leaky Gut Related to Diabetes?
To give you the most shocking news first: new research suggests that you can have all the genetic predispositions to diabetes in the world, but you will never actually contract diabetes unless you have a leaky gut as well. So this means (if this research is correct) if you have diabetes, you already have a leaky gut.
The biggest link between leaky gut and diabetes is inflammation. Inflammation is involved in developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, many diseases are linked to inflammation such as:
- Periodontal disease
- Heart disease
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
When toxins leak out of your intestines and into your bloodstream, this triggers an immune response from your body. The little disease-fighting cells that your body sends out do their best to eliminate the bacteria and toxins from causing, even more, damage than inflammation could ever cause. Unfortunately, that’s just what happens. The war against bacteria waged by your immune system causes a lot of inflammation.
Continuous abnormal inflammation (like that caused by a leaky gut) alters your natural insulin levels and actions, contributing to diabetes. Once your body starts to become insensitive to insulin, you eventually form official insulin resistance, which also causes inflammation. You can see the horrible cycle here. The more inflammation, the more insulin resistance. The more insulin resistance, the more inflammation. When you add that on top of a continuously leaky gut contributing to inflammation, type 2 diabetes isn’t far off.
Inflammation causing insulin resistance has been observed by Mario Kratz, Ph.D., in experiments involving mice as well. Some of the mice were obese, which caused a constant low-level inflammation. The mice with this inflammation developed insulin resistance. This left the question: Was the fat causing the insulin resistance, or was it the inflammation? To answer this question, scientists bred mice that lacked the ability to produce certain immune responses which cause inflammation. They then proceeded to feed the mice a diet designed to make them obese. What was the result? These obese mice didn’t have insulin resistance. What does this mean? It means that the insulin resistance came from the inflammation, not the fat cells themselves. This supports other researcher’s claims that inflammation caused by a leaky gut contributes to diabetes.
Another experiment conducted on mice in 2012 took a different approach. The mice were given a drug called Tamoxifen in order to simulate poor gut function, ruin their inner ecology and kill healthy bacteria in the intestines. The researchers found close similarities between the guts of mice with diabetes and mice whose guts were artificially ruined with Tamoxifen. When given insulin, both groups of mice improved. To the scientists, this proved that diabetes is strongly correlated to gut health.
To summarize, scientists don’t know everything about leaky gut and how it contributes to diabetes, but they are starting to learn more. There is certainly more research to be done, but it’s clear that an unhealthy, leaky gut doesn’t only affect digestion, but can have side effects for the health of the entire body.
How Would I Know if I Had a Leaky Gut?
The first thing you could do is refer back to the symptoms of a leaky gut that we already laid out for you (things like skin rashes, joint pain, diarrhea, chronic fatigue, and IBS), but that might not help you as much as you would think. This long list of potential symptoms also includes side effects of another even longer list of different conditions that have nothing to do with a leaky gut.
Some other things you can look at would be things like:
When toxins are constantly leaking into your bloodstream due to a leaky gut, your body is overproducing trigger-happy antibodies, and those antibodies start to attack things that they wouldn’t naturally. This causes food sensitivity, especially to gluten and dairy.
As you can imagine, people with an unhealthy digestive tract that’s leaking, also have trouble absorbing nutrients. This can become apparent through side-effects like chronic fatigue.
Leaky gut may directly contribute to chronic thyroiditis. This leads to hypothyroidism, slow metabolism, chronic fatigue, and depression.
Tests To Identify & Diagnose Leaky Gut
It’s hard to link any symptom directly with leaky gut due to the fact that the symptoms could be the result of almost anything else. However, there are some tests that you could do to see if you have it. Here are some tests that could be done to identify leaky gut:
This test involves drinking a sugary solution. A urine sample is then taken and tested. If both lactulose and mannitol are present, it could indicate a leaky gut.
An expensive test that checks for yeast and bacteria to see if your gut is leaky. This test is not likely to be covered by your insurance.
What Can I do to Prevent or Cure Leaky Gut?
We have to keep in mind that the microorganisms that live inside your body make up a very important ecosystem that keeps your digestive tract healthy. Your intestines have a very hard job, so let’s start thinking about how we can make that job easier, or at least more enjoyable.
As we have mentioned a few times by now, leaky gut has a lot to do with your internal bacteria or gut flora. You want to maximize the amount of good bacteria and minimize toxins and bad bacteria. This can be done primarily through diet and exercise. It sounds so simple, but there really is more to it in this case.
What kind of diet do you need?
When it comes to diet, it takes more than a simple “eat healthy!” recommendation to combat an already leaky gut. You have to imagine that your good bacteria is almost completely dead. To counteract your useless gut flora, you should think about “re-seeding” it with healthy bacteria from your diet. You can do this by eating probiotic foods such as “lassi” (an indian yogurt drink), fermented vegetables such as kimchi, or other probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, miso, or kombucha (find a list of probiotic foods here).
Another thing you can do is eat naturally anti-inflammatory foods to counteract the side-effects of leaky gut. Some of these foods are things like avocados, walnuts, healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids), and olive oil (learn more about anti-inflammatory foods here).
Once you start ingesting foods that will combat a leaky gut like those mentioned above, it’s time to stop eating foods that contribute to inflammation. These foods are things like red meat, fried foods (like french fries — sorry!), refined carbs (think white bread), margarine, cheese (and other full-fat dairies). These foods tend to increase inflammation in the body and are not easy on your gut flora.
It would also be a good idea to avoid any trans fats, and sugary foods altogether. Refined sugar contributes to insulin resistance which contributes to inflammation. In light of diabetes, anything to help improve insulin levels and a leaky gut should be considered.
As a review, you should replace as many processed foods as you can with organic options, re-seed your gut with good bacteria by eating fermented foods, and avoid foods that contribute to inflammation or insulin resistance.
What about supplements and medications?
There are certain things that can be taken orally that influence your gut flora in a positive or a negative way that isn’t necessarily considered part of your diet. So let’s talk about supplements and medications.
There are supplements you can take in the form of probiotics. This certainly helps improve your digestive tract function by maintaining a healthy gut flora. Probiotics give you a large daily dose of one type of good bacteria for your intestines which promote good digestion, absorption, and combats inflammation involved with an unhealthy gut.
On the other hand, there are many medications that harm your gut flora. Taking antibiotics may sometimes be necessary when you are ill, but don’t overuse them in pill form or even in antibacterial soap. Antibiotics kill more than just bad bacteria, they kill the good bacteria as well.
Other substances you may encounter that you might not think about are things like chlorinated water, agricultural chemicals found on non-organic fruits and vegetables, and traces of antibiotics found in factory-farmed meat may also harm your internal flora.
In Review: Key Takeaway
Leaky gut undoubtedly contributes to, and potentially causes diabetes alongside any number of other illnesses. Thankfully, it is treatable and avoidable; so take care of your poor intestines. If you eat healthy, exercise, and maintain your internal flora, your gut will thank you, and you can potentially gain an upper hand in the fight against diabetes, or even avoid it altogether.