Among other health concerns in the monsoon, leaky gut is a prominent gut issue that may bother your children amid hot and humid conditions. Our gut has a microbial balance with trillions of beneficial and harmful bacteria. Populating the gut with healthful bacteria helps all body systems to function normally. When environmental agents disrupt this balance, unfavourable factors like pathogenic bacteria, undigested food particles as well as some toxins make their way into the bloodstream and start causing inflammation and irritation.
Before we talk about the causes and the solutions to deal with a leaky gut, let’s understand what it is.
What is a leaky gut?
Our gut is covered by a mucous lining, stretching upon over 4,000 sq feet of surface area. The lining acts as a semi-permeable barrier that regulates the absorption of nutrients and other desired substances between the intestines and the bloodstream.
An unhealthy gut may lead to the development of large cracks or holes in the lining, allowing toxins, bugs, and partially digested food particles to enter the bloodstream. This may lead to inflammation and unhealthy changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria), thereby increasing the risk of multiple health problems.
What are the causes of a leaky gut?
Allergy or intolerance to certain foods is the major cause of leaky gut in children. These foods may include:
* Processed meats and eggs
* Grains containing gluten such as wheat-based products
* Baked food products like cookies, pastries, cakes, muffins, and pizza
* Dairy products such as milk, ice cream, and cheeses
* Beverages like carbonated and other sugary drinks
* Refined oils such as sunflower, canola, soybean, and safflower oils
* Junk food such as potato chips, fast foods, candy bars, etc.
In addition to these allergenic foods, some conditions may also contribute to leaky gut such as:
* Behaviour conditions like ADHD and autism
* Conditions that trigger immune systems like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome
Symptoms of a leaky gut
The presence of one or more of the following symptoms may indicate a leaky gut in children:
– Problems related to the digestive system such as vomiting, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhoea, especially after consuming allergenic foods
– Problems associated with a weakened immune system such as recurrent colds, flu and ear infections
– Asthma or difficulty in breathing
– Anxiety, depression, and behavioural issues ADHD, ADD, and autism
Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases
A leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability tends to trigger the immune response of our body. It happens due to the presence of an enlarged hole or hap in the gut wall, which allows the large undigested protein molecules to enter the bloodstream. It, in turn, may stimulate the immune response, thereby causing the T cells to start making antibodies against these larger molecules leading to an autoimmune disorder.
An autoimmune disorder may affect different parts of the body causing problems such as:
Diseases of the respiratory system
Asthma is one of the most common respiratory problems related to overreactive immune system. Characterised by airway hyper-reactivity, airway inflammation, and reversible airflow obstruction, asthma is linked to an allergic-type activation of the immune system typified by helper T-cells. A leaky gut is one of the significant causes of asthma and other autoimmune disorders.
Diseases of the joints and muscles:
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Diseases of the digestive tract:
Diseases of the skin:
In addition to the above-discussed problems, a leaky gut may lead to malnourishment or poor growth and development of your child. During digestion, essential nutrients required by children are released into the bloodstream. A leaky or malfunctioning gut may lead to an inadequate supply of vital nutrients in children’s bodies. And, of course, it’s a vicious cycle as malnutrition further affects gut repair or healing.
How to deal with a leaky gut?
You can try the following ways to repair a leaky gut in children:
– Eliminate foods, such as gluten, sugar, and dairy products, which may irritate your child’s gut
– Replace these allergenic foods with healing foods such as fermented foods including yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir
– Consume ample prebiotic (present in garlic, bananas, apples, etc.) and probiotics (present in yogurt, pickles, traditional and buttermilk, etc) to repopulate your good gut bacteria
– Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, zinc, and L-glutamine may also help heal the intestinal lining
While these are some of the eating habits that can help you relieve a leaky gut, we advise expert intervention if the symptoms prevail or flare up.
(Manjari Chandra is a consultant, functional nutrition and nutritional medicine, Manjari Wellness, New Delhi. Her column appears every fortnight)