Leaky gut causes weight gain but indirectly. Leaky gut causes an imbalance of the gut microbiota that leads to weight gain, creates food sensitivities, and these food sensitivities lead to weight gain and creates nutritional deficiencies that are also involved in weight gain.
It is no secret that obesity, diabetes and metabolic diseases are affecting large numbers of the general population; in fact, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome, in the United States alone, has reached a staggering 34% and continues to rise.
This disease, characterized by long-term low-grade inflammation, causes metabolic disturbances that lead to the development of complications such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. This is a serious health problem for many Americans, one that won't go away any time soon, and determining the cause of these metabolic conditions is a priority for obesity researchers across the country.
While the existence of leaky gut syndrome is still debated among doctors and scientists, it can be very logical that having healthy gut bacteria is crucial to maintaining a normal weight and a functioning metabolism.
Recently, a group of researchers in Brazil published a new review that explores the idea that intestinal permeability is a factor that contributes to obesity.
Intestinal dysbiosis and intestinal leaks
It is well documented that people with obesity have significantly impaired bowel function compared to the general population. Obese people have been shown to have problems with effective digestion and absorption of food, gastrointestinal diseases, unstable or pathological gut microbiota, poor immune status, and poor general well-being, suggesting poor gut health.
This intestinal dysbiosis is believed to cause increased permeability in the small intestine, allowing toxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) to enter the blood and triggering systemic inflammation.
One theory is that the metabolic activity of the gut microbiota contributes to weight gain by causing more calories to be extracted from food that pass through the gut. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) may also play a role in intestinal permeability by increasing constipation, reducing the activity of pancreatic enzymes and gastric acid, and disrupting the relationship of the microbiota and the immune system.
Probiotic supplementation can help strengthen the tight junctions of the intestine, reducing overall permeability. Probiotics can have anti-inflammatory effects in the gut, regulating the production of inflammatory cytokines and reducing intestinal permeability. This demonstrates the benefits of a balanced microbiota in the gut to maintain the function of the intestinal barrier, particularly in obesity.
Nutritional effects on leaky gut
In addition to the composition of the intestinal bacteria, nutritional factors also play an important role in the permeability of the intestine. The authors of this study suggest that there are two main components of the diet that can affect intestinal permeability: fructose and fat.
Fructose is believed to damage the liver directly by increasing blood levels of LPS toxins, causing fatty liver, liver inflammation, and insulin resistance. These effects explain why high fructose intake has been implicated in the development of metabolic syndrome.
Regarding fat, the authors of this study suggest that fat is more efficient than carbohydrates in transporting LPS toxins to the liver through the formation of chylomicrons, molecules that release dietary fat from digestion to the liver.
An increase in liver toxins was shown to induce obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance in rats, demonstrating why a high-fat diet could exacerbate metabolic disease. However, the type of fat matters; oleate, a monounsaturated fat, promotes toxin delivery to the liver, while butyrate, a short-chain saturated fat, does not form chylomicrons or increase LPS toxins in the liver.
Changes in bile secretion have also been found to be associated with impaired intestinal permeability, and a decrease in bile allows more bacterial growth in the small intestine and more LPS is produced.
It is important that future research determine the type of fatty acids that increase intestinal permeability of endotoxins, and whether or not there is an interaction with the type and amount of bacteria in the intestine.
Nutritional deficiencies and intestinal leaks
There are several micronutrient deficiencies that the authors found associated with intestinal barrier function, specifically vitamin A, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium. Vitamin A, zinc and magnesium help maintain tight junctions in the intestine and regulate endothelial differentiation in the intestine, while vitamin D stimulates the renewal of the intestinal lining and resistance to damage by modulating the immune system.
Vitamin D and calcium play a joint role in maintaining the intestinal barrier. In obesity, the intake of these micronutrients is typically low, so deficiencies could play an important role in exacerbating leaky gut conditions, especially when combined with intestinal dysbiosis and poor dietary choices.
If you are gaining a lot of weight you should check your intestinal health
The bottom line from this study is that the interaction of gut health and diet plays an important role in weight gain and the risk of obesity and metabolic disease. If you are struggling to lose weight, you may be dealing with inflammation caused by leaky gut and dysbiosis. Weight gain might just be your only symptom, but it's important to be aware of it.
There are many steps you can take to ensure a healthy gut. Using probiotics and prebiotics can change the quality of the microbiome in the gut, and there are certain dietary strategies that can help improve the strength of the tight junctions between intestinal cells.
Other issues such as stress, use of antibiotics and other medications, autoimmune diseases, and toxins in the diet can increase intestinal permeability, so these are gut health factors that need to be addressed as well.
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