Why a leaky gut could be hindering your weight loss efforts

A leaky gut can hinder weight loss efforts. (Getty Images)
A leaky gut can hinder weight loss efforts. (Getty Images)

Weight loss is difficult at the best of times, but when your gut health is out of sync – or you have a leaky gut – it can make your best laid plans that much harder to achieve.

If you haven’t heard of ‘leaky gut’ or ‘leaky gut syndrome’, don’t despair. It’s an area that’s only just started to be researched, but from what scientists can tell us so far, it could be leading to inflammation which can result in a number of different conditions.

"The gut is a complex organ, which plays many vital roles in our health, including the digestion and absorption of nutrients from our food, and protecting our body from harmful toxins," Liz Cooper, Senior Nutrition Advisor at Neovos, says.

"The health of the gut lining is integral to these roles, as it forms a barrier that enables the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream whilst blocking out toxins, allergens and other harmful substances.

"When the gut lining loses its integrity, it is known as gut permeability or leaky gut, where essentially the barrier breaks down and can no longer control what enters the body. This can mean that unwanted substances can enter the bloodstream, interact with immune cells and cause inflammation."

Symptoms of a leaky gut

Leaky gut symptoms are hard to pinpoint as they could be similar signs of another condition. However, some symptoms include:

  • Nutrient deficiencies/malabsorption

  • Chronic loose stools or constipation

  • Brain fog, poor focus

  • Joint pain

  • Widespread inflammation

  • Fatigue

  • Anxiety, depression

  • Autoimmune conditions such as coeliac disease, IBD or rheumatoid arthriti

Detail of a woman holding her hand in pain caused by a carpal tunnel.
Joint pain can be a sign of a leaky gut. (Getty Images)

Leaky gut and weight loss

Alanna Kate Derrick, endurance sports nutrition coach and contributor to GoldBjj, says that she’s seen ‘first-hand’ how a leaky gut can stall even the most dedicated athletes.

"Some common symptoms are bloating, fatigue, food sensitivities, and skin issues like acne or rashes. Basically, your body reacts to things it sees as foreign invaders," she explains.

"A leaky gut can definitely stall weight loss. When your body is fighting internal inflammation, it holds onto fat stores. Healing your gut frees up that energy again."

Leaky gut causes

While the syndrome is still not fully understood, Cooper says some factors that can cause a leaky gut include dysbiosis (or an imbalance) of gut bacteria, inflammation, stress, alcohol, some medications like NSAIDs, and conditions such as coeliac disease or IBD.

A major factor in causing leaky gut is the food we consume, with a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates being the main culprits, as well as foods low in fibre and antioxidants.

Shot of a vegan meal preparation with lots of vegetables and fruits on a domestic kitchen
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help to heal a leaky gut. (Getty Images)

How to heal a leaky gut

Good news, if you suspect your leaky gut is due to the foods you’re eating, then there are several ways to heal it. Cooper suggests:

  • Reduce stress: "Actively engaging in stress reducing activities such as yoga, breathwork, meditation and being out in nature."

  • Increase fibre intake: "Eating a wide range of fibre-rich plant foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes, which help to feed the beneficial gut bacteria."

  • Avoid processed and high sugar foods: "These are low in nutrients and could contribute to intestinal inflammation."

  • Consume fermented foods: "Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso and kefir can help to support a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria."

  • Drink bone broth: "Including bone broth in our diet, which has high levels of nutrients to help support a healthy gut lining."

  • Eat omega-3s: "Eating anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts, as well as anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and ginger."

  • Increase vitamin D intake: "Vitamin D is also an important nutrient for our gut lining so ensuring levels are optimum either through regular exposure to sunlight or taking a vitamin D supplement."

So, how do you know your gut is healing? Derrick says the first signs are less bloating and fatigue.

She adds: "Skin clears up, digestion improves, and you just feel better overall. It’s very gratifying helping people finally reach their goals when we get the gut piece right."

Gut health: Read more