Leaky Gut Syndrome
What Is It?
When we eat, food passes through the stomach into the small intestine. It is here that nutrient absorption occurs through a semi-permeable lining of the intestinal wall. Because this mucous membrane also shields the bloodstream from potential invaders such as toxins, pathogens and undigested food, it is a vital part of the body’s immune system. Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition that develops when the mucous lining of the small intestine becomes too porous, allowing unwanted toxins to enter the bloodstream.
What Causes It?
When digestion is impaired as the result of poor diet and lifestyle habits, it can lead to an excessively permeable or “leaky” gut. That’s because as the bacteria present in the intestines act upon undigested food particles, toxic chemicals and gases are produced. These intestinal toxins, known as endotoxins, can damage the mucosal lining, resulting in increased intestinal permeability. As a result of repeated attacks by these toxins, the lining of the gut begins to erode over time. This is the basic mechanism by which Leaky Gut Syndrome develops. It can also be caused or aggravated by a number of other factors, including:
Perhaps the greatest contributors to Leaky Gut Syndrome are the drugs listed below:
According to respected author and holistic healer Elizabeth Lipski, “NSAIDs can cause irritation and inflammation of the intestinal tract, leading to colitis and relapse of ulcerative colitis … [They] can cause bleeding and ulceration of the large intestine and may contribute to complications of diverticular disease.” Prolonged use of NSAIDs blocks the body’s natural ability to repair the intestinal lining. Once endotoxins have eroded this membrane, it becomes permeable, rather than semi-permeable. Now the toxins, pathogens and food particles, which would normally not be permitted to enter the system, literally leak into the bloodstream. The body then becomes confused and attacks these unwanted toxins, developing antibodies to fight them as though they were foreign substances.
Who Gets it?
People of any age can develop Leaky Gut Syndrome. Those who regularly take any of the drugs listed above likely already suffer from the syndrome, whether they’ve been diagnosed with it or not. People with digestive problems (with or without symptoms) also typically have an underlying Leaky Gut condition, as do those who routinely consume large amounts of alcohol and caffeine or eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates and chemical food additives. Unfortunately, such foods make up the majority of the Standard American Diet, or SAD.
Anyone who has had significant toxic exposure may also develop increased intestinal permeability. Gut-damaging toxins may come from pathogens, such as bacteria, parasites and fungi, or from chemicals and heavy metals in the environment. Chemicals may also be present in the mouth, where dental fillings made with mercury can emit harmful toxins as they break down over time.
What are the Health Consequences of Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky Gut Syndrome may eventually lead to the development of autoimmune disease, wherein the body attacks its own healthy tissues because it thinks they are foreign invaders. There are some 80 recognized autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and diabetes. Physicians are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the gastrointestinal tract in the development of autoimmune disease, including allergies, and researchers now estimate that more than two-thirds of all immune activity occurs in the gut.
Allergies can develop when the body produces antibodies to the undigested proteins derived from previously harmless foods. These antibodies can get into any tissue and trigger an inflammatory reaction when that food is eaten. According to holistic health practitioner Dr. Zoltan Rona, “If this inflammation occurs in a joint, autoimmune arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis) develops. If it occurs in the brain, myalgic encephalomyelitis (i.e. chronic fatigue syndrome) may be the result. If it occurs in the blood vessels, vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) is the resulting autoimmune problem. If the antibodies end up attacking the lining of the gut itself, the result may be colitis or Crohn’s disease. If it occurs in the lungs, asthma is triggered on a delayed basis every time the individual consumes the food that triggered the production of the antibodies in the first place.”
Other conditions associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome include:
Leaky Gut has also been associated with cognitive dysfunction in children, particularly with regard to autism. It has been found that some autistic children develop inflammation in the gut lining when exposed to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Such inflammation increases the permeability of the mucous lining, allowing proteins such as gluten (from grains) and casein (from milk) to enter the bloodstream, which in turn causes an allergic reaction to foods containing those proteins.
How Does Leaky Gut Syndrome Affect the Liver?
Once toxins enter the bloodstream as the result of Leaky Gut Syndrome, their first stop is the liver. When the liver is required to work overtime due to an overload of toxins, those toxins either recirculate through the bloodstream or are deposited in the liver. When they recirculate to the intestines this further irritates the mucosal lining, increasing its permeability. The entire process is known as enterohepatic recirculation. Essentially, toxins travel from the liver into bile (a digestive fluid secreted by the liver) to the intestines, to the bloodstream and then back to the liver to start over. The food allergies that result from Leaky Gut Syndrome create inflammation, which causes the gut to leak even more. For this reason, once Leaky Gut develops, it tends to become progressively worse if measures aren’t taken to correct it.
How Is It Diagnosed?
In order to determine whether or not a person is suffering from Leaky Gut Syndrome, an Intestinal Permeability Assessment will be performed. This test measures the ability of two non-metabolized sugar molecules (mannitol and lactulose) to permeate the intestinal mucosa.
What Is the Standard Medical Treatment?
Since Leaky Gut Syndrome is not an accepted medical diagnosis, no standard medical treatment exists for the condition. Conventional medicine focuses mainly on treating conditions that arise from Leaky Gut Syndrome, which typically involves the use of drugs and/or surgery.
Optional Nutritional Approaches
Reducing toxic exposure is essential for the prevention and reversal of Leaky Gut Syndrome. Some toxins (called exotoxins) enter the body from the outside as the result of exposure to a polluted environment; others (endotoxins) are generated internally and are often the result of poor digestion. Digestion can be improved by thoroughly chewing food, avoiding excess fluid intake with meals, combining foods properly (eat fruit alone, and don’t mix protein foods with starchy carbohydrates), reducing stress, eliminating processed foods, and eating moderate portions.
Maintaining healthy bowel elimination is also very important. Partially digested food that remains in contact with the gut lining (and the bacteria present there) for long periods of time will exacerbate the problem. Increased exposure will increase the likelihood of creating and delivering immune-reactive substances through the intestinal lining. These immune-reactive substances will be acted upon by the immune tissue in the gut and then sent to the liver for even more immune and detoxification responses, which can be harmful.
Leaky Gut Syndrome: Overall Treatment Protocols
Research shows that Leaky Gut Syndrome is associated with a long and growing number of health disorders. It is also the underlying issue in most cases of digestive impairment. If Leaky Gut Syndrome is suspected, follow the guidelines below:
After symptoms begin to subside, begin with a soft diet for 1 to 2 days, consisting of potatoes, soup, and steamed vegetables. Go very slowly. Drink plenty of water.