Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut is a surprisingly common problem. Basically it’s a condition that occurs whenever there is inflammation and the “pores” lining of the GI tract remain open too long. Then toxic by-products in the digestive tract can be absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the liver. The molecules of food and toxins “leaked” through the GI lining may eventually affect systems throughout the body by aggravating inflammation in the joints, expressing toxins in skin disorders, triggering food sensitivities, causing “brain fog” or hyperactivity.
Managing hyper-permeability is definitely preventive medicine. Reducing this toxic load on the liver and the body can prevent illness or improve its outcome. Like Dysbiosis, leaky gut is an example of a general process that can lead to disease, rather than being a specific disorder. This condition is far more typical than many practitioners realize and is often overlooked in designing treatment. Resolving hyper-permeability can produce very real benefits.
Leaky gut (or hyper-permeability) is associated with a wide range of general symptoms, such as fatigue, fevers of unknown origin, abdominal pain or bloating, diarrhoea, feelings of toxicity, memory problems and difficulty with concentration, and poor tolerance of exercise.
Hyper-permeability can be a causal factor in:
- Attention deficit disorder Joint and collagen problems
- Symptoms resembling autism compromised liver function
- Chronic and rheumatoid arthritis Malnutrition
- Chronic fatigue syndrome Multiple chemical sensitivities
- Eczema Psoriasis
- Food allergies and intolerances Skin disorders ranging from urticaria to
- Inflammatory bowel disease acne and dermatitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome Symptoms like Schizophrenia
Hyper-permeability can also be caused by any number of different conditions. Any substance or condition that cause inflammation (such as GI infection), severe trauma (such as burns or surgery), or mechanical over-stimulation (such as certain medications or NSAIDs) – anything that over-stimulates the pores in the lining and keeps them open too long is said to cause leaky gut, known as hyper-permeability.
The following conditions sometimes cause hyper-permeability:
- The aging process HIV
- Aids with diarrhoea Intensive illness
- Alcoholism Malnutrition
- Burns NSAIDs
- Cancer Pancreatitis
- Celiac disease Psoriasis
- Certain Drugs Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic hepatitis Shock or anaphylaxis
- Crohn’s disease Toxic shock syndrome
- Cystic fibrosis Trauma
- Giardia or other parasites Ulcerative colitis
Defining Leaky Gut Syndrome
The intestinal lining has two opposing functions:
- The absorption of nutrients from food in the digestive tract
- A barrier function, to contain microbes or large food particles (potential allergens) so they don’t go beyond the gut environment (translocate) and get into the bloodstream
The digestive tract has tiny porous openings between cells (called tight junctions) so that nutrients can be absorbed from our food. If the pore-like structures open too wide, toxins from the gut can flood into the bloodstream, overwhelming the liver and causing allergies or any dozens of other ailments.
This is known as hyper-permeability because the lining has become too permeable (porous). It’s also called leaky gut syndrome because the gut begins leaking larger food particles and toxins from the gut. It’s not an illness but rather a natural process gone wrong. Normally all these pores in the gut lining open and close whenever nutrients are absorbed from our food. It’s only when the pores open too wide that leaky gut is said to occur.
When the tests Come out Normal, But…
Debbie had complained of stomachaches since she was a child. Sometimes she would double over with cramps and dull, aching abdominal pains so severe she couldn’t do anything but lie in bed for hours. Her symptoms seemed to come on a few minutes after eating. She had several thorough medical workups that were normal. Her doctor prescribed muscle relaxants and tranquillisers, which seemed to help most of the time, and she got along reasonably well until she was in her mid-forties.
Out of the blue, at a time when Debbie was under enormous stress, she began having repeated attacks so severe they caused intense abdominal pain, explosive diarrhoea, vomiting, hives and a shock-like state in which her blood pressure would drop to almost undetectable levels. She was seen by many doctors and again had extensive testing that all came out normal. This time she was put on steroids, antihistamines, and Tagamet. Since the attacks were potentially life threatening, they had to be stopped.
When Debbie first saw me she was developing additional problems from the steroids. Her physicians tried to taper her off the steroids, but whenever the doses were decreased her attacks recurred. Her symptoms were consistent with a severe form of food allergies. A workup for intestinal permeability provided striking evidence of leaky gut syndrome. In addition she was found to have severe Dysbiosis that was associated with both yeast overgrowth and a parasitic infection due to Blastocystis hominis Debbie was successfully treated with nutrients and diet. She’s been off all pharmaceuticals for five years now, and has not had a single attack. Follow-up testing for leaky gut syndrome has been normal, and her Dysbiosis is continuing to gradually clear.
How Leaky Gut Occurs
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of how leaky gut occurs. Let’s use the example of someone who has an allergy. Suppose Sarah has a dairy allergy and unknowingly eats cheese, this can trigger a reaction in her body. If she has an immediate food allergy, her immune system may begin reacting right away. If she has delayed allergies, the reaction may not occur for as long as three hours, but it could take as long as forty-eight hours to occur.
What is amazing is that no matter when it occurs, Sarah may not even be aware that it’s happening. She may have a vague feeling of discomfort that could include a mild stomachache, a headache, even joint or muscle aches. Although she may not notice anything more than vague discomfort at the time, later she may have a flare-up of some chronic problem such as allergies, asthma, or arthritis. And she probably won’t link it to this microscopic process going on in her digestive tract as the lining becomes too porous and begins leaking tiny particles.
On the other hand, she may have noticed that if she cheats on her allergy diet and has milk for breakfast, sometime that day or the next her joints may be achy and exercise will become a major effort.
The response of Sarah’s body to the offending food also activates her immune system. To alert the system that an invader is present (the dairy food she just ate), her immune system sounds the alarm through chemical messengers, the cytokines. They act like buglers calling out the cavalry, and their job is to bring infection fighters (the antibodies). This sets the immune system in motion. While we always have cytokines as an essential part of our system, when there are too many cytokines and other immune chemicals circulating in the bloodstream, the gut will start leaking.