Answers to Your Questions About Leaky Gut Syndrome
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The term “leaky gut syndrome” is typically used by alternative medicine practitioners. However, doctors sometimes use the phrase “leaky gut” to explain increased intestinal permeability (intestinal hyperpermeability).
The cause of intestinal hyperpermeability isn't clear, but it's sometimes seen in people who have certain conditions inflammatory bowel or celiac disease.
“Leaky gut” from intestinal hyperpermeability and “leaky gut syndrome” have some commonalities, but the latter is not recognized as a legitimate medical diagnosis.
A doctor's use of the term “leaky gut” to explain hyperpermeability of the intestines should not be confused with an alternative practitioner's use of the term “leaky gut syndrome” as an underlying cause for whole-body symptoms.
Symptoms may be present from childhood or begin in adulthood. They are usually described as fluctuating and may be influenced by diet, stress, inflammation levels, infections, or environmental toxins.
In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms (such as abdominal discomfort, pain, gas, indigestion, constipation, bloating, diarrhea), symptoms outside the digestive tract have also been attributed to “leaky gut syndrome,” including:
- Allergic and autoimmune reactions, such as asthma, skin rashes, and swelling
- Joint and muscle issues, such as chronic joint or muscle pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia
- Neuropsychiatric conditions, including memory problems, mood swings, and agitation
- Skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis
- Infections, such as frequent respiratory infections, vaginal infections, recurrent bladder infections
Proponents of leaky gut syndrome clarify that a person with the condition may experience some, but not necessarily all, of these symptoms.
One of the major controversies surrounding “leaky gut syndrome” is the proposed association with autism. While there is research exploring the brain-gut connection and autism, there is no definitive evidence that a “leaky gut” alone causes autism.
Medical organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) do not feel the proposed association is scientifically valid and do not support the use of any unapproved treatments (including those for “leaky gut”) in people with autism.
Many of the theories proposed for “leaky gut syndrome” are similar to those that explain increased intestinal permeability; both seem to involve intestinal absorption and inflammation.
Research has demonstrated that the intestines can be hyperpermeable, but there is not enough evidence to support the theory that having a weak gut barrier can cause specific symptoms or health conditions.
Nutrients are normally absorbed by the body through capillaries (tiny blood vessels) throughout the digestive system. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with cells that are attached to tight junctions.
When functioning properly, the junctions keep materials from freely flowing from the intestines into the bloodstream.
It's been proposed that bacterial overgrowth and other factors could interfere with the structure and function of the tight junctions in the intestines.
With increased intestinal permeability, it's been proposed that molecular substances flow from the digestive tract into the body and trigger an inflammatory response.
Similarly, proponents of “leaky gut syndrome” believe that if bacteria, toxins, and other material leaks from the gut into the bloodstream, the effect is systemic and may drive the development of particular health conditions.
It's also been proposed that certain risk factors influence “leaky gut syndrome,” including:
- GI Infections
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Gut bacteria imbalance (intestinal dysbiosis)
- Diet, nutritional deficiencies, poor gut health
- Environmental toxins
It's unclear whether infections or inflammatory bowel diseases cause increased intestinal permeability, or if having increased intestinal permeability makes someone more prone to these conditions.
The symptoms frequently attributed to “leaky gut syndrome” are common in other medical conditions, so your doctor will want to do tests to rule out these causes.
Diagnostic tests are guided by the symptoms you have, your medical history, and what your doctor notices when they do a physical exam.
For example, if you have joint swelling or pain, your doctor may order blood tests to look for inflammation. If you have abdominal pain, you might need an imaging test such as an ultrasound.
If you have intestinal hyperpermeability, your doctor might use the term “leaky gut” to help explain it to you. However, that does not mean they have diagnosed you with “leaky gut syndrome.”
Most medical professionals do not consider “leaky gut syndrome” to be a valid clinical diagnosis. However, an alternative medicine practitioner may be more ly to use the term “leaky gut syndrome” to explain your symptoms.
A urine test has been used to help diagnose increased intestinal permeability, however, it is not considered to be consistently reliable.
For the test, you drink a solution that contains “probe molecules”—typically mannitol and lactulose. Urine samples are taken at specific intervals and the ratio of lactulose and mannitol is calculated.
It's been proposed that having high levels of both molecules indicates increased intestinal permeability.
Establishing diagnostic criteria for “leaky gut syndrome” remains controversial—as does a diagnosis of the condition itself. Alternative practitioners may make the diagnosis if a person's symptoms improve with dietary changes or probiotic supplements.
The primary way to address symptoms attributed to “leaky gut syndrome” is making changes to one's diet. These dietary strategies are aimed at changing the intestinal bacteria, often with probiotics. Anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics have also been suggested.
Dietary approaches to managing “leaky gut syndrome” vary. Some focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables to reduce inflammation while others restrict entire food groups.
People who are diagnosed with celiac disease usually need to adhere to a gluten-free diet to control symptoms of the condition. While some people with celiac may have a “leaky gut” as a result of intestinal inflammation, having a “leaky gut” does not mean you need to, or should, avoid gluten and wheat.
Probiotic supplements can help balance the bacteria in the intestines. Probiotics are also found in many foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and other fermented foods.
Companies can sell supplements or products that claim to treat or cure “leaky gut syndrome” or correct an imbalance of gut bacteria directly to consumers through mail order or online storefronts.
You should be wary of any product that makes such claims. There is no research in support of these claims and these products are not regulated. Doctors and medical organizations have issued warnings about the safety of products aimed at treating “leaky gut syndrome.”
Anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, and antibiotics have been explored as possible treatments for intestinal hyperpermeability, but there is no definitive way to treat or cure the condition.
wise, these methods have not been shown to address the broader concept of “leaky gut.” For example, in one small study, a drug called lubiprostone (which has been approved for the treatment of constipation) was shown to reduce the lactulose-mannitol ratio in participants' urine. However, it did not change their symptoms.
Research regarding “leaky gut syndrome” is scant and inconsistent. While alternative medicine practitioners often attribute a range of symptoms to the condition, it is not considered a clinical diagnosis by the medical community.
“Leaky gut” is sometimes used to explain increased intestinal permeability, a phenomenon that can exist in inflammatory bowel conditions or celiac disease.
However, this is not what is meant by “leaky gut syndrome,” which is a term mostly used in alternative and complementary medicine.
If you're having digestive symptoms, talk to your doctor. The symptoms attributed to a “leaky gut” can have many causes. Your doctor can do tests to rule these causes out and recommend ways to manage your symptoms, including dietary changes or medication.
9 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut – Amy Myers MD –
February 4th, 2020 • Reading time: 4 minutes
Print • Free eBook: 35 Gut Recovery Recipes
Seasonal allergies. Brain fog. Skin problems. Hormone imbalances. Digestive issues. Mood swings. Did you know the true source of all of these could be your gut?
That’s because the gut truly is the gateway to health. It’s where nearly 80% of your immune system lives. It’s also where up to 95% of your serotonin (the primary neurotransmitter responsible for your mood) is produced. If your gut is healthy, chances are that you are in good health.
However, there’s a condition called leaky gut that can lead to a whole host of health problems and set you on the path to chronic illness. The symptoms caused by leaky gut go far beyond digestive issues. And thanks to our modern environment, leaky gut is much more common than you’d think. In fact, millions of people are struggling with leaky gut without even knowing it!
You can also view my video on the topic below:
What is Leaky Gut?
Think of your gut as a drawbridge. Your gut is naturally semi-permeable to let teeny-tiny boats (micronutrients) pass through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream. It’s how you absorb your food. Certain external factors, including food, infections, toxins, and stress, can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal wall, leaving the drawbridge open.
Once this happens, you have a leaky gut. When your gut is leaky, much larger boats that were never meant to get through (toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles) can escape into your bloodstream. Your immune system marks these “foreign invaders” as pathogens and attacks them.
The immune response to these invaders can appear in the form of any of the nine signs you have a leaky gut, which are listed below. Find out if you have a leaky gut with this free quiz!
9 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food allergies or food intolerances
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, ADD, or ADHD
- Mood imbalances such as depression and anxiety
- Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Hormonal imbalances such as irregular periods, PMS, or PCOS
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
What Causes Leaky Gut?
The foods we eat are among the main culprits. In fact, gluten is the number one cause of leaky gut. Gluten causes the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal lining. Other inflammatory foods (such as dairy) or toxic foods (such as sugar and alcohol) are causes as well.
Infections, toxins, and stress are the other three important factors. The most common infectious causes are candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Toxins come in the form of medications including NSAIDS (Motrin and Advil), steroids, antibiotics, and acid-reducing drugs. Environmental toxins including mercury, pesticides, and BPA from plastics are also causal agents.
Finally, Stress can also contribute to a leaky gut.
The Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Connection
When your gut remains leaky, more and more particles are able to escape into your bloodstream. Your immune system reacts by sending out wave after wave of inflammation to attack the foreign invaders.
This state of high alert causes your immune system to become overstressed and fire less accurately. This can lead to your own tissues to get caught in the crosshairs.
Eventually, this will develop into full-blown autoimmunity if your gut is not repaired.
In addition, your immune system starts making antibodies against the substances that have escaped into your bloodstream. Many of these foreign invaders—gluten and dairy in particular—look very similar to your own body’s cells.
Under constant pressure, your immune system can get confused and accidentally attack your tissues. This process of mistaken identity is called molecular mimicry. It’s another way that leaky gut can trigger autoimmune disease.
We know from the research of Dr. Alessio Fasano that leaky gut is a necessary precondition for developing an autoimmune disease. And, once you have an autoimmune disease, leaving your leaky gut untreated can cause your condition to progress. This places you at greater risk of developing another autoimmune disease.
How Do You Repair a Leaky Gut?
The very first place everyone should begin is by following the 4R approach:
- Remove. Remove all inflammatory foods that can damage your gut such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs. You’ll also need to ditch toxic foods including sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. You’ll also want to eliminate any gut infections you have, whether caused by Candida overgrowth, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), or parasites.
- Replace. Replace the bad with the good. Adding digestive enzymes to your regimen will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses.
- Reinoculate. Restore the beneficial bacteria in your gut with high-quality, high-potency probiotics to re-establish a healthy microbiome. I recommend 100 billion CFUs (colony forming units) while dealing with a leaky gut. Transition to 30 billion CFUs as a maintenance dose.
- Repair. Provide your gut with the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself. My most comprehensive weapon against leaky gut is Leaky Gut Revive® powder. It contains the powerful, gut-repairing ingredients
L-glutamine, aloe, licorice, arabinogalactan, slippery elm, and marshmallow root. With these ingredients, Leaky Gut Revive® nourishes and soothes your gut cells, restores your gut’s natural mucosal lining, and maximizes gut-mending fatty acid production. Another one of my favorite supplements is collagen which is rich in amino acids that quite literally, “seal the leaks” or perforations in your gut by repairing damaged cells and building new tissue.
Repairing your gut is the first step in restoring your health. By overcoming leaky gut, you can reverse your symptoms, reduce your risk for a number of chronic illnesses, and start living your best life!