What exactly is “Leaky Gut Syndrome?”

 In Digestive System, Immune System

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that 60 to 70 million people in this country suffer from a digestive problem. It wasn’t until recently that medical science began to understand how the mechanisms of the gut could impact chronic illness. It’s a that was concept often rejected by modern researchers in part because it isn’t something they couldn’t visualize.

It turns out ancient practitioners like Hippocrates had a good understanding of the gut functioning, and its importance to health. Hippocrates once said that the gut was the place where all disease began.  In modern times, the concept of “Leaky Gut Syndrome,” also known by its medical description, “Increased Intestinal Permeability,” is getting more attention by mainstream medical journals.

Understanding Leaky Gut

To understand a leaky gut, you need a little anatomy lesson. The gastrointestinal tract, what people refer to as the gut, consists of everything from the mouth to the anus including the stomach, small and large intestines.

It’s the lower portion of the intestinal tract that is responsible for absorbing the products of digestion specifically:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Lipids

These are the essential macronutrients the body needs to survive.

Lining the digestive tract is a sheath made by the fusing of cell membranes. Within this sheath are protein molecules that keep the bacteria and digestive enzymes inside the intestines where they belong. It is known as a tight junction.

There are more than 4,000 square feet of intestinal lining, though. When all those junctions fit together nicely, you have a healthy and well-functioning gut. When they don’t, small leaks cause inflammation which may be at the heart of many chronic diseases. Doctors call this leaking intestinal hyperpermeability.

A gut lining that doesn’t function properly lets partially digested food, biotoxins, and bacteria into the bloodstream. This causes chronic inflammation that is a pivotal element in most kinds of disease.

Furthermore, physicians are beginning to understand the impact of other known chronic diseases, such inflammatory bowel disease, and how this can increase gut permeability.  The extent of this problem is just now coming to light.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

There is no single answer to this question. The way people eat is a contributing factor. Americans love to supersize their meals, and their food choices are far from healthy. Poor diet isn’t the only trigger for leaky gut, though:

  • Genetics – The risk of leaky gut runs higher in some people, although it is not clear why. It is possible that some people are prone to specific food sensitivities that affect the intestine.
  • Diet – The modern diet is an overwhelming factor in gut inflammation and the development of leaky gut. Food choices that are low in fiber and high in sugar and fats can be the trigger, especially when you factor in alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyles.
  • Increased stress – Chronic stress affects the body in many different ways including having a negative impact on gut health.
  • Environmental factors – The chemicals and drugs one comes in contact with on a daily basis is the most prevalent cause, including antibiotics, fluoride and NSAIDS.

What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut?

The symptoms will vary for each person, but some things you might expect to see include:

  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Gastrointestinal diseases such as IBS or ulcerative colitis
  • Autoimmune diseases like asthma or lupus
  • Thyroid issues
  • Poor nutrient absorption
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis
  • Mood disorders

Some studies even link a leaky gut to the current autism epidemic. There is no clear evidence yet of a direct connection between a leaky gut and specific diseases, but there is evidence that people with it tend to have one or more chronic medical problems.

What is the Treatment for Leaky Gut?

There is no traditional treatment, but there are steps you can take to heal the gut. The medical community does have a strategy identified by the acronym 5R’s that consists of:

  • Remove
  • Replace
  • Re-inoculate
  • Repair
  • Rebalance

The 5R approach is used to benefit many medical scenarios and might be useful for leaky gut. A 5R plan for leaky gut might include:

  1. The removal of things that can cause digestive problems like specific foods that cause sensitivities or allergic reactions. It might take a little trial and error to figure out what foods lead to a response, though.
  2. The replacements of things that help digestion such as digestive enzymes.
  3. A re-inoculation to improve diversity in the gut flora with probiotics, prebiotics and high fiber foods.
  4. Helping the lining of the GI tract repair itself with supplements that contain essential nutrients like antioxidants and amino acid glutamine.
  5. Making lifestyle choices that help rebalance the GI environment such as getting plenty of sleep, managing stress and exercising.

 

References:

niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/digestive-diseases

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/​pmc/articles/PMC1856434/

anatomyandphysiologyi.com/cell-junctions/

harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451

 

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