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What is a Leaky Gut Syndrome ?

Leaky gut is actually strictly not a single disease or syndrome; it’s a pathological condition that occurs as part of many different diseases and syndromes. The term refers to an abnormal increase in the permeability of the small intestine. Increased intestinal permeability is a component of many different disorders.

The small intestine is the largest organ in your body. Two-thirds of your immune system is within it. The small intestine continuously activates itself by sampling the molecules that pass through the intestinal lining. [Ref]

Cells linked together by tight junctions form our intestinal barrier. These junctions control what passes through into the bloodstream. The small intestine absorbs vitamins and nutrients through these junctions. Generally they remain tight enough to prevent the passage of any harmful compounds. 

The healthy intestinal mucosa ordinarily allows only small molecules – amino acids, simple sugars, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals –to cross the gut barrier into the blood stream. The surfaces of intestinal cells have specialised carrier proteins that allow these specific nutrients through, but keep larger molecules within the gut.

Poor eating habit or a lack of exercise as well as some types of medication cause imbalance in our digestive tract. There are also some genetic contributors to an imbalanced digestive tract. Imbalance leads to increased gut inflammation and gut permeability. This permability is also called “leaky gut.” A leaky gut refers to bacterial antigens and unwanted proteins permeating the intestinal wall, leaking into the bloodstream.

cross sectional diagram of leaky gut

What are the symptoms of a leaky gut?

One of the problems with diagnosing leaky gut is that it is associated with many possible symptoms. The most common of which include

  • Chronic abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Problems sleeping at night
  • Feeling bloated
  • Heartburn
  • Pain in some muscle joints
  • Chronic depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Skin problems
  • Feeling hungry a lot
  • Muscle cramps
  • Low tolerance for exercise
  • Malnutrition
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fevers for no obvious reason
  • Hemorrhoids or anal irritation
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Allergic reactions to foodFrequent bladder infections
  • Memory problems or mental fogginess
  • Swollen lymph glands

Associated Conditions

What’s more leaky gut is often associated with 1 or more of the following health conditions:

  • Gastric ulcers
  • Infectious diarrhoea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis)
  •  SIBO
  • Celiac disease
  • Esophageal and colorectal cancer
  • Allergies
  • Respiratory infections
  • Acute inflammation such as sepsis or SIRS
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Obesity-related metabolic diseases  like type II diabetes
  • Autoimmune disease  like lupus, multiple sclerosis or type I diabetes,
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Propensity towards weight gain or obesity
People suffering from coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, may develop leaky gut syndrome, and certainly experience similar symptoms.
world cloud focused on leaky gut

What Causes a Leaky Gut ?

A diet high in inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, and processed foods can damage the barrier. 

Fermentation of certain dietary components (proteins, refined carbohydrates) leads to potentially harmful end-products: ammonia, amines, phenols, sulfides, leading to dysbiosis. These compounds also reduce the lifespan of mucosal cells. Food additives, alcohol and caffeine also irritate the gut wall.

As a result these joints can become compromised. So tiny particles (bacteria, undigested food and toxins) can leak into the bloodstream.

Chronic stress and food intolerances or allergies can also trigger inflammation and compromise joints and cause leaking. The presence of these substances in the blood can trigger an inflammatory reaction.

Other factors can include infections like yeast/fungal overgrowths. However parasitic and bacterial infections are problematic too. Some medication like antibiotics, aspirin, contraceptives and steroids are also causes of leaky gut syndrome.

Consequent health problems range from migraines to irritable bowel syndrome. But malnutrition, weakened immunity, hormone imbalances, and other serious health conditions can occur.


What tests are there for a leaky gut?

Several leaky gut tests are available that can help confirm a diagnosis and point you in the right treatment direction. Tests are helpful for identifying specific sensitivities and uncovering which types of toxins or deficiencies are contributing to your symptoms The standard test for a leaky gut is the mannitol and lactulose test. These are both water-soluble molecules that the body can’t use. Mannitol is easily absorbed by healthy intestinal linings. But lactulose is a larger molecule and is only slightly absorbed.

For the test you drink a solution containing both mannitol and lactulose. Urine is then collected for the next six hours. The amount of each present in the urine reflects how much was absorbed by the body. So a healthy test shows high levels of mannitol and low levels of lactulose. If high levels of both molecules are found, it indicates a leaky gut condition. If low levels of both molecules are found, it indicates an absorption problem with all nutrients.

Also fundamental is an IgG Food Intolerance Test. We also use the Cyrex Array 2 Intestinal permeability profile and the PEG400 Gut permeability profile offered by Biolab.

data table of intestinal permeability profile
line graph of gut permeability test results


Diagnosing leaky gut syndrome. 

There is no proven causal relationship between these co-occuring diseases and leaky gut syndrome. But there is a body of thought that leaky gut syndrome is the underlying cause of most modern health problems. Many studies have shown that increased intestinal permeability is present in several chronic diseases, specifically autoimmune disorders. [Ref]

Others argue that increased intestinal permeability is a symptom of chronic disease, not an underlying cause. But growing evidence supports the theory that leaky gut is involved in the development of disease. In fact leaky gut syndrome is not yet a medically recognised condition. The medical world see it not as a diagnosis but as a process. It is seen as a description of the underlying pathology of numerous diseases that are treatable but which have failed to find a cure has still to be found.

Treating a leaky gut.

Once a diagnosis of intestinal leakiness is madem we follow a 3 stage approach to resolving a leaky gut:

Stage 1: Cut-out inflammatory foods. An anti-inflammatory diet means eliminating foods that can damage your gut such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs. But they also include sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.

At its core this type of diet requires radically reducing your intake of saturated fat and most vegetable oils. Extra virgin olive oil is the best substitute. Also you need to have at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and at least 4 servings of fish per week.

Stage 2: Eliminate any gut infections. Candida overgrowth, SIBO or internal parasites need to be identified and treated. A stool test(s) will enable us to identify specific gut infections that need to be dealt with.

Stage 3: Repair. Adding digestive enzymes to your programme helps to support optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients. They also help to repair your body’s intestinal inflammation responses. Also high-quality, potency probiotics help to re-establish a healthy microbiome.

By following these steps we can provide your gut with the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself. But this is a thorough and systematic process that requires careful adherence to our programme.

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