You may have heard the term “leaky gut” and wondered what it means. Often referred to as increased intestinal permeability, Leaky Gut syndrome occurs when a part of the digestive tract gets damaged. When proteins like gluten, bad bacteria and undigested food particles that normally can’t pass into the blood do, it can cause an immune reaction.
If you experience frequent bloating, indigestion, alternating constipation and diarrhea, fatigue, headaches or migraines or weight gain you may have a leaky gut.
One of the functions of the intestines is to digest food, break it down into component parts and then absorb nutrients, while keeping out infectious organisms.
In a healthy gut, digested food is absorbed through the cell wall and a certain amount of “leakiness” facilitates proper function. However, when the gut becomes “leaky,” the pathway between the cells is opened up, allowing larger, undigested food particles or unfriendly organisms like yeast and parasites to pass through. If your body is exposed to these invaders, you can develop immune reactions to them.
It is important to know if leaky gut is the cause of your digestive issues because a leaky can result in food allergies or sensitivities or malnutrition, digestive ecosystem imbalance, systemic (autoimmune) diseases and toxin overload.
The largest presence of the immune system exists along the intestines, with immune cells patrolling the entire length of the intestines looking for “non-self” invaders. When on alert, the immune system response is triggered and antibodies are formed to attack the invaders.
Many conditions can lead to the development of a leaky gut:
- Poor dietary choices
- Systemic inflammatory diseases
- Low stomach acid (can be caused by overuse of antacids)
- Toxin exposure (including environmental)
- NSAIDs – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, Celebrex and Motrin
- Antibiotics, which disrupt normal gut flora
Leaky gut syndrome can be an aspect of other diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. Research has clearly shown that IBS is related to the body’s immune reactions to regularly consumed foods.
Leaky gut syndrome is also associated with migraines, food intolerance and autoimmune diseases such as, Type 1 Diabetes, Celiac disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Chronic fatigue syndrome
Treatment for a leaky gut depends on finding the underlying cause.
Common causes and treatments:
- Dysbiosis, a microbial imbalance – treatment may include antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials.
- Low stomach acid, which can lead to Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), which can be corrected through supplements
- Exposure to toxins or antibiotics, which must be reduced
- Exposure to inciting foods – Testing for food sensitivities through IgG4 testing will reveal what foods need to be avoided
- Deficient digestive enzymes, which must be replaced
- Poor microbiota of the gut, which can be counteracted with probiotics and prebiotics
- Poor digestion, which may be improved through relaxation techniques
- Eating on the run, countered by slowing down and focusing on eating
Steps needed to repair the leaky gut include:
- Elimination diet: remove the most common food allergens (gluten and dairy)
- Probiotics (supplements and cultured foods)
- Vitamin D and Vitamin A
- Omega-3 fatty acids (flax, chia, and hemp seeds)
- L-glutamine (a very important nutrient for the intestinal cells)
If you have any of the above conditions, you should seek the help of a healthcare provider trained in Functional Medicine to help you heal. You can find one here.
Vincent Pedre, M.D. is an integrative, Holistic General Practitioner and Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City. Follow Dr. Pedre on Facebook and Twitter.
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 Humbert, P.; Bidet, A.; Treffel, P.; Drobacheff, C.; Agache, P. (1991). “Intestinal permeability in patients with psoriasis”. Journal of dermatological science 2 (4): 324–326.
 Maes M, Leunis JC (2008) ‘Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria’, Journal of Neuro Endocrinology,29(6), pp. 902-10.