We’re Spilling our Guts on the Leaky Gut Syndrome

by Sara Emslie
Rashida Ghauri, MD, ABIHM
Baber Ghauri, MD, ABIHM

The number of food allergies and sensitivities has been on the rise in recent years. Everywhere products are advertised as “Soy Free”, “Nut Free”, “Dairy Free”, “Gluten Free”, and the list goes on and on. While some of these allergies are related to inappropriate immune responses or recognized conditions like Celiac or Crohn’s disease, some have a more under-recognized pathophysiology known as Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS).

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

 The human intestinal wall showing the impact of LGS on health.

Leaky Gut Syndrome has to do with the cells in your small intestine. The job of this tissue is to selectively absorb food particles that are of an appropriate size and nutritional value for circulation in your bloodstream. These particles are absorbed through spaces called tight junctions which are lined with immune cells designed to deal with substances that shouldn’t make it into your body. In individuals with LGS, these tight junctions are not as “tight” as they are supposed to be causing larger food particles to sneak through into the bloodstream. While these particles are innocuous enough on their own, they are seen as invaders by your immune system, which will then launch an assault on them. This causes the hallmark inflammation in your tissues causing the wide array of symptoms ranging from headaches and fatigue, to skin rashes, gas, bloating, and nutritional deficiencies.

Pathophysiology of Leaky Gut Syndrome

So now that you know the basics, you should also know that there isn’t one cut and dry explanation for why people get LGS. Research has shown that upregulation of certain genes in the gut can produce proteins that increase the permeability of these cells, causing the gaps in the tight junctions that can allow foreign particles into the bloodstream. This increase in protein production can be caused by a variety of factors, influenced by an individual’s diet, gut microbiome, lifestyle, and family history among others.

Microbial Neighbors

We’re taught from a young age that bacteria are bad. However, bacteria are a necessary part of human (and animal) life. Every surface in our body is covered with different species of commensal bacteria and they can outnumber our cells by about 10 to 1.  All the bacteria of a certain area together are called the microbiome and perhaps one of the most important microbiomes is in our gut. Not only do these microbes help us break down our food, produce necessary vitamins, and prevent other pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence, there is also evidence that they can help turn genes in our body on and off. Some of these genes activate metabolic pathways that can predispose an individual to be obese or healthy weight, diabetic or non-diabetic, and among many other factors, they can also influence whether an individual will develop leaky gut. Since diet, lifestyle, and any antibiotics or medications an individual may be on can greatly influence their gut microbiome populations, you can see how quickly changes to these factors can snowball into more helpful or harmful gut microbes.

I don’t want it- what’s up Doc?

Probably the most important way to prevent leaky gut is through a proper diet. Taking common-sense measures like avoiding processed sugars, dyes, and preservatives and trying to incorporate more fiber, fruits, and vegetables into your diet can help promote the growth of a healthy gut microbiome and keep your tight junctions closed. Avoiding meat that is processed or injected with hormones and antibiotics can also prevent irritation of the lining of the intestine that creates ideal circumstances for LGS to progress. Glutamine has also been shown to help promote good gut health, but always be careful when incorporating new supplements into your diet.  Increasingly, there are options for intravenous (IV) infusion of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements that can help fortify the various microbiomes of your body.

Leaky Gut, Autoimmune Disease, and Common Pain

Leaky Gut can be a major contributing factor in many autoimmune conditions. For individuals who have these conditions and are struggling to keep their symptoms under control using pharmaceuticals, those who are just having gastrointestinal symptoms, or even just those who want to prevent future problems, careful monitoring of diet, and how different food types make your body respond can make a huge difference in managing and even eventually reversing leaky gut. Most people look to corticosteroids to treat and manage autoimmune diseases, but what if we’ve been looking in the wrong place for the perpatrators of the inappropriate immune response all this time? What if instead of coming from the air, or the joints, or the tissues, it is coming from silent invaders through a leaky gut? And what if these disorders could be not only controlled but reversed? While each individual’s case will be different, more and more evidence is beginning to point to leaky gut as a trigger for autoimmune diseases, and just being aware of this fact is key in the prevention and management of these conditions.  Talk to your doctor about LGS.

Summary

Leaky Gut Syndrome is an under-recognized condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can cause a wide-range of symptoms including “stomach” pain, discomfort, skin rashes, headache, and even arthritis.  The pathophysiology is very interesting and only now being studied and treated by the conventional medical community.  If you believe you may be suffering from this condition, eliminate your consumption of meat, dairy, gluten, and processed foods as a trial and/or check in with your doctor to be tested.  The good news is that no one has to suffer from Leaky Gut Syndrome as it can be cured with proper nutrition.

References

  1. Drake, Daniela. “New Research Shows Poorly Understood “Leaky Gut Syndrome” Is Real, May Be the Cause of Several Diseases.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 27 Mar. 2014. Web.
  2. Elkaim, Yuri. “Leaky Gut: What It Is and How to Heal It.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 6 Mar. 2014. Web.
  3. Galland, Leo. “Leaky Gut Syndromes: Breaking the Vicious Cycle.” Foundation for Integrated Medicine. Foundation for Integrated Medicine, n.d. Web.
  4. Michielan, Andrea, and Renata D’Incà. “Intestinal Permeability in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Pathogenesis, Clinical Evaluation, and Therapy of Leaky Gut.” Mediators of Inflammation. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 25 Oct. 2015. Web.
  5. Mullin, Gerry. “Glutamine Helps You Lose Weight.” The Food MD. Dr. Gerry Mullin, 27 May 2015. Web.
  6. Reasoner, Jordan. “Leaky Gut Syndrome in Plain English – and How to Fix It.”SCD Lifestyle RSS. SCD Lifestyle, 11 May 2016. Web.

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