Leaky gut syndrome could be the reason so many people are so sick these days; but it is not something you’re doctor is likely to tell you about. It’s one of those new “fake diseases” that will take a while to become “real.” It may be one of the most important pieces of the IBS puzzle.
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Your intestinal tract is supposed to allow small, digested nutrients into your blood stream so your body can function. If your intestines (or bowels) let in bits of partially digested protein or other food chemicals or toxins through, it’s called having a leaky or leaking gut or “increased intestinal permeability” in science speak ;).
The Syndrome part is where leaky gut makes you sick in some strange and unexpected ways.
How does a leaky gut or “increased intestinal permeability” make you sick?
If bits of partially digested food make it through your leaking gut, and into your blood stream, your immune system will probably attack it. You shouldn’t have little bits of partly digested wheat proteins or dairy fats floating around in your blood, so your body’s excellent immune system takes over (called an immune response). KILL THE INVADERS! PROTECT THE BODY! Kind of like when you have a cold. This can leave you feeling sick and run down all the time.
Another factor is that some of the food bits your immune system is attacking are still in your bowels. This can cause irritation and inflammation of your bowels, which can cause IBS symptoms!
What are some leaky gut symptoms?
- Abdominal bloating
- Lots of gas and gas pains
- Belly cramps
- Chronic fatigue
- Food sensitivities (especially new ones)
- Swollen joints or joint pain
- Skin rashes
- Autoimmune responses (where the body attacks itself)
- Other symptoms no one has linked to leaky gut just yet
What causes leaky gut syndrome?
Okay, be careful. There are all kinds of wild claims out there about leaky gut syndrome causes. Here’s what I’ve found that seems to have decent research to back it up.
- Food sensitivity (celiac sprue, etc)
- Zonulin problems (more on that in a minute)
- Chronic inflammation (such as inflamatory bowel disease and possibly diverticulitis)
- Candida albicans yeast infections
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Excess use of over the counter pain medicines including ibuprofen, and naproxen (and other “nsaids”)
- Possibly other infections which cause the body to damage the intestine.
I don’t know if there is a direct connection here, but a lot of people develop IBS symptoms after a bout of the “stomach flu” otherwise known as gastroenteritis. I wonder if maybe there is some damage that happens to the lining the bowels caused by illnesses like this.
Zonulin and leaky gut syndrome:
Zonulin is like a gatekeeper for your bowels. It decides how much space there is between the cells of your bowel lining, which means zonulin decides what size food molecules can pass through. A 2006 study showed that the bowels (aka intestines, aka guts) of some people react to gluten by making too much zonulin. This makes the gut more “permeable” which allows more and larger molecules to pass through!
Voila! Leaky gut.
This may be why some people seem sensitive to wheat and other gluten containing grains! After the zonulin allows molecules into the body that don’t belong there, you can then become sensitive to all kinds of other foods.
Treatment for leaky gut syndrome:
Be careful, there’s a lot of fake products and solutions out there. The best information I’ve found so far, indicates that you can help leaky gut syndrom by:
- Cutting back on or eliminating alcohol
- Reducing or eliminating over the counter pain medicines (NSAIDS)
- Avoiding foods that you’re sensitive or allergic to
- Gradually increasing fiber until you’re on a high fiber diet
- Some doctors (Dr. Andrew Weil for instance) recommend taking a probiotic (healthy bacteria pills)
What about Candida Albicans and leaky gut syndrome?
Candida albicans, often referred to as just candida, is a yeast/fungus. It can take over the natural bacteria in your gut. This is known as a yeast overgrowth, a candida infection or a yeast infection in your bowels.
That can make you sick by itself, however under certain circumstances, this yeast can grow through the intestinal wall and cause leaking gut.
Finding a doctor to treat leaky gut syndrome:
Unfortunately it will probably be years before leaky gut is recognized by regular MD doctors. By all means talk to your regular doctor, but if that doesn’t work out, you may need to find a naturopathic doctor. These doctors seem to be more open minded on newly proposed diseases and treatements. Insurance often doesn’t cover naturopaths though. See finding and IBS doctor.
Remember not to self-diagnose. If it’s worth considering this as an illness, it’s worth seeing a doctor.
Check out the food intolerance page for more about foods that may be irritating your bowels.