What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The term leaky gut syndrome, or leaky gut, refers to a condition in which the lining of the small intestine is more permeable than it should be and becomes subject to inflammation by various stressors. This increase in permeability allows entry of toxic material into the bloodstream that would normally be repelled and eliminated. The gut becomes “leaky” in the sense that microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites and the toxins that they produce, as well as undigested foods such as proteins, fat, and waste normally not absorbed into the bloodstream in the healthy state pass through a damaged, hyperpermeable, porous, or leaky gut. When these foreign substances enter the bloodstream, they act as stressors and the immune system goes into reaction mode and begins creating antibodies. Chronic overstimulation of the immune system leads to chronic inflammation and disease.
What Causes a Leaky Gut?
A leaky gut is caused by many factors including:
- Not being breast fed as an infant
- Pain medications
- Repeated courses of antibiotics
- Dysbiosis, fungal infections, yeast infections, Candida, and parasites
- Steroid medications
- Birth control pills
- Genetically modified foods
- Molds, yeast, and bacteria in foods
- Excessive intake of refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and food additives
- Lack of blood flow to the GI tract
The Leaky Gut – Autoimmune Connection
Although the damage may not be obvious at first and take many years to develop, the major health consequences of a leaky gut is the development of autoimmune diseases. As the incidence of leaky gut syndrome has increased, the incidence of autoimmune diseases has skyrocketed, and patients with leaky gut syndrome frequently have multiple autoimmune diseases. Yet leaky gut syndrome as a diagnosis remains overlooked. The current standard of care paradigm is to treat the symptoms of disease, not the cause of disease, but reversing this paradigm and healing leaky gut syndrome would prevent, reverse, or delay disease.
Leaky gut syndrome is directly associated with many autoimmune diseases, including
- alopecia areata
- Alzheimer’s disease
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- food allergies and sensitivities
- heart disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- inflammatory bowel disease
- multiple sclerosis
- polymyalgia rheumatic
- Raynaud’s disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
The connection between leaky gut syndrome and these autoimmune conditions is the antibodies created by the body in response to the toxic substances and undigested fats and proteins that leak into the bloodstream and attach themselves to various tissues throughout the body, create an immune response and antibody production, trigger the destruction of tissues and organs, and create inflammation. As toxicity increases, autoantibodies are created, and the destruction and inflammation become chronic. There is a tipping point at which the body cannot recover from chronic inflammation, and pathological diagnosis follows.
The specific type of autoimmune disease that develops depends on the predominant location of the inflammation. When inflammation occurs in a joint, rheumatoid arthritis can develop; in the thyroid, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, in the brain, chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis) may be the result; within the gums, periodontal disease can result; or in the lungs, asthma may be triggered. If the antibodies attack the lining of the gut itself, the result may be irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. If the bacteria that cause gingivitis enter the bloodstream and attack the arterial walls, causing inflammation and cholesterol deposition, heart disease and stroke may result.
Inflammation in the gut also damages the body’s ability to produce IgA, and without IgA, pathogens can escape into the bloodstream and infect any part of the body. This leads to an increase in infections, an over-stimulated immune system, and an abundance of pathogens affecting the liver, thereby creating detoxification impairments. Eventually, you can suffer from loss of concentration, impaired mental abilities, decreased energy, and skin infections and irritations, such as hives or acne, as the skin organ attempts to detoxify that which the liver is failing to provide.
Unless a leaky gut is healed, the body cannot begin to repair the damage caused by inflammation. As healing begins, the amount of toxins escaping into the bloodstream will decline, digestion and absorption will improve, the cells will have better access to the fuel that they need to for repair and replication, organ function will improve, and energy levels will rise.
It’s common to have food sensitivities to a variety of foods when you have a leaky gut, but it’s important to remember that most food sensitivities are not the cause of leaky gut, but rather they are a symptom of leaky gut. So while an elimination diet can be therapeutic for a period of time while the gut is being addressed, it is not normal nor necessary to have to be on a restrictive diet long term, except for the obvious offenders like gluten, and toxic foods like refined sugars and vegetable oils.
The therapies I use to treat leaky gut are likely much more comprehensive than most clinicians, and that is because I have seen many cases that were resistant to the standard 4 R program that most doctors use. I believe more complex cases often require a more thorough approach, especially addressing biofilm formation.
- Eliminate gut dysbiosis due to pathogenic bacteria, yeast, fungi, and parasites, including SIBO
- Address biofilms
- Ozone treatments to lower pathogens and increase healing time
- Eliminate food allergens/sensitivities using and elimination diet or food allergy testing
- Support liver detoxification
- Improve antioxidant status with IV glutathione, lipoic acid, and vitamin C, and reduce inflammation with nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and curcumin
- Support beneficial organisms with prebiotics and probiotics
- Heal the gut lining with nutrients like vitamins A and D, glutamine, curcumin, and colostrum