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Leaky Gut Syndrome
What is it?
When we eat, food passes through the stomach into the small
intestine.It is here that nutrient
absorption occurs through the semi-permeable mucous lining of the bowel
wall.This membrane also shields the
bloodstream from unwanted toxins, pathogens and undigested food.In this respect, the gut lining is a vital
part of the body’s immune system because it limits the volume of potential
invaders.Leaky gut syndrome is a
condition that develops when the mucous lining of the small intestine becomes
too porous, allowing entry of toxins, microorganisms and food particles, as
well as pathogens, into the bloodstream.The function of the mucous lining of the small intestine can be compared
to that of a window screen, which lets air in but keeps bugs out.It is also like the skin, in that it sloughs
off a layer of cells naturally every 3-5 days and produces new cells to keep
the lining semi-permeable.
What causes it?
When digestion is impaired by
such factors as stress, processed food consumption, inadequate chewing,
excessive fluid intake with meals, improper food combining and overeating, it
can lead to an excessively permeable (leaky) gut.Here’s why: When bacteria present in the
intestine act upon undigested food particles, toxic chemicals and gasses are
produced. These intestinal toxins, known as endotoxins, can damage the mucosal
lining, resulting in increased intestinal permeability.As a result of repeated attacks by these
toxins, the gut lining erodes over time.This is the basic mechanism by which leaky gut comes into being.It can also be caused or aggravated by a
number of other factors, including:
·Alcohol (gut irritant)
·Caffeine (gut irritant)
·Parasites (introduced into the
body by contaminated food and water)
·Bacteria (introduced into the body
by contaminated food and water)
·Enzyme deficiencies (as found in
celiac disease and lactose intolerance)
·Diet of refined carbohydrates
·Prescriptive hormones (like birth
·Mold and fungal mycotoxins (in
stored grains, fruit and refined carbohydrates)
·Free radicals (damage chemical
compounds present with toxicity)
·Heightened exposure to
·Dental toxins (from restorative materials
and invasive procedures)
Perhaps the greatest contributors
to leaky gut are the drugs listed below:
anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin and Motrin)
·Steroids (includes prescription
conticosteroids such as predisone and hydorocortisone)
·Antibiotics (which lead to
overgrowth of bad bacterin the GI tract)
According to respected author and
holistic healer, Elizabeth Lipski, MS, CNN, “NSAIDS can cause irritation and
inflammation of the intestional tract, leading to colitis and relapse of
ulcerative colitis… (They) can cause bleeding and ulceration of the large
intestine and may contribute to complications of diverticular disease.” 1
Prolonged use of NSAIDS blocks the body’s natural ability to repair the
intestinal lining. Once endotoxins have
eroded this membrane, it becomes permeable, rather than semi-permeable. (The “screen” on your “window” gets holes in
it). Now the toxins, pathogens and food
particles, which would normally not be permitted to enter the system, literally
leak into the bloodstream. The body then
becomes confused and attacks these unwanted toxins, developing antibodies to
fight them, as if they were foreign substances.
Who Gets it?
People of any age can have leaky
gut syndrome. Those who regularly take
any of the drugs listed above would very likely suffer from the syndrome,
whether they’ve been diagnosed with it or not.
People with digestive problems
(with or without symptoms) will probably have an underlying leaky gut
condition, as will people who routinely use large amounts of alcohol and
caffeine and those who eat a diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and
chemical food additives, which is, unfortunately, the standard American diet.
Anyone who has had significant
toxic exposure may develop increased intestinal permeability – leaky gut. Gut-damaging toxins may come from pathogens,
such as bacteria, parasites and fungi, or from chemicals and heavy metals in
the environment (or in the mouth in the form of dental restorations).
Folks who have autoimmune
diseases such as those listed below most likely have an underlying gut
permeability problem, as well.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms?
The net result of the leaky gut
is development of autoimmune disease, where the body attacks its own
tissues. There are some 80 recognized
autoimmune diseases. These include:
Physicians are becoming
increasingly aware of the importance of the GI tract in the development of
autoimmune diseases, including allergies.
In fact, researchers now estimate that more than two-thirds of all
immune activity occurs in the gut.2
Allergies can develop when the body produces antibodies to the
undigested proteins derived from previously harmless foods. These antibodies can get into any tissue and
trigger an inflammatory reaction when that food is eaten. According to Zoltan P. Rona, MD:
If this inflammation occurs in a joint, autoimmune arthritis
(rheumatoid arthritis) develops. If it
occurs in the brain, myalgic encephalomyelitis (a.k.a. chronic fatigue syndrome)
may be the result. If it occurs in the
blood vessels, vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) is the resulting
autoimmune problem. If the antibodies
end up attacking the lining of the gut itself, the result may be colitis or
Crohn’s disease. If it occurs in the
lungs, asthma is triggered on a delayed basis every time the individual
consumes the food that triggered the production of the antibodies in the first
Other disorders that are associated with leaky gut
include eczema, psoriasis, pancreatic insufficiency, candidiasis and multiple
chemical sensitivities. Leaky gut can
aggravate existing conditions as well, for it can give rise to such symptoms as
fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, fever, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, skin rashes,
a toxic feeling, memory deficit and shortness of breath, among others. 4
Leaky gut syndrome can also cause
malabsorption and thus deficiencies of many important nutrients – vitamins,
minerals and amino acids – due to inflammation and the presence of potent
toxins. This malabsorption can also
cause gas, bloating and cramps. It can
eventually lead to such complaints as fatigue, headaches, memory loss, poor
concentration and irritability. The set
of symptoms known collectively as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – bloating and
gas after eating and alternating constipation and diarrhea – has also been
linked to leaky gut syndrome, as has the
more serious inflammatory bowel disease.
Leaky gut has been associated
with such cognitive dysfunctions as autism in children. It has been found that some autistic children
seem to react to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine with inflammation
the gut lining.5 It is this
inflammation that causes the gut to leak, allowing proteins such as gluten
(from most grains) and casein (from milk) to enter the bloodstream, causing an
allergic reaction to foods containing those proteins.
Once toxins enter the bloodstream
through the leaky gut, their first stop is the liver. When the liver is called upon to work overtime,
due to toxic overload, toxins either re-circulate or are deposited in the
liver. When they re-circulate to the
intestines, they further irritate the lining, increasing its permeability. The reciuculation of toxins is medically
known as entero-hepatic recirculation:
toxins go from liver to bile to intestines to the bloodstream and then
back to the liver to start over. The
food allergies that result from leaky gut create inflammation, which causes the
gut to leak even more. So, once leaky
gut develops, it tends to become progressively worse if measures aren’t taken
to correct it.
How is it Diagnosed?
The intestinal permeability
assessment, which measure levels of mannitol and lactulose (two non-metabolized
sugars) is described in the appendix.
What is the Standard Medical Treatment?
Since leaky gut syndrome is not
an accepted medical diagnosis, there really is no standard medical
treatment. This conventional medical
doctor will focus upon treating conditions that arise from leaky gut syndrome –
and that treatment will likely be through use of drugs and/or surgery. Those nutritionally oriented physicians
familiar with leaky gut will take a different approach, described, at least in
part, in the “Optional Nutritional Approaches” section.
Optional Nutritional Approaches
Reducing toxic exposure is of
prime importance in preventing and reversing leaky gut syndrome. Some toxins (called exotoxins) enter the body
from the outside as the result of exposure to a polluted environment; other
(endotoxins) are generated internally.
These endotoxins can arise from poor digestion, which allows for adverse
bacterial transformation of the undigested food. Digestion can be improved by thorough
chewing, avoiding fluid intake with meals, combining foods properly (eat fruit
alone, and don’t mix protein foods with starchy carbohydrates), reducing
stress, eliminating processed foods and eating moderate protions. Maintiaining good elimnination is also very
important. Partially digested food
staying in contact with the gut lining and bacteria for long periods of time
will exacerbate the problem. Increased exposure will increase the likelihood of
creating and delivering immune-reactive substances through the intestinal
lining. These immune-reactive substances
will be acted upon by the immune tissue in the gut and then sent to the liver
for even more immune and detoxification responses that can be harmful.
Leaky gut is associated with a
long and growing number of disorders, as stated. It is also the underlying issue in most of
the conditions discussed in this section.
The following protocols are already listed in most of the conditions in
this book. If you have been diagnosed
with one of those conditions, then follow that protocol; if not, and you think
you have a leaky gut condition, follow the guidelines below:
Test for Leaky Gut
Intestinal Permeability Assessment
Follow the Candida Diet in
Chapter 4 (candidiasis) for one month.
Then follow the digestive Care Diet in the appendix.
A plant enzyme blend. This supplement should include protease (at
lease 20,000 H.U.T.), amylase and lipase, as well as papaya and bromelain. Other ingredients in this formula might
include soothing herbs like marshmallow and slippery elm. Additionally, a good digestive enzyme formula
would contain glutamine (an amino acid) and N-acetyl-glucosamine, which helps
soothe an irritated mucosal lining.
Take HCI/pepsin supplements before
meals if stomach acid levels are low.
Start with one capsule, and increase by one capsule daily with meals
until symptoms are gone. (if you feela
burning sensation, back off to previous dose.)
the supplement may contain other soothing ingredients like quercitin,
bromelain, gamma oryzanol, L-glutamine and N-acetryl-glucosamine
Select one of the two enzyme
formulas described above to take with meals.
Take a probiotic (good bacteria)
supplement with multiple strains as a daily supplement. It should contain a minimum of two to six
billion cultures. A prebiotic could be
Take EFAs (essential fatty acids)
to lubricate the digestive tract. A
combination of fish and flax (Omega-3) with borage oil (Omega-6) is good to
reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Absorption of the oils may be enhanced with
the addition of lipase (a fat-digesting enzyme). Take three to six 1000 mg. capsules twice
daily with food. Add extra fish oil
capsules, three twice a day.
Take 10,000 mg. of L-glutamine
powder with N-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG) and gamma oryzanol once daily on an
Take antioxidant supplements
(vitamin C – 500 mg. to 3,000 mg.; Vitamin A – 5,000 I.U. daily; Vitamin E –
400 I.U. to 800 I.U.; zinc – 30 mg. to 60 mg. daily) after meals. Other antioxidants may also be taken with these.
Take a fiber supplement that
provides a balance of both soluble and insoluble fibers. A flax/borage seed combination is a good
choice, particularly one that contains other beneficial ingredients such as a
probiotic blend with fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and herbs like slippery elm
bark, marchmallow and fennel seed. Another
key ingredient would be L-glutamine, which is the intestine uses as fuel to
regenerate. This fiber supplement may be
added to juices and taken any time of day.
When beginning to add dietary fiber to the diet, remember to go slowly,
as this can cause some gas if added too quickly.
Please Note: If you have Candida
and parasites, the supplements can be taken simultaneously. For example, you may follow the anti-fungal,
anti-parasitic and leaky gut protocols at the same time.
Avoid or minimize the use of
NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) and antibiotics
Avoid use of antacids
Reduce toxic exposure to
chemicals. Clean up your environment,
and eat organic food as much as possible.
Complementary Mind/Body Therapies
hydrotherapy / Colonic Irrigation / Colonic
Dr. Smith’s Comments
permeability, whether it be intermittent or chronic, may be a major
contributing factor to most disease. It
has been well established that there are at least four factors that can lead to
increased permeability: 1) food allergies, 2) malnutrition, 3) dysbiosis
(abnormal immune response to flora of low virulence or even normal flora); 4)
hepatic stress. (Please go to www.mdheal.org by Leo Galland, MD, for further
details). Maintaining a well nourished
intestinal lining and overlying mucus, with beneficial bacteria from birth
throughout life, is of paramount importance in controlling intestinal
permeability. There is an excellent
review article in the American Journal of clinical Nutrition, October
2003, pages 675-683. This is a hallmark
description of how mucus is made by the intestinal lining, how it is the gel
layer of the mucus that allows for bacterial adhesion, how there is cross-talk
between the bacteria and intestinal lining and how these vibratory signal profoundly
affect what type of system. Suffice it
to say that a balance of soluble and beneficial bacteria, digestive enzymes and
supplements for building and maintaining the gut lining would b a very wise
dietary choice for everyone to make on a regular basis.
Lipski, MS, CCN, Digestive Wellness,
Keats Publishing, Inc. 1996, p. 78
2 Wendy Marson, “Gut
Reactions”, Newsweek, November 17, 1997, p. 95-99