Have you heard of Leaky Gut Syndrome? It’s also known as Leaky Bowel Syndrome or “increased intestinal permeability,” and it’s a hot topic among health practitioners. Perhaps you’ve read an article online, seen a friend’s post on social media or overhead a conversation in the grocery store. There are many places you may have heard about Leaky Gut, but there is one place where it’s not often discussed: your doctor’s office. This is because it can be difficult to diagnose, there is no definitive course of treatment, and it has a lot of different causes. But perceptions are changing, and that’s good because it may be the medical revelation of the 21st century.
What Is Leaky Gut?
Before we circle back to your doctor’s office, let’s start with a definition of Leaky Gut. The small intestine is semi-permeable, meaning it allows some very small particles — nutrients, for example — to exit into the bloodstream while blocking most everything else. Leaky Gut is essentially what is sounds like: a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, allowing larger particles including waste products, bacteria and undigested food particles into the bloodstream. Your body recognizes that these particles do not belong and launches an attack. As your gut continues to leach foreign bodies into your bloodstream, your body triggers its autoimmune response. This often causes inflammation and allergic reactions.
How Is Leaky Gut Diagnosed?
Often Leaky Gut is a something of a placeholder diagnosis that might be given when no other diagnosis can be made. It can be frustrating for patients when other tests fail to uncover a definite answer, and because so little is known about Leaky Gut Syndrome, medical doctors are often reluctant to consider it as an underlying, treatable cause. This is why it is important to recognize some of the major symptoms. Patients will often have to be their own strongest advocates when it comes to care.
Symptoms may include:
- Headaches or memory loss
- Diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
- Sluggish immune system
- Chronic fatigue
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Skin problems, including rashes, acne or eczema
It is also possible that other diagnoses are linked to Leaky Gut, including:
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Type 1 diabetes
Although no test can affirm with 100% certainty that you have Leaky Gut, it can be clinically diagnosed through an Intestinal Permeability Test that measures how well two non-metabolized sugar molecules get through the digestive lining. It’s important to remember, however, that just as there is no 100% definitive test, there is also no 100% definitive treatment.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
As a relatively new topic of discussion among health practitioners, there are no definitive causes of Leaky Gut. In fact, we often face a “chicken egg” conundrum with Leaky Gut. Is it caused by food intolerances or are we intolerant of certain foods because of Leaky Gut? People with Celiac or Crohn’s disease have leaky guts, but is it caused by the disease or did it cause the disease?
Many health professionals believe there are several likely culprits, starting with diet. This isn’t surprising when you consider that we’re talking about our guts, whose main function is to process the foods we eat for energy and nutrients. Other causes may be antibiotics — known to upset the balance of gut flora — steroids or other medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers.
Some also believe stress plays a big role in Leaky Gut as it can weaken the immune system. Excessive alcohol consumption, parasitic infections and radiation may also play a part. In other words, all the trappings of the modern lifestyle — poor diet, high stress, overmedication and alcohol — are the very things that may lead to Leaky Gut.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have Leaky Gut?
The most important action you can take if you think you might have Leaky Gut is to speak with a health professional whom you trust and who will listen to your concerns. This may be a general practitioner, a gastroenterologist or someone who specializes in alternative medicine. Although there is no guaranteed course of treatment, many believe there are steps you can take to either repair your gut or minimize the effects. Most believe that an anti-inflammatory diet with possible L-Glutamine supplements can have a positive effect with very little downside. However, it is important to discuss this carefully with a trusted health professional so that a personalized plan can be created to address your particular needs.
In our next blog post, we’ll further discuss the diagnosis and treatments of Leaky Gut.