Leaky gut syndrome, also known as, increased intestinal permeability syndrome, is a condition that has been associated with a variety of health problems, including irritable bowel syndrome. Although leaky gut syndrome is often considered a “quack” diagnosis by mainstream physicians it is becoming more accepted. Although over 10,000 research papers have been written talking about intestinal permeability or leaky gut, it remains a medical mystery.
The small intestinal mucosa or lining is a semi-permeable membrane that under normal circumstances should allow nutrients from our food to become absorbed into the bloodstream and while at the same time blocking the absorption of undigested food, bacteria, pathogenic microorganisms and toxins.
Think of this small intestinal lining as a cheesecloth. If you were to pulse some food in a blender and pour it through the cloth the liquid would pass through and the larger food chunks would remain on the other side. If you were to damage the integrity of the cheesecloth larger particles from the small intestine would seep into the bloodstream. This seepage of larger particles will activate the immune system causing downstream or systemic inflammatory reactions throughout the body.
The small intestinal lining or cheesecloth provides the largest interface between the outside world and our internal bodies. The small intestinal lining is the same size as the surface area of a tennis court.
The cheese cloth covers millions of fingerlike projections called villi and microvilli which increase the absorptive area in the small intestine. Think of a shag carpet with multiple folds. These villi act like an internal root system in much the same way the roots of a plant would absorb nutrients from the soil, the villi absorb our digested food or nutrients from the small intestine.
Underneath the root system resides 80% of your body’s immune defense or white blood cells. The small intestine is the largest immune organ in the body. These white blood cells act as border guards and begin attacking these undigested food particles, bacterial toxins and germs as they pass through the cheesecloth as if they were foreign invaders. As the fight ensues more collateral damage to the cheese cloth can occur as the war is being waged. This sets up a perpetual cycle of inflammation leading to more inflammation and damage.
Regulating gut permeability is one of the basic functions of the cells lining the intestinal wall. Under normal circumstances the adjoining cells form tight, impermeable junctions. These normally tight junctions will intermittently open allowing the passage of nutrients into the bloodstream. Think of a garage door opener which opens the garage door, you drive your car in and then you close the garage door.
With a leaky gut, the garage door remains open.
Factors which contribute to leaky gut include: certain foods such as gluten, dairy and GMO’s, infections, toxins and even stress may also lead to increased intestinal permeability.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
Digestive issues such as IBS with its associated abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and altered bowel movements. However, it’s important to note that about 30% of sufferers who have a leaky gut as the root cause of their problem will have no digestive symptoms.
Other symptoms include food allergies or sensitivities, hay-fever and asthma, autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis. Skin disorders such as acne, rosacea and eczema. Even mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and ADD.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome has been associated with leaky gut syndrome or increase intestinal permeability syndrome. Although the body of research is growing, there is still a lot to be learned about how increased intestinal permeability can cause a variety of other conditions in addition to the irritable bowel syndrome. As the body of knowledge grows hopefully leaky gut will no longer remain a mystery and will become more accepted by mainstream medicine as the root cause of many health issues.
About the Author: Dr. Gerard Guillory, MD is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and has published two books on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In 1985, he opened The Care Group, PC. Today, his clinic is a Primary Care facility that is a hybrid of functional and traditional medicine treating patients with digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, and other conditions. You can learn more about Dr. Guillory here.