Leaky gut syndrome, also known as increased intestinal permeability syndrome, is associated with a variety of health problems including Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In this article, we look at what can cause your gut to be leaky. Generally, there are three basic categories of factors which can lead to a leaky gut.
First are foods. I would place gluten, the protein found in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley on the top of the list of foods that can contribute to leaky gut. Other foods that can cause leaky gut include: dairy, soy, corn, genetically modified organisms or GMO’s, sugar, and eggs.
As a minimum, you should go off of all gluten. In my experience gluten contributes to leaky gut in just about everyone. It may do so by causing overexpression of a protein molecule called zonulin, which regulates the permeability of the small intestine. With my long-standing interest in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, having written the first book on IBS sufferers in 1989, I have been getting patients off gluten since the early 1990s on a trial basis to see if their digestive symptoms improve.
I am often challenged by my traditional medicine colleagues who feel that this gluten free movement is just a fad. I am quick to point out that the autoimmune disorder, celiac disease, which is the most severe form of gluten sensitivity, now affects 1 in 100 individuals. That is an incidence that is increased from 1 in 3,000 some thirty years ago.
This is an indisputable fact. How can this be a fad?
More recently there has been a new group defined as “Non-celiac gluten sensitive” individuals who experience a reaction to gluten and unlike celiac patients they do not have antibodies against various intestinal proteins which define the celiac patient. By some estimates this group may represent up to 30% of the population, but I believe the incidence is actually higher. In my experience, nearly 100% of patients who go off gluten on a trial basis end up feeling better and really notice adverse symptoms if they reintroduce gluten into their diet later on.
Unfortunately, the only way to know for certain if you are a non-celiac gluten sensitive reactor is to try going gluten-free and see how you feel. There are some new functional medicine, cutting edge laboratories that are doing testing to identify the non-celiac gluten sensitive patient – however these tests are not currently accepted in mainstream medicine.
Many experts in the leaky gut community feel that the introduction of GMO’s over the past few decades has been the tipping point and initial culprit in this seeming epidemic of leaky gut and associated autoimmune/ inflammatory conditions. Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus have increased approximately 400% in the past 20 years. If there had been a similar increase in cardiac disease or cancer there would be a virtual outcry and a rush to “search for the cure.”
The second category of factors leading to leaky gut would be pathogenic microorganisms. This would include pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium difficile and H. pylori. It also would include pathogenic forms of yeast. Also, you might harbor a parasite which is causing gut inflammation.
Taking an antibiotic may inadvertently kill the good bacteria in your gut, allowing “bad bacteria” to take over – this is a condition referred to as dysbiosis. I often ask my patients – when was the last time you felt well and most often, a course of antibiotics precluded their downward spiral towards poor health.
The third factor which may lead to or perpetuate leaky gut is certain medications. Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen would lead that list. I often see a case where someone has leaky gut from one cause causing systemic pain and inflammation and they are taking ibuprofen to treat those symptoms which is only serving to fan the flames.
Other factors contributing to leaky gut would include emotional stress and environmental toxins.
There is a myriad of factors which contribute to leaky gut and in my experience there are multiple factors ongoing at any given time in an individual patient and they all need to be addressed simultaneously. Functional medicine is about removing anything that is causing a problem and replacing anything you are deficient in. In the case of leaky gut you can remove foods, medications and potential pathogenic microorganisms that are contributing to your leaky gut and replace or reinoculate your gut with probiotics and begin to see significant improvement.
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.