The health community is littered with fads and well-intentioned but often-harmful gimmicks like kombucha and the paleo diet. Curiously, though, there may be truth to leaky gut syndrome – a collection of digestive symptoms including gas and bloating, cramps and food sensitivities.
Wait a second. Doesn’t that sound like Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Well here’s the thing: your gut has a powerful, albeit mysterious effect on your well-being and quality of life. It’s so powerful in fact that it’s been called ‘your surrogate brain’ by Dr. Steven Lamm of The View. It’s the biggest organ of your immune system – and it’s clouded in too many unknowns to address leaky gut effectively.
We know it exists. But we don’t know enough leaky gut syndrome for diagnosis or a cure at this time.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome is a collection of symptoms linked to bad digestion. Our current understanding suggests it’s caused by intestinal permeability. That’s when tight junctions in your gut, which filter the molecules that pass through the small intestine don’t work properly. Molecules can pass from your intestine into you bloodstream when this happens. Hence the name, ‘leaky gut syndrome’.
This is a similar issue faced by people with Crohn’s and Celiac disease. But we don’t know what causes leaky gut or the ailments linked to it. Nor do we know if someone without Crohn’s or Celiac disease would get leaky gut syndrome in the first place – or when leaky gut syndrome would affect someone without certain types of drugs, radiation therapy or food allergies.
Leaky gut syndrome symptoms are not unique either. They’re shared with other gut-related ailments like IBS. Tests for leaky gut often fail to identify the cause of the problem, which can leave patients with leaky gut symptoms without a diagnosis or treatment.
And yet your concerns about leaky gut syndrome may be credible – especially if you have a history of Crohn’s or Celiac disease.
Risk Factors for Leaky Gut
It’s a mystery why people get leaky gut syndrome. With that being said, there are clues as to why it happens. While it’s not certain, you may be more likely to get leaky gut symptoms if you have:
Food Sensitivities – People with food sensitivities may be more likely to get leaky gut. That’s because your immune system is deluged with toxins in the blood stream every day. While most folks can fight them off, food sensitivities appear to force the body to mass-produce antibodies to counter them, particularly foods with antigens like wheat and dairy. This may strain the intestines, and make permeability an issue.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Hungarian researchers found that people with IBS and Colitis appear to have higher risk of permeability in the colon. Crohn’s patients may be at even higher risk – one study found that the relatives of people with this uncomfortable ailment had 10-20% greater chance of leaky gut.
That suggests leaky gut syndrome may be influenced by your genes.
Autoimmune Disease – A 2011 article published in the journal Physiologic Reviews found that a protein called zonulin may increase risk of intestinal permeability. That risk went up significantly in patients with an autoimmune disease. Further research suggests gluten may trigger this process even in people not genetically prone to it.
Thyroid Problems – You may be at higher risk of leaky gut syndrome if you have thyroid issue like Hashimoto’s disease. Also called ‘chronic thyroiditis’, this can lead to hypothyroidism, impaired metabolism, fatigue, depression, weight gain and a variety of related symptoms.
Malabsorption – Leaky gut may lead to nutritional deficiencies from vitamin B12, magnesium and a variety of enzymes that help with digestion. You’ll want to speak with your doctor in this scenario – which you should be doing regardless, if you have gut problems. Your doctor may suggest probiotics and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, if they don’t trigger your leaky gut symptoms.
Inflammatory Skin Conditions – There’s an interesting connection between skin and your gut. That connection may include acne and psoriasis, if you’re prone to leaky gut syndrome. While many doctors prescribe creams to address skin disorders, it may be worth speaking to a health practitioner willing to explore the mind-gut axis with you, and if healing your gut may also help your skin.
Mood Problems and Risk of Autism – A study published in the journal Neuro Endocrinology Letters links leaky gut to several neuro cognitive disorders. For example, the inflammatory response of intestinal permeability appears to trigger pro-inflammatory cytokines. That in turn may lead to chemicals that cause depression.
What If I Think I Have Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome means you have digestive symptoms that need diagnosis. Don’t think for a second you’re being hypochondriacal about it – leaky gut syndrome is a real, albeit misunderstood ailment of the digestive system.
Given the latter’s influence on health and well-being, digestive problems go far beyond a troubled tummy, discomfort and trips to the bathroom.
If you have ongoing digestion problems, be they bloating, cramps, food sensitivities or something else, you need to speak with your doctor. That may not cure your gut problems, but it’s certainly a good place to start.
It’s also worth considering that some doctors can’t – or won’t – look into what’s causing your discomfort, and will instead look to just relieve your symptoms with digestive medications, like proton pump inhibitors. Not all doctors are willing to explore leaky gut syndrome with you, out of time constraints and the fact that, well, we really don’t know much about leaky gut at this time, other than we know it exists.
You may want to consider speaking with a specialist. A gastroenterologist may be of interest if this is a route you want to explore.
We offer Intensive Colon Cleanse by Digestive Science here at Natural Health Source. You may find that helps your digestion, although we don’t claim it can cure leaky gut syndrome, IBS, acid reflux, or any other digestive problem. While it may help, your gut is a mysterious place that is second only to your brain for the influence it holds on your body function and health.
Speak with your doctor or, better yet, a gastroenterologist, if you think you’ve got leaky gut syndrome. Have an open mind too – we’re still learning about the gut, and how to keep it happy with each passing year.