Leaky-Gut Syndrome… Say What?

A disgusting name for a very common problem

Leaky Gut Syndrome: yes, that really is a real medical term.  Leave it to doctors to finally name a syndrome in plain English but choose a name that no one would want to think applied to their own body.  It happens to be a phenomenally useful concept, though, so I want to explain it here.   It’s also disturbingly common in modern life in America, which will make sense when you get to the “causes” section.

What happens when a gut leaks?

A healthy gut (meaning your whole gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to intestine) acts as a finely tuned and very active filter. It secretes a multitude of hormones and other digestive chemicals designed to break down your food into the nutrients and fuel your body needs.  When it’s happy, it actively takes up these bits of nutrients, vitamins and minerals into the cells of the gut wall and then into the blood stream, leaving everything your body doesn’t want to travel through the pipe and exit. 

When the gut wall is irritated for some reason, it doesn’t do these jobs as well.  This means it doesn’t take up as much of what we need, and it doesn’t keep out what shouldn’t be there.  Toxins from chemicals in our food, unfriendly bacteria or yeast living in the GI tract, or larger pieces of the food proteins themselves get into the blood stream, and cause all manner of havoc in our bodies.  This “leaking” of things that shouldn’t get into the blood stream is why people have symptoms affecting their whole bodies, not just stomach symptoms.

What makes a gut leak?

What could be so irritating to the lining of the gut that it would malfunction in this way? Lots of factors that we take for granted as a normal part of American life:

  • Pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Stress:  this increases the secretion of a hormone called zonulin, which loosens up the connections between cells and allows gaps in the gut wall
  • Infections like H pylori (which causes ulcers)  or C dificil colitis or even reactivation of viral infections that our bodies are usually able to keep under control, like the virus that causes mono
  • Disturbance in the “normal flora” of the gut (and yes, that is kind of like a disturbance in the force, Luke).  Anytime we doctors treat you with antibiotics, we kill off some of the healthy, beneficial bacteria that live in the gut, allowing the bad bacteria and yeast to take over and secrete poisons out into the gut (and therefore through the wall into your bloodstream)
  • Overconsumption of sugar and refined carbs like white rice, promoting the growth of yeast
  • Eating processed food that contains chemicals that irritate the wall
  • Food allergies, which cause inflammatory reactions to occur in the gut wall and in the blood stream whenever you eat the offending food, perpetuating the irritation
  • Not eating enough veggies, since the good bacteria in our colon rely on that fiber for food

How do I stop the leak?

Do any of these factors sound familiar?  Don’t lose hope–leaky gut can heal, and balance can be restored.  We can test and advise you on what foods you need to increase or decrease, which supplements to take to replace the good bacteria and the nutrients you may be lacking, and help you figure out if you any chronic infections that are contributing, and help you treat them.