What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Avatar photo Staff August 11, 2020

Do you suffer from chronic diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, skin problems, or joint pain? If so, your issues may be due to something called Leaky Gut Syndrome, a condition that affect many, many people.

As Dr. Robynne Chutkan, an assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital put it in an article in HealthyWomen, “[Leaky Gut] is likely to emerge as one of the most significant medical concepts of our time.”

Many conventional doctors agree that Leaky Gut Syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, exists, but because we’re are still trying to understand the complexities of the gut, scientists aren’t completely sure what causes it, and there isn’t a single treatment for it, so many conventional doctors don’t treat it.

However, functional medicine doctors, who take more time with each patient to undercover the root cause of someone’s symptoms, are often successful at treating Leaky Gut Syndrome through dietary and lifestyle changes.  

They basic concept is this: Typically, the main function of the intestines is to allow the nutrients from your food to enter your blood stream while keeping the toxins and undigested material in your gut so it can be excreted from your body. However, when you have Leaky Gut Syndrome, you may develop tiny holes in your intestinal walls (also known as hyper permeability), which allows toxins to escape through the intestinal wall. When those toxins enter the bloodstream, it triggers an autoimmune response, as your body tries to fight off the foreign substances.

“When molecules leak through into your circulatory system, your body thinks it’s something to fight,” explains Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, clinical director of the Center for Holistic Medicine, adding that this process can increase inflammation throughout your body and cause a host of other issues.

That means that issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, eczema, chronic fatigue system and more — which are caused by an increase in inflammation — may all be affected by the state of your gut.

So what causes Leaky Gut Syndrome? Most often, it is a direct result of eating foods that you are sensitive to.

Tanya Tanzillo, a functional medicine practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says that unlike food allergies, which cause an immediate response such as a swollen face or trouble breathing, food sensitivities can be subtler and harder to detect. “For example, you may be able to eat gluten or dairy and not feel any immediate repercussions, but if you have a food sensitivity to those things, they may go through your intestinal wall and then you’ll feel the effects a few hours or even a few days later,” Tanzillo says.

That’s why, in order to get to the bottom of what exactly is causing your Leaky Gut Syndrome, Tanzillo will often have patients do food intolerance testing and gut microbiome testing. Then she’ll work with patients to adjust their diet to eliminate foods that may be causing the problems.

The most common types of food intolerances are dairy, gluten, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods, although there are many others that may also cause problems for certain individuals. That’s why testing is so invaluable.

Because food sensitivities are so unique to each individual, there is no universal diet that can eliminate all food sensitivities. “Food sensitivities can be as individual as a person’s fingerprint, and it also has to do with not only what you eat, but how much of each type of food,” Tanzillo says. “Also, people may be surprised that many ‘healthy’ foods may cause sensitivities in people. For example, some people can be highly sensitive to legumes, eggs, avocadoes, smoked fish and more. So just eating a ‘healthy’ diet may not be enough to solve your problems.”

In addition to causing physical problems, Leaky Gut Syndrome can also lead to an increase in anxiety and depression as well. That’s because many of the neurotransmitters that control our mood are created in the gut, and when our gut flora is out of balance, it can affect how we feel.

Stress can also lead to increased intestine permeability, so finding ways to reduce your stress is another key part of getting Leaky Gut Syndrome under control.

After your food sensitivities are identified and your stress levels are under control, Dr. Gore then usually suggests that patients try working with an anti-inflammatory diet, as well as using supplements to help the gut wall heal, and adding probiotics to help enhance the immune system.

And Tanzillo says following a diet that promotes a healthy gut — which means getting enough fiber and avoiding foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats — is important, as well. “If we can keep the gut happy, we can really keep a lot of the negative symptoms at bay,” Tanzillo says.