Have you heard of leaky gut syndrome? In some medical circles, it’s held that this “syndrome” isn’t really a diagnosis, but rather an indication that a diagnosis needs to be made. But that kind of thinking is beginning to change, even in highly esteemed places like Harvard Medical School.
When the medical community had a poorer understanding of disease-causing mechanisms, it was thought that “certain ailments could originate from imbalances in the stomach” (Harvard Health Publishing). But when microscopes came along and medical professionals became aware of bacteria and parasites, the notion of stomach imbalances as the cause of some conditions was rejected. Until now.
What if, Harvard Health asks, “this ancient concept of illnesses originating in the gut actually holds some truth? Could some of the chronic diseases our society faces today actually be associated with a dysfunctional gastrointestinal system?”
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome is a fairly common condition today that can cause problems ranging from digestive issues to headaches, as well as a host of other chronic health issues. It is especially common among people who eat what has come to be considered a standard American diet – that is, a diet heavy in low-quality meats, refined sugar, and high-glycemic carbohydrates, with a huge helping of processed foods thrown in. And if the condition is closely linked to diet, this should be a good indication that it can be reversed.
In leaky gut syndrome (also known as intestinal permeability), the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged. This damaged lining then allows bacteria, microbes, tiny particles of undigested food, and other toxins to “leak” through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. When these toxic particles get into the blood, they can cause a number of health problems ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to migraines. In addition, people suffering from leaky gut syndrome are susceptible to weakened immune systems, hormonal imbalances, and malnutrition.
What causes leaky gut syndrome?
The intestinal lining is the chief barrier separating what’s inside the intestine from everything outside of it. This barrier is composed of cells linked together by tight junctions that control what passes through them, such as vitamins and other nutrients, and into your bloodstream. In a person with healthy intestines, these junction spaces remain tight enough to prevent harmful disease-causing particles from passing through.
But when the intestinal barrier is damaged in some way, the cell junctions become looser and farther apart. This then allows harmful particles and microbes to pass through and ultimately wind up in the bloodstream, which can cause damage throughout the body. Certain inflammatory foods – dairy, sugar, and processed foods primarily – are often the culprits in this intestinal damage, but there can be other causes as well.
Most cases of leaky gut syndrome can be attributed to intestinal inflammation. Linked to most major chronic diseases, this inflammation, which causes damage and weakening of the intestinal barrier, is usually the result of a variety of contributing factors, such as:
Chronic stress has long been associated with systemic inflammation and the resulting intestinal problems.
High level of toxins
Environmental toxins such as pollution and pesticides, and ingested toxins such as those in processed foods, food additives, and medications, can contribute significantly to inflammation.
Another factor that can contribute to inflammation is dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in intestinal bacteria.
One of the most important and most controllable factors, a poor inflammatory-inducing diet is one that’s heavy on processed foods and refined sugar.
What are the signs and symptoms of leaky gut?
Leaky gut syndrome can affect many systems and functions throughout the body. The primary problem with this condition is that your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs owing to poor absorption, which can lead to a broad spectrum of health problems. And not the least of these is a compromised immune system. So if you notice or experience any of these signs or symptoms, especially over a prolonged period, it might be a good idea to seek out a qualified medical professional with experience in this area.
Leaky gut primarily affects the small intestine, which is responsible for 90% of nutrient absorption. So if you’re suffering from leaky gut syndrome, you will also likely have nutritional deficiencies, commonly resulting in frequent illness and/or numbness in limbs from inadequate B12.
One of the dead-giveaway symptoms of leaky gut is one or more ongoing digestive problems – regardless of what you eat. These problems can range from chronic diarrhea to constipation and can also include bloating, gas, and irritable bowel syndrome.
A related symptom is an intolerance for or allergic reaction to certain foods, often gluten and diary. The reason for this is that your immune system remains in a heightened crisis state, and so you become more sensitive to foods that you would otherwise be able to tolerate.
Compromised immune system
A compromised immune system is another common sign of leaky gut, because the intestinal wall contains 70% of the cells that constitute the immune system. So pay close attention to how often you get sick and to how sick you get.
Because leaky gut allows the passage of toxins and bacteria from the intestine to the bloodstream, certain autoimmune diseases – thyroid diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, MS – may be the result.
The systemic inflammation stemming from leaky gut will increase production of cytokines (inflammatory compounds) than can lead to chronic fatigue. With this kind of fatigue, you just always feel tired no matter how much rest or sleep you’ve had.
Leaky-gut induced inflammation can also lead to overproduction or underproduction of certain hormones.
Difficulty losing weight
If you have a hard time losing weight, there may be more to it than eating too much or not exercising enough. It could be a symptom of leaky gut syndrome, as this condition has been linked to insulin resistance and obesity.
Some skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne can be traced back to leaky gut syndrome. In fact, acne has long been linked to anxiety and depression, which in turn is often linked to the inflammation associated with leaky gut.
As just mentioned, anxiety and depression are common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome. Once thought to be purely the product of brain neurotransmitter imbalances (serotonin, for instance), these conditions are now recognized as being closely linked to intestinal health. It is now known that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in and stored in the gut. Studies now indicate that depression (along with other mental/emotional disorders) can be triggered by digestive problems resulting from inflammation.
What should you do?
Reversing leaky gut syndrome, then, involves flushing the toxins out of the body, reducing stress, improving the diet, and balancing intestinal bacteria. And, yes, this is all much easier said than done. That’s why it’s a good idea to call on the expertise of medical professionals with a background in treating leaky gut syndrome.
As a whole, those in traditional medicine have been slow to come to accept leaky gut/intestinal permeability as a true medical condition. And those who are coming around usually want to prescribe medications to treat the symptoms, rather than dealing with the underlying causes. But at Quest Weight Loss, our goal is to help you enjoy a healthier, happier life by addressing underlying health conditions that can make weight loss difficult. That’s why we offer a metabolic reset for optimum health, along with our advanced DNA testing and fasting mimicking diets – all supported by the four pillars of nutrition, hydration, exercise, and supplementation.
If you’re ready to take that first step toward eliminating leaky gut and chronic inflammation, contact us today for a free consultation!