What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome ?
LGS is one of those non descriptive syndromes which not unlike Adrenal Fatigue, simply “does not exist” according to many practitioners of conventional Western medicine. According to some health-professionals I have spoken to, LGS is simply a fictitious disease created by the natural health fraternity. For example, here is a post I found on a blog with regards to a question raised if LGS does exist.
I found this on a medical website recently, it is a post was from (no surprises here) a 1st year medical student.
“Leaky Gut Syndrome” is pure naturopathic nonsense. Adrenal Fatigue is another fictitious disease. Many people confuse adrenal fatigue with Addison’s disease, which is a actually a real medical condition where you do not make enough cortisol in your adrenal glands. This can only be diagnosed by your Doctor and various tests are needed to diagnose Addison’s disease. Candida is BS too. It is possible to have a full body fungal infection, but you’d be in the intensive care unit !”
Leaky gut syndrome exists whether you “believe” it does or not
My father was quite a pragmatic man who once said that opinions are like bowel motions, we all have them from time to time, and some of us have virtually none, whereas others have a lot more than they should. The fact of the matter is, leaky gut syndrome is a very real and valid functional complaint from which millions suffer around the world on a daily basis. LGS has a large body of scientific evidence supporting its existence, and there are a variety of scientific papers in a wide variety of medical journals written by medical researchers from many parts of the world.
Unfortunately, like adrenal fatigue, leaky gut syndrome is not taken seriously by the medical profession in general – causing needless suffering by many people. It is often passed off as irritable bowel syndrome, what I tend to call a “garbage can diagnosis”, this is where you place people that you can’t get a handle on as a practitioner, hoping somebody else will collect them and take them away from you. Heavens forbid, that medical student will one day be a health care practitioner, and I do wish that she becomes a bit more opened minded about functional complaints such as LGS and adrenal fatigue.
In the end it becomes this “us and them” mentality, a bit like the catholics and protestants, or muslim versus America, etc. There are clearly no winners here, only belief systems and wars are started all because of belief systems. Now how stupid is that. Medicine IS about ego, there is no doubt, but I firmly believe that the most important thing to bear in mind is….our patient, and the outcomes they desire. Now whether the treatment is “evidence” based or not, it makes no difference to the patient because all they desire is a positive outcome. And there is plenty of evidence in my books that LGS is not taken seriously and patients are suffering needlessly as a consequence.
Because LGS is a disturbance affecting a person’s core, their small intestine, leaky gut issues may well be implicated and play a role in a wide range of chronic diseases including heart disease, autoimmune diseases, depression and chronic fatigue. It is very important to understand that a leaky gut is actually a symptom of something else – and like many health complaints, there are specific causes. To effectively treat LGS, the underlying cause must be identified and treated, as well as the specific issue of the gut damage that occurs in LGS.
What exactly is leaky gut syndrome?
In a nut shell, leaky gut syndrome (LGS) describes a condition of altered or damaged bowel lining, caused by antibiotics, toxins, poor diet, parasites or infection can lead to increased permeability of the gut wall to toxins, microbes, undigested food, waste or larger than normal macromolecules.
Did you know that an amazing 60% of your immune system is located around the digestive system, in particular, the small intestine? In a normal healthy person, the small bowel behaves like a colander or a sieve, allowing only the breakdown of very fine products of digestion into your bloodstream. The membrane of the small intestine allows only very small nutrients and fats, proteins and starches which are all broken down to very small particles to enter into the bloodstream, while the larger molecules and many different types of toxic compounds are kept out.
In your intestinal tract, there reside very small micro-villi (thee are very tiny finger like projections which come off the lining of the intestinal tract with hair like cell membrane extensions – called the “brush border”), which serve as the major point of absorption of nutrients. Specific nutrients like as glucose, amino acids or electrolytes are carried through the micro-villi and into the cells via “active” transport, and there are even specific carrier molecules to take the nutrients across the cell membrane.
Leaky gut syndrome causes the intestinal lining to become inflamed and the micro-villi become damaged or altered. These damaged micro-villi then cannot go on to produce the necessary enzymes and secretions that are essential for a healthy digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It is not hard to see the consequences – poor absorption and uptake of vital nutrients. The outcome? fatigue and much more in time.
These cells lining the micro-villi together form a strong, sturdy and almost impenetrable structure, preventing those larger molecules from passing through. When an area becomes inflamed this weakens the structure of the allowing those larger molecules to escape through. These larger molecules provoke the immune system which in turn stimulates the production of antibodies. Antibodies themselves are highly specific proteins which are utilised by the immune system to locate and attack foreign objects to fight off the molecules, as they are perceived as “antigens”, and antigens are substances which are capable of triggering the production of antibodies.
Healthy people have developed a strong enough immune system to control the leakage of toxic substances but as it becomes over loaded the toxins leak into the liver resulting in an overworked overburdened liver. I have noticed that as LGS progresses, and particularly if the diet is not changed for the better over time, the person becomes increasingly tired, may develop low-grade nausea and develop liver congestion.
The liver is the largest organ in the body, and plays a critical role in detoxification as well as having many hundreds of other functions including:
- producing bile containing bile acids, which aid digestion. Bile is stored in the gallbladder.
- filtering out toxins, such as drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins.
- breaking foods down after a meal to be converted to glucose to regulate blood sugar levels.
- storing excess glucose as glycogen.
- converting ammonia to urea and removing damaged red blood cells.
As LGS progresses, it can completely overwhelm the liver in time because it can become flooded it with additional toxins diminishing the liver’s ability function normally. remember, one of the liver’s main roles is to detoxify the body and help keep the bloodstream clear, it was designed to neutralise chemical substances. When the liver cannot cope with the level of toxins, it will begin to expel these toxins back into the bloodstream. The circulatory system will then over time begin to store these toxins into various parts of the body, including other organs, the connective tissues and even the muscles where they are stored to prevent major organ damage.
The immune system becomes activated
As the intestinal lining of the small bowel becomes more damaged over time, substances larger than particle size such as disease causing bacteria and fungus, potentially toxic molecules and undigested food particles pass through these weakened and “leaky” cell membranes. They enter the bloodstream, triggering the production of antibodies and cytokines (protein molecules released by the immune system to cause a reaction in other cells) to fight the antigens. The cytokines alert the lymphocytes (white blood cells) to fight the particles that have escaped through the intestinal lining. These cytokines along with other cells produced by an over alert immune system start to cause allergic reactions and more inflammation throughout the body. The result is a low-grade pain in the bowel and a generally uncomfortable sensation in the lower part of the abdomen. The bowel motions become altered – there could be constipation of diarrhoea, bloating, gas and many other sensations experienced.
A healthy digestive tract is normally coated with a this layer of mucus to keep out foreign substances. LGS slowly develops as this mucus layer becomes weakened and the bacteria, which usually resides in the intestine starts to inhabit other parts of the body as well. This is called “bacterial translocation”, and it happens as a consequence due to the intestinal permeability.
There are several ways to remedy this situation, and you need patience and the right approach to cure LGS. The most effective treatment will be the subject of a further article on how to successfully treat this all too common complaint.
To sum LGS up, your intestine develops microscopically tiny leakages allowing substances that would normally be digested to enter your bloodstream. These substances and toxins are slowly passed onto the liver to deal, but in time it simply cannot cope with this increasingly and overwhelming load of toxins and will attempt to store them in the body tissues. The liver eventually becomes overworked as the intestinal lining gets consistently weaker over time, and more and more toxins and undigested food progressively enter into the bloodstream. The immune system sends out an increasing amount of antibodies to fight these foreign substances and in doing that toxic chemicals are produced which attack the body tissues causing allergic reactions and pain and inflammation throughout the body.
- Spaeth G, Berg RD, Specian RD, Deitch EA, August 1990, “Food Without Fiber promotes bacterial translocation from the gut” Surgery 108 (2) pp 204-47
- Sharma R, 2005, Leaky Gut Syndrome, article.
- Lipski E Leaky Gut Syndrome, 1998, “What to do about a health threat that can cause arthritis, allergies and a host of other illnesses” p10 Keats
- Gilbere G, 2001, I Was Poisoned By My Body…I Have A Gut Feeling You Could Be, Too, p10, Lucky Press.
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- Tight junctions, leaky intestines, and paediatric diseases. Acta Paediatr. 2005 Apr;(4):386-93. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16092447
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- Leaky Gut Syndromes: Breaking the Vicious Cycles. Galland L. Townsend Letter for Doctors, August/September 1995, p. 63. http://www.mdheal.org/leakygut.htm Galland 1995 fulltext article
- Pizzorno, JE, Murray, MT, (November 2005) Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd edition, Churchill Livingstone, pp 167, 584, 1527 ISBN 0-443-07300-7
Article Last Update: 22 October 2011