Is leaky gut the source of your health problems?

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

There was recently an article in the medical magazine called Medscape titled “Is leaky gut the root of all ills”? You can read the article here. A lot of healthcare practitioners talk about leaky gut. We certainly do. Is it a medically recognised term or is it just a complementary medicine concept?

In medical journals leaky gut is usually referred to as increased intestinal permeability, and researchers mention bacterial translocation to describe the movement of bacteria across a gut lining that’s excessively permeable. I don’t think it’s the root of all ills, but it is a significant cause of inflammation, and inflammation can be the root of all evil. Other things besides leaky gut can cause inflammation.

Leaky gut is not an actual disease, as it’s not listed among the thousands of diseases in the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. It is a physiological abnormality that can lead to diseases in genetically susceptible people who have other health problems. By other health problems I mean nutrient deficiencies, infections, stress, injuries or other conditions that compromise health.

Leaky gut just means the intestinal lining is more permeable than it should be. The lining of your intestines is only one cell thick. The gut lining enables you to absorb nutrients from the food you’ve eaten and digested, and it keeps bacteria, wastes and undigested food out of your bloodstream and in your intestines where they belong. If you have a leaky gut, not only do the wastes and toxins gain entry into your bloodstream; you also have a reduced ability to absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from your food.

Among the medical community, most doctors agree that leaky gut is most strongly linked to coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.  These diseases are all becoming more common, and most of the time they cause gut symptoms. That’s not always the case though; a person with coeliac disease can have a damaged gut lining seen on biopsy but not experience any gut symptoms. They may just have iron deficiency, fatigue, infertility, or a host of other symptoms associated with coeliac disease.

How would you know if you have a leaky gut?

This is a controversial topic and experts do not agree. There is a test that doctors and naturopaths can perform called a urinary indicans test or a test where you drink a solution containing the carbohydrates called lactulose and mannitol. Other leaky gut tests that exist include zonulin blood tests and a urine test called PEG400. None of the tests are perfect and most are unavailable to the average person.

I have found that these tests are mostly unnecessary because leaky gut is such a common health problem and there are very clear signs and symptoms that can confirm leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is a forerunner to autoimmune disease, so anyone with a diagnosed autoimmune disease has surely got some degree of leaky gut.

What causes leaky gut syndrome?

Looking at this list, it’s a wonder that leaky gut isn’t more common. You would expect almost everyone living in Western society to have the condition.

The following factors raise your risk of having a leaky gut:

  • Sugar consumption
  • Antibiotics
  • Small intestinal bacterial or fungal overgrowth
  • Stress
  • The oral contraceptive pill
  • Food poisoning and gastroenteritis
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Food allergy and intolerance
  • Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

How to heal leaky gut

Minimising or avoiding the causative agents is necessary. It’s also important to find out if you have food intolerance, FODMAP intolerance, insufficient digestive secretions and microbial overgrowth in your gut.

Apple cider vinegar, stomach acid, digestive enzymes and ox bile can all help improve digestion and reduce microbial overgrowth in the gut.

You may need a herbal product to kill an overgrowth of intestinal bugs. The essential oils of thyme, oregano and clove are all helpful and are found in BactoClear capsules.

Glutamine is the number one remedy for strengthening the gut lining because the cells that line your intestines use glutamine as a fuel source. Glutamine is very beneficial when taken long term but it is also an excellent first aid remedy for diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, food poisoning or any condition that results in an upset tummy. Glutamine is found in the Ultimate Gut Cleanse powder, which is a component of Dr Cabot’s 15 Day Cleanse and Ultimate Gut Health, which is part of our Maintenance Programme. These programs are designed to help your gut, liver and immune system.

Find out if you have any food allergies and get rid of the offending food/s from your diet. You cannot make real progress in improving your health if you continue to eat foods your body considers toxic. Common culprits include gluten, wheat, dairy products, soy, corn, eggs and nuts. It is best to see a healthcare practitioner to help you figure out your unique food sensitivities.

Try to keep your intake of sugar and alcohol low.

There is much more information about leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease in our book Healing Autoimmune Disease: A plan to help your immune system and reduce inflammation.

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