Unraveling the Mysteries of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky Gut Syndrome affects many individuals, and often goes unrecognised. Due to its broad and often mysterious symptoms, there is definite controversy among health care providers concerning what this illness is and whether it is considered a legitimate diagnosis, or a contributing factor to other diagnoses. Leaky gut syndrome appears to contribute to a host of symptoms and health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease, and in turn many other autoimmune disorders that arise as as a result, such as psoriasis, hypothyroidism, vitiligo and rheumatoid arthritis. Due to the underlying controversy between conventional and complementary medicine many patients suffer years without a firm recognition and treatment plan. Regardless of the various opinions surrounding this condition, leaky gut syndrome contributes to symptoms and medical issues that can truly damage an individual’s entire life.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome, also known as “intestinal hyperpermeability,” is often regarded as a “grey area” in traditional gastrointestinal medicine. Because of its mystery, a definite cause for this illness is difficult to pinpoint. However, the yeast Candida seems to play an important role. This yeast lives within the intestines and vagina; it is considered normal body “flora” and is harmless when kept in balance. However, when its numbers dramatically increase or decrease, its presence can negatively impact the body; this can occur as a result of antibiotic use or impaired glucose metabolism or pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Extreme over-growth of Candida result in conditions such as oral or vaginal thrush, also known as a “yeast infection.” Although this fungal infection usually resolves with anti-fungal medication or dietary and herbal regimes, an overabundance of Candida may also affect the mucous lining of the large intestine, causing unnatural openings between the epithelial cells at the “tight junctions”. These openings are thought to allow toxic, foreign materials to escape into the bloodstream. This “leaking” effect is the basis for Leaky Gut Syndrome. The lining of the intestines is carefully designed to allow only certain nutrients and items to pass into the blood. When foreign material escapes into the blood, the body’s immune system is triggered and unpleasant medical issues result.
Gluten is another key factor in leaky gut syndrome, causing worsening of the laxity of the tight junctions. When gluten escapes through into the blood stream, the body raises an immune attack against it. As the gluten molecule has similarities with many of our own molecules, such as thyroglobulin, the body’s immune system then attacks those molecules, leading to autoimmune disorders such as hypothyroidism. Thus a key first step in any auto-immune disorder is to eliminate gluten from the diet completely.
What Triggers this Illness?
Many questions still exist concerning what causes Leaky Gut Syndrome to develop or worsen. However, medical practitioners and researchers who study this condition have isolated several common factors they believe are at the root.
- Poor Diet
The key dietary change that needs to happen, as mentioned above, is to eliminate gluten. In addition, certain foods are naturally more difficult for the body to digest and absorb. They may eventually cause damage to the lining of the intestines. Antinutrients such as phytates and lectins act as nutrient-blockers that interfere with digestion and cause potential inflammation. These compounds are found in foods such as un-sprouted grains, artificial sugars, and dairy products. Although these foods may not necessarily need to be completely removed from your diet, it is wise to check for potential food allergies and avoid your exposure if your body is sensitive.
- Chronic Stress
Stress in often a subtle, recurring danger in our everyday life. We are often unaware of its presence until we begin experiencing its negative physical effects. The mind – body connection exists and can be extremely powerful. Stress can both cause physical problems in and of itself, and of course easily exacerbate hidden medical issues.
Medications such as antibiotics kill off the “good” microbes within our intestines and may result in an overgrowth of Candida yeast. Overuse of aspirin and NSAIDS also results in damage to the mucous lining of the intestines and stomach. Injuries such as erosion and ulcers worsen the progression of leaky gut syndrome. Without a healthy intestinal lining, bacteria and toxins easily escape into the body.
- Bacteria Imbalances
The body operates off a delicate balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria within the body–the stomach and intestines in particular. A condition known as “dysbiosis“ describes a bacterial imbalance within the body. In an article for Huffington Post, research found that an estimated 6 million people suffer from bacterial imbalance and subsequent Leaky Gut symptoms. Although this condition is not popular or officially recognised by a large portion of the medical community, it is still vital to maintain a healthy balance of microbes, particularly those that aid in digestion. When the body’s bacterial population is kept in balance, symptoms of leaky gut often improve.
Signs and Symptoms
Leaky gut syndrome is a contributing factor to a huge variety of symptoms and associated conditions. The most popular indications of this illness include:
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (Including Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, and Similar Digestive conditions)
- Autoimmune Diseases (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Coeliac Disease, and other Inflammatory Disorders)
- Thyroid Disorders
- Inflammatory Skin Conditions (Acne, Psoriasis, Scleroderma, and Others)
- Malabsorption and Deficiencies (Vitamin B12 and Minerals Deficiencies Being the Most Common)
- Mood and Energy Issues (Depression, Anxiety, Mood Swings, and Lack of Energy)
Alleviating Your Condition
Although no definite cure is known to exist for Leaky Gut Syndrome, there are ways to help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. Some of the best alleviating measures include:
- Diet Improvements
Under a doctor’s supervision, test yourself for food sensitivities and allergies. Also, remove or decrease your consumption of inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, and other foods high in antinutrients. Fill your diet with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory foods known to promote healing. Some have found that gluten-free diets and low FODMAP diets (the latter specifically for irritable bowel syndrome) greatly improve their symptoms.
- Supplements and Natural Remedies
Although traditional medicine offers no specific medication for Leaky Gut Syndrome, a growing variety of herbal and natural cures exist. Common natural supplements include Omega 3 fish oils, zinc, slippery elm, aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, probiotics, and multivitamin and mineral supplements.
- Implementing a “Whole Body” Approach
Rather than focusing exclusively on your digestive health, seek to care for every aspect of your health, including your mind and emotions. Meditation and mind-fullness therapies are often effective treatments for balancing and eliminating excess stress. A healthier mindset is vital for safely managing chronic disorders such as Leaky Gut.
Other positive life-style improvements include regular physical activity and exercise. Exercise allows the body to enjoy the benefits of positive endorphins and “feel-good” brain chemicals. It also promotes healthier digestion. Always check with your health provider first and seek guidance concerning what type of exercise is best for your condition. This is especially important if you have other underlying health conditions that place you at higher risk.
Understandably, many are frustrated and discouraged over the lack of research and resources available for the treatment of Leaky Gut Syndrome. Although this illness is often down-played and even dismissed, many are finding positive support through natural, functional medicine. For more information on naturally managing your Leaky Gut symptoms, please contact us today.