What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is composed of small epithelial cells that act as a barrier between the interior and the exterior of the body.
There are two primary functions of the intestinal epithelial lining:
- To absorb small micro-molecules, such as digested food particles, into circulation which are used as fuel sources for the body
- To act as a barrier to prevent the absorption of larger more toxic macro-molecules
A compromised lining becomes permeable to large undigested food compounds, toxins and bacteria.
These promote exaggerated immune responsiveness and an inflammatory reaction that can manifest at any location in the body after they enter circulation.
This intestinal permeability is known as “Leaky Gut”.
- Poor Digestion
- Food Sensitivities
- Chronic Pain
- Brain Fog/Poor Memory
- Diet (refined sugar, wheat, dairy, etc.)
- Medication (antibiotics, NSAIDs, etc.)
- Infection (bacterial, viral, parasitic)
- Hormonal Imbalances (thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, etc.)
- Neurologic Issues (stroke, brain injury, etc.)
- Metabolic Issues (diabetes, pre-diabetes, etc.)
“Leaky gut syndrome” is something of a medical mystery, says gastroenterologist Donald Kirby, MD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic. It isn’t a diagnosis typically taught in medical schools.
“We don’t know a lot about leaky gut, but we know that it exists,” says Linda A. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center. “In the absence of evidence, we don’t know what it means or what therapies can directly address it.”
Functional Medicine Management of Leaky Gut
There is extensive research and publications on this condition, including causal factors, associated health conditions and dietary and nutritional compounds that help repair the damage that takes place to the intestinal lining.
There is growing, published evidence showing leaky gut is a precursor for autoimmune diseases, such as type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Grave’s disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Celiac disease, and the list continues to grow.
- Autoimmune disorders
- Multiple food sensitivities
- Multiple chemical sensitivities
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Heart failure
- Chronic inflammatory conditions
- Chronic pain
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Chronic yeast overgrowth syndromes
- Brain fog
Functional Medicine utilizes specialized laboratory testing techniques to identify this condition and determine the extent of the damage to the intestinal lining prior to starting therapy.
Food sensitivity testing may also be used.
Specialized lab monitoring of key markers is used to assess progress throughout the treatment program.
Functional Medicine management of leaky gut involves a restricted dietary regimen avoiding foods that can damage the intestinal lining together with the use of nutritional supplements to help reduce the intestinal inflammation and repair the intestinal lining.
There are a number of nutritional compounds that decrease intestinal inflammation and restore the integrity of the intestinal lining.
A customized dietary and supplementation program is used to overcome a long term degenerative condition.
In almost all cases, a significant improvement, or elimination of symptoms can be achieved.
A restricted whole-food diet that removes common food allergens, inflammatory and processed foods, foods high in sugar content and lectin-containing foods that can damage the intestinal lining is important for a full recovery. A list of foods to consume and to avoid is identified as part of the Functional Medicine management regime.
Other interventions often successfully used include:
Anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating compounds
Anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating herbs and nutritional compounds to decrease excessive immune responses can very often be helpful.
Nutrients to regenerate the epithelial lining
As well as focusing on overall diet and stress management, there are a variety of plant compounds, vitamins and minerals that have been shown to have a restorative effect on a damaged intestinal barrier and a proper selection and regime can be very effective.
Nutrients to decrease food sensitivities
Food sensitivities are very common in leaky guy syndrome. A variety of plant compounds, vitamins and minerals have been shown to decrease specific immune responses in the gut related to food sensitivity.