Leaky gut syndrome, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is not considered a disease or illness itself, but a condition of inflammation and imbalance in the gut that is behind many chronic conditions and illnesses.

The syndrome involves both the digestive system and the immune system. The lining of the small intestine plays a critical role in allowing the passage of very small nutrients through the 1-cell thick barrier.  On the other side is our blood stream that carries all those nutrients to where they are needed. This mucosal lining of the small intestine keeps out the larger molecules of not quite fully digested food particles, bacteria, toxins, and so on. 

When something starts irritating or inflaming the mucosal lining, the normally tight, narrow space between the cells loosen and allow some of these larger molecules to enter the blood stream.

When these larger food molecules, toxins and microbes enter the blood stream, the immune system will identify them as foreign and will produce antibodies against them. Some of these food molecules or toxins can look almost identical to molecules that belong in our body (cross-reactivity).  For that reason, these new antibodies will attack those body parts causing pain and inflammation.

Causes of Inflammation in the Gut

There is a long list of factors that can cause inflammation in the small intestine. Some of the most common ones are:

  • A diet high in refined or processed foods
  • Overgrowth of bad bacteria, viruses, yeast or parasites which can result from a diet high in sugar (what those bad bugs feed on) or an extended use of antibiotics
  • Low hydrochloric acid production.  That’s a BAD thing, because it’s the acid environment in the stomach that kills ingested microbes, starts breaking down food.
  • Consuming too many toxic chemicals.   Some examples are excessive alcohol consumption, lots of processed foods every day, frequent use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen/Paracetamol.
  • Foods that a person is allergic to (food allergens) or sensitive to (food intolerance).  Some of the most common are gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs.
  • Chronic stress
  • Genetically acquired enzyme deficiencies, like lactose intolerance
  • An older person’s cells just getting old and less tight

Challenges to Healing

Because Leaky Gut is a syndrome (LGS) that can be associated with other more recognizable diseases or conditions, doctors may not be familiar with it and will tend to gravitate toward treating those known conditions.

The most common conditions associated with Leaky Gut are Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Food allergy and sensitivity, Irritable bowel syndrome or disease (IBS, IBD), and Ulcerative Colitis.  Some doctors may test for these conditions, and conclude you are fine if the test come back negative.   Doctors and Nutritionists who focus on a functional or holistic approach to healing understand that gut issues are more complex than that, and typically have more comprehensive approaches to healing and can guide you through the healing process. 

If you think you may have a leaky gut and are willing to make a few changes to improve your health, read my post An onramp to a healthier life.