Leaky gut syndrome is characterized by increased permeability of intestines due damage of the intestinal lining. To understand leaky gut syndrome, it is of utmost importance that we should take a look at the physiology of our gastrointestinal tract (GI).
Physiology of Gastrointestinal Tract
In healthy conditions, GI tract absorbs and transmits molecules that are by-products of digestion process. These molecules can be of amino acids, sugar, vitamins, fatty acids, or minerals which are required by the body for proper functioning of life process. GI tract has a barrier in form of its intestinal lining.
The transmission process across this lining is carried out in two ways depending on the size of these molecules. Small molecules (size up to 5000 Daltons) are transmitted across the intestinal lining with help of carrier proteins, a specific type of proteins present in intestine. This carrier protein gets bound with the small molecules of minerals, vitamins, and transmits them across the epithelium by active mechanism of transmission.
Larger molecules (size more than 5000 Daltons up to 9200daltons) are transferred by means of passive mechanism. This passive mechanism uses the intercellular pathways or spaces commonly known as Desmosomes. Desmosomes are tight junction spaces present in between epithelium cells which don't allow the larger molecules of unwanted material to cross the lining. Infections, autoimmune diseases and certain gastrointestinal disorders alter the structural integrity of the intestinal lining. This disrupts intestinal permeability, and leaky gut syndrome occurs.
Inflammation of Gastrointestinal Tract
Due to varied reasons GI tract gets inflamed and it fails to absorb nutrients and foods properly in the blood stream. Fatigue and bloating are the common symptoms visible. As the permeability function of intestine gets disrupted, it allows larger food particles to pass through along with antibodies in blood stream. It results in food allergies and new symptoms. The carrier proteins get damaged which results in nutrient deficiency. Due to the malfunctioning of detoxification pathways chemical sensitivity poses a problem which leads to the alarming level of toxins and overburdens the liver.
In addition, the intestinal lining is the site for secretion of immunoglobulin A, which is essential for protection from several infectious agents. This function of the intestinal lining gets altered due to inflammation and tissue damage, leading to an increase in susceptibility to infections.
Leaky gut syndrome also leads to frequent triggering of the immune system, which adds to the complications. When the intestinal epithelial lining becomes more permeable, even larger substances like toxins, undigested food particles, disease-causing bacteria pass directly through the damaged cells. The immune mechanism is alarmed, and cytokines are secreted, which stimulate white blood corpuscles to fight the foreign particles. The immune reaction thus triggered, causes irritation and inflammation throughout the body.
Symptoms of intestinal permeability include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Chronic joint pain
- Chronic muscle pain
- Poor immunity
- Foggy thinking
- Mood swings
This condition also gives rise to other health problems like:
- Poor memory
- Recurrent vaginal infections
- Skin rashes
- Recurrent bladder infections
- Shortness of breath
- Aggressive behavior
- Feeling toxic
It has been hypothesized that intestinal infections may be a major cause for occurrence of leaky gut syndrome. If an accelerated growth of bacteria in small intestine occurs, it can prove to be fatal. Environmental contaminants like toxic metals are also one of the major causes of disease. In addition, chronic stress and side effects of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs contribute towards the syndrome.
This syndrome has also been associated with numerous other diseases including autoimmune diseases, hives, pancreatic insufficiency, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, liver dysfunction, food allergies and sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
"Mannitol and lactulose tests" are the principal tool of diagnosis. Both being water-soluble molecules that body can't use; mannitol is the one which can be absorbed by healthy intestine while lactulose is a larger molecule and cannot be absorbed by intestinal lining. This tests aims at finding out the amount of absorption of these two molecules by means of urinalysis after six hours.
Altered intestinal permeability remains the principal cause and thankfully there are numerous nutrients and herbs are present, that help to reduce inflammation of gut. Stress reduction therapies can be very effective in the treatment. It is essential to restore the healthy ecology of gut.
- Nutrients like glutamine (amino acid), which is essential for production of intestinal mucus, Vitamin A for production of antibodies, Zinc for growth and healing of epithelial cells play a major role in treatment.
- Herbs like Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice, Silymarin or milk thistle, Aloe, Slippery Elm are used more commonly to heal the damaged lining of intestinal wall.
- Stress reduction therapy offers much more relief as there is a strong connection between brain and activities of digestive system.
The leaky gut syndrome is a proposed theory to explain a damaged bowel lining. However, it is not a widely recognized diagnosis and is based mainly on alternative medicine hypothesis. Therefore, before coming to any conclusion, make sure you speak to expert doctors for more advice.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.