Understanding “Leaky Gut”: Separating Myths From Facts

The mention of ‘leaky gut’ seems to evoke mixed feelings in the health and wellness community. Some people think it’s a sham while others swear by it. Well, the truth is, ‘leaky gut’ is a phenomenon; and like all other phenomena, it is still an ongoing study. One thing for sure, though, is that it touches upon a core subject of wellness; gut health. So, let’s separate the wheat from the chaff.

Myth #1: Gluten Sensitivity Does Not Cause Intestinal Permeability

Intestinal permeability refers to the function of the intestinal walls to control passage and absorption of nutrients and electrolytes from the gastro intestinal (GI) tract and into the rest of the body. It is regulated by a protein known as Zonulin – which controls the tight junctions within the small intestine. On the other hand, gluten is a mixture of active proteins found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley.

Studies have shown that gluten activates Zonulin, causing the tight junctions to loosen (increased permeability) thereby allowing large particles to pass through. Even though these studies were carried out among a wide range of participants, the results were more conclusive for people with Celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Myth #2: ‘Leaky Gut’ Syndrome Does Not Have a Scientific Basis

There is a wealth of already published studies and articles about intestinal permeability and its link to ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. Hundreds of researchers from dozens of revered institutions around the world continue to publish their findings in well-recognized outlets such as Harvard Health Publishing, BioMed Central and PubMed.

Much of these findings demonstrate possible links between increased intestinal permeability and factors such as: high sugar intake, excessive alcohol intake, overuse of NSAIDs, poor gut health and yeast overgrowth.

Fact #1: ‘Leaky Gut’ Is Not Recognized As a Diagnosable Medical Condition

The field of medicine is an ongoing study and we have only barely scratched the surface. The available evidence regarding causes and manifestation of ‘leaky gut’ does not yet meet the existing threshold standards required to be adopted by mainstream medical practice.

However, most health practitioners and researchers believe that there is scientific logic to the hypotheses championed in leaky gut syndrome; with some even recommending gut health remedy courses in specialized cases. The intricacies of how the human body actually works continue to be a marvel for people in this field.

Fact #2: Intestinal Permeability Exits in Some Chronic Diseases

Crohn’s Disease is an example of a chronic condition that is characterized by persistent inflammation of the intestinal walls. Studies have established that increased intestinal permeability and hyper-permeability is a common denominator among all patients suffering this disease. As discussed earlier, Celiac Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are also rooted in increased intestinal permeability.

Although still an ongoing subject, some studies have shown links between increased intestinal permeability and Type 1 diabetes as well as a host of food allergies. On the latter, researchers believe that increased intestinal permeability allows certain food proteins into the bloodstream. This triggers an immune response, otherwise known as an antigen thus causing food allergies.

Consensus: Intestinal Permeability Can Be a Symptom or Cause of Disease

There is a growing consensus in the medical community that intestinal permeability can either be a cause or symptom of various diseases and conditions. When tests demonstrate the existence of increased intestinal permeability prior to onset of disease, a case can be made that it could be the underlying cause of said disease.

In most cases, however, increased intestinal permeability is often observed alongside several diseases – leading to the commonly held belief that it is a symptom or a response to a disease or condition rather than its underlying cause. In such cases, the right course of action would be to treat the disease first in order to restore the intestinal tract’s integrity.

Health Tip: Fermented Foods and Probiotic Supplements

The integrity of intestinal lining is the most important variable in gut health. It is directly influenced by the bacterial ecosystem in the gut. What this means is that for the intestinal lining to thrive, a healthy balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria must exist in the gut.

Also known as gut flora or microbiome, the bacterial ecosystem can be strengthened by increasing the population of beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. This can be done by consuming more fermented foods (and drinks) such as: Kefir, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Kombucha and Miso. Some fermented vegetables such as: carrots, green beans, beets, turnips and cherry tomatoes can help too. These foods introduce lactic acid bacteria that regulate pH levels in the GI tract and destroy pathogens; thereby restoring the integrity of intestinal lining.

Another way to introduce more good bacteria in your gut is by taking probiotic supplements. They help in fighting bad bacteria, preventing yeast overgrowth, improving digestion and consequently restoring a healthy bacterial balance in your gut.

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Marcelo Campos, MD, Contributor, Harvard Health Publishing (2017): “Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?” Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451

Gabriella Vawdrey, the Nutrition Press (2016): “Debunking the Myths of Leaky Gut Syndrome”. Retrieved from http://thenutritionpress.com/debunking-myths-leaky-gut-syndrome/

Becky Bell, MS, RD, Health Line (2016): “Does Gluten Cause Leaky Gut Syndrome?” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gluten-leaky-gut

Becky Bell, MS, RD, Health Line (2017): “Is Leaky Gut Syndrome a Real Condition? An Unbiased Look” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-leaky-gut-real

Editorial Staff of Just Thrive (2018): “Leaky Gut Syndrome: Symptoms, Facts, Signs, Causes, Probiotics, and Supplements”. Retrieved from https://thriveprobiotic.com/blogs/blog/leaky-gut-syndrome

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