The Missing Link in Digestive Health, Allergies, and Autoimmune Disease
“What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?” a patient of mine recently asked–prompting me to write this article. You may have heard this term (also referred to as increased intestinal permeability)–a popular catchphrase that refers to the problems caused when the permeability of the intestinal wall has been compromised. Formerly healthy people may suffer a variety of allergic, autoimmune and/or digestive health issues as well as chronic pain from arthritis or other conditions. Take a look at this list to see the wide range of health conditions implicated with Leaky Gut Syndrome: Eczema, Asthma, Psoriasis, MS, Lupus, IBS, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and so on. Recent evidence indicates that emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and more serious disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia have been linked to gut permeability issues.
The Second Brain: The Digestive Tract
In explaining what Leaky Gut Syndrome is, it may sound wild that such diversity of health problems are tied to digestion. But scientists are now calling the digestive tract The Second Brain or The Enteric Nervous System because of the discovery that there is a brain-like function to the gut. In fact the digestive system has just as many neuronal cells as the spinal cord! Over 90% of the body’s Serotonin (an important neurotransmitter) is found there. The functions of this little brain are diverse and since it communicates with the Central Nervous System, could potentially affect any body system. Depending on biochemical individuality leaky gut issues can manifest in different parts of the body and create different symptoms.
Leaky Gut Syndrome: What is Function of the Gut Wall?
The lining of the digestive system serves to protect the body’s internal environment and filter nutrients and toxins, to provide nutrition to the body and help excrete wastes. When intestinal permeability is impaired, it allows substances to “leak” into the blood stream which normally would not be permitted to pass through. These include bacteria, incompletely digested proteins and fats, toxins and waste. This causes allergic/autoimmune reactions as the body responds to these unfamiliar intruders.
Often it is plant proteins that are the culprit in these autoimmune reactions. That’s one reason for the current “gluten-free” craze, as gluten is a plant protein found in different grains (and some other plants) that can cause these autoimmune reactions in the body. Unfortunately there are many other plant proteins that can cause problems so going gluten free may not be enough to cure your leaky gut problems, though it can provide some symptomatic relief for many. Ideally we would heal the digestive tract so that all foods could be consumed again. This can take 2-3 years in adults, and is usually much faster for children.
Causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome
To understand what Leaky Gut Syndrome is, we have to explore what causes it. It may surprise you to learn that it only takes one round of antibiotics to create seemingly permanent changes to the intestinal wall. After all, most of us have had more than one round of antibiotics! Some people get a false sense of security by taking probiotic supplements with their antibiotics. While this can be helpful, probiotics alone do not restore the function of the gut wall once it has been compromised.
Some other causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome:
- Chemicals in personal care products such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion, makeup, deodorant, and so on
- Chemicals in lawn and garden products
- Chemicals in household cleaners and other household products
- Other pharmaceutical drugs such as NSAID’s, Acid Reflux drugs, and so on
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatment
- Improper diet
- Chronic stress or emotional trauma
Until we lose our addiction to chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, and fast food, Americans may continue to be plagued by these kinds of illnesses. That’s why understanding what Leaky Gut Syndrome is involves a societal and cultural perspective as well as a medical one. In fact, I just posted a study on my facebook wall, showing that the epidemic of Autism in the US may be much greater than in Europe or Latin America due to the prevalence of chemicals here that don’t exist in other countries.
There is Hope!
So far all this sounds pretty discouraging. But don’t lose hope! It is an exciting time as there is much we can do to fix the damage. The first step to recovery is understanding what Leaky Gut Syndrome is. We’ll cover some of these solutions in future articles. Dietary therapy, Chinese herbs, Emotional Healing techniques and Allergy Elimination techniques all have a role here. Much of the power in healing the digestive tract lies in the patient’s hands. You have the power to heal yourself! The role of the practitioner is to identify the therapies and support the patient in making the necessary changes to lifestyle and practice.
The Art of Medicine
Treatment of Leaky Gut is where the Art of Medicine comes in. There is no one-size fits all solution to Leaky Gut Syndrome. There is no pill to cure it, or one thing that will make it all better. It requires a comprehensive approach that is fit to the individual’s temperament and lifestyle.
I have found the following approaches to be helpful in treating Gut Permeability issues. Look for future articles on these topics as we continue our Leaky Gut Syndrome Series!
- Emotional Freedom Technique for Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Allergy Elimination for Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Autoimmune Dietary Therapy
- Micronutrient Testing for Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Chinese Dietary Therapy
- Acupuncture and Leaky Gut Syndrome