Your Gut May Be Leaking - Find Out Why

by Michael R. Lyon, MD

The small intestine is a marvelous and complex organ that bears a far greater relationship to good health than most people ever realize. The inner lining of this 18-foot-long, multi-layered tube is formed by a single layer of cells fastened together with bands around each cell's middle called "tight junctions." A great deal of energy is expended in maintaining these tight junctions because they help to maintain a leak-proof lining for the small intestine. The lining of the intestine is also greatly folded to increase the surface area for absorption. In fact, if the small intestine were completely flattened out, it would have the surface area of two tennis courts!

It is critical that foods and microbes are prevented from directly passing through this leak-proof lining into the bloodstream and lymph surrounding the intestinal wall. When the digestive system is in good health, the contents of the intestine are fully digested into tiny molecules before very selective absorption takes place on the surface of intestinal cells. Normally, only a very small percentage (less than one per cent) of any food passes through the intestinal wall without being fully digested. Unfortunately, a wide array of stresses upon the intestinal lining can result in damage to the tight junctions holding intestinal cells together, thus resulting in an increase in intestinal permeability, or what is commonly called "leaky gut syndrome."

Who Suffers?
Leaky gut syndrome has been well described in scientific literature as an accompaniment of various intestinal diseases, as well as in those who have suffered from severe trauma or major surgery. It has been recognized that, in these conditions, increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome) results in a poorer outcome for the patient. However, leaky gut syndrome may be an accompaniment of a much wider range of health conditions. For example, researchers have shown that a significant percentage of children with autism have increased intestinal permeability. Likewise, research I have conducted demonstrates that almost three out of four children with attention deficit disorder also have leaky gut syndrome--most without any obvious intestinal symptoms! Other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and food allergy, are commonly accompanied by a persistent leaky gut. In many people, leaky gut is a transient condition occurring for days to weeks following a junk food binge, heavy drinking or an intestinal infection.

Nutritionally oriented health-care practitioners can order tests, such as the lactulose-mannitol intestinal permeability test, to determine if a person has a leaky gut.

What are the Effects?
Leaky gut syndrome results in large quantities of partially digested food molecules, as well as debris from bacteria and yeast organisms, passing directly through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream and lymph. In fact, it has been clearly demonstrated that even living micro-organisms can pass directly through the intestinal wall by the thousands when there is a leaky gut!

It isn't hard to imagine that leaky gut syndrome can cause a significant amount of stress on the internal workings of the body. The food and microbiological debris that passes through the leaky gut ends up residing temporarily in the blood and lymph, where it puts a great deal of strain on the immune system guarding the intestine, since the immune cells have to process this unwanted debris. Every drop of blood coming from the intestine is then filtered by the liver, which also is placed under great stress. Debris from the leaky gut that enters the intestinal lymph fluid also empties directly into the bloodstream through a duct in the neck. This debris then passes through the right side of the heart and is filtered largely by the lungs. This, in turn, places the lungs under a great deal of stress and may contribute to chronic respiratory problems.

Overall, the syndrome results in over-activation of the immune system surrounding the intestine, within the liver and within the lungs. This may result in higher incidences of allergic or hypersensitivity reactions, and may contribute to the development of autoimmune processes such as arthritis. Over-activation of the immune system also leads to the release of inflammatory molecules that travel throughout the body, potentially contributing to such symptoms as irritability, fatigue, muscle pain and brain fog. In my opinion, there are millions of children and adults who never experience the joy of good health largely because of leaky gut syndrome.

What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The intestinal cells are very nutritionally demanding, and the lack of a variety of nutrients can result in leaky gut. Essential fatty acids, phospholipids (such as lecithin), the amino acid L-glutamine, vitamins (especially certain B vitamins), antioxidants and micronutrients (especially zinc) are all important factors in maintaining the integrity of the intestine's leak-proof lining. Thus, the typical North American diet is not the ideal diet for avoiding leaky gut syndrome.

In addition, junk foods and fast foods are loaded with chemicals that cause direct irritation of the intestinal lining. The worst of these are the toxic fats used in deep-frying. Commercial deep-frying often relies on hydrogenated vegetable oils that are loaded with noxious trans fatty acids. As well, the repeated heating of oils to high temperatures results in hundreds of different toxic byproducts that have no place in human diet.

Drugs (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics), excessive alcohol consumption, food allergies or intolerances and overgrowth of undesirable intestinal microbes are also commonly associated with leaky gut syndrome.

What Can Be Done?
Removing all irritating factors should be the first step. Avoidance of junk foods and fast foods (especially deep-fried foods), and identification and avoidance of food allergies and intolerances, are all highly important steps in healing. Also, treatment of undesirable intestinal microbes, as well as avoidance of drugs and alcohol, may play an important role.

A whole foods diet with reliance upon organically grown, non-GMO foods should be the leaky gut sufferer's nutritional foundation. In addition, supplementing the diet with low allergy-potential nutrients containing high amounts of L-glutamine, essential fatty acids, phospholipids (such as lecithin), zinc (and other minerals and micronutrients), antioxidants (such as grape seed extract), B vitamins, water-soluble fibre and probiotic bacteria are all prescribed by nutritionally oriented health-care practitioners for those with a leaky gut. Health food stores now stock sophisticated natural health products that are engineered to help those who suffer with this common cause of poor health.

Dr Michael R. Lyon is the director of research and education at the Oceanside Functional Medicine Research Institute on Vancouver Island, BC. He is the author of Healing the Hyperactive Brain.


ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LEAKY GUT SYNDROME
collected from the WholeApproach Forums

Tari-Lee Cornish of Nature's Paradigm is a moderator on the Whole Approach forums at www.wholeapproachforums.com. Tari-Lee is a holistic nutritional consultant specializing in a food therapy approach to allergy, candida and immune management. She believes deeply in mind-body medicine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree that will enhance her qualifications and enable her to both perform research and provide counseling in the field of Health Psychology.

Important strategies that you can use to help resolve LGS (leaky gut syndrome) include relaxing before you eat, chewing your food for an extended period of time before swallowing (10-20 chews for each bite-full), and only eating a diet that is truly nourishing to you and non-allergenic. See the WholeApproach Diet pages and previous newsletter articles: Tips for Better Digestion and More Tips for Better Digestion.

The following supplements may also be helpful.
  1. Georges Aloe Vera Juice - Also see the following link for more information: Product Guide - George's Aloe. This is a clear, tasteless therapeutic drink that supports detoxification while assisting with the healing of the gastro-intestinal tract. It is alkalizing and soothing and gently helps to correct digestive discomfort and Leaky Gut. You can drink up to four ounces per day of this clear, tasteless, nourishing drink. Either mix it in with your purge drink or use it alone on an empty stomach. Also, it tastes lovely mixed in with unsweetened cranberry juice and stevia for a healing treat.
  2. Digestive Enzymes. Digestive enzymes may be very helpful when treating leaky gut. Enzymes break down the food particles so they do not exist as larger particles that will physically irritate the gut lining or activate the immune system. Plant-based enzymes are especially effective because they begin working in the stomach before the food even enters the intestines. By helping to break down the food, enzymes are also helping to make the individual vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients more available, as well as releasing the energy from your food. Food intolerances usually improve dramatically when enzyme use begins. Many people report improvements the very first day of taking enzymes. I recommend Digesticol Digestive Enzymes. Digesticol is natural, vegetable enzymes with no excipients or fillers. This is the only digestive enzyme I've ever seen that has no additives whatsoever and that truly works with just one capsule. In my experience, it's the most powerful digestive enzyme that I've ever tried.
  3. DDS Probioplus Blend by UAS Laboratories - Probioplus is a highly effective product for normalizing the environment of both the small and large intestine. DDS acidophilus bacteria produces a natural antibiotic which has been shown to possess a wide range of antimicrobial activity against common food-borne pathogens. It's ability to inhibit Candida Albicans has been confirmed with clinical studies. It also helps to maintain proper intestinal pH to encourage the sustenance of healthy flora. Probioplus also contains a healthy quantity of bifidus, the predominant beneficial bacteria in the colon. It is required for the efficient break down of complex carbohydrates including the fiber of beans and grains. Of all the probiotics I've ever come across, Probioplus is the most potent and has the most noticeable, immediate effect.
  4. SBX - releases medium chain fatty acids to help heal the gut. It also boosts immunity which in turn activates the healing process. At the same time it builds your intestinal populations of HSM's which aggressively consume pathogenic organisms.
  5. Neutral Vitamin C Plus - is an excellent support for Leaky Gut because of its ability to aid tissue healing. It is also wonderful to boost the immune system, support the detoxification process, and reduce allergic reactions. You can take anywhere between two and six per day on a regular basis and you can also use it to lessen an allergic reaction if you have accidentally been exposed to a substance that is a problem for you. WholeApproach Store will be adding a new Vitamin C product in December.
  6. L-Glutamine - This is a single free form amino acid which helps to repair the lining of the intestines. Renew Life brand Intesti-New - This is a powdered formula with a number of ingredients that help to heal the intestines. Stay tuned at the Whole Approach store as we plan to introduce a glutamine product soon.
  7. Activin Plus L-OptiZinc - Grape Seed Antioxidant - UAS ActiVin is an all natural Grape Seed extract rich in biologically active flavonoids and is combined with L-OptiZinc (zinc methionine), a form of zinc clinically proven to be the most bio-available form of the nutrient ever manufactured. Using antioxidants can help prevent tissue damage. By helping the vitamin C enter the cells, Grape Seed extract aids in strengthening cell membranes and protecting the cells from oxidative damage. It can improve circulation, strengthen capillaries, and help protect collagen fibers, which are necessary for growth and repair of cells from damage caused over the years by free radicals. Zinc is necessary in maintaining intestinal wall integrity. Supplementing with zinc could contribute significantly to healing leaky gut. Zinc is also instrumental in a maintaining a healthy immune system.
  8. Zymitol Systemic Enzymes - Systemic Enzymes, when taken on an empty stomach, travel through the bloodstream cleaning out any toxins and waste that may be accumulating there. This assistance in cleaning the blood helps relieve the burden on the liver and the immune system.

    Another benefit of taking systemic enzymes between meals is to reduce inflammation. Bromelain and papain (protease enzymes derived from pineapple and papaya) are found to be incredibly effective at reducing inflammation. Proteases can reduce inflammation in the gut directly. Bromelain and papain are well-known agents for assisting in healing gastric ulcers. Material leaking through the intestinal lining can make its way to joints and aggravate them to the point of inflammation, or add to inflammation already started. The proteases in the bloodstream break down these sources of inflammation as they pass by in the bloodstream. Then the debris is transported out of the body, alleviating pain and freeing the immune system up to do other things. Systemic enzymes not only address the damaged gut, but also help alleviate symptoms of food intolerances, inflammation and symptoms that arise from lowered immunity.
  9. Canadian Bitters - Herbal bitters help enhance digestion and assimilation by stimulating our taste receptors on the tongue. The bitter taste of these herbs is a necessary part of their effect, as the taste itself is helpful in stimulating appetite and digestive secretions. This increases the flow of bile, which supports both digestion and the body's natural cleansing processes. It is an extremely valuable aid in revitalizing the digestive functions by also enhancing secretions of the liver, pancreas, stomach, and small intestine. Herbal Bitters provides rich enzyme catalysts, which improve nutrient absorption. St. Francis Herb Farm Canadian Bitters also helps to protect the liver from toxins.
  10. Essential fatty acids - milled flax, flax seed oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil, olive oil, fish oil, black current seed oil; soluble fiber - psyllium husk and seed powder, apple and citrus pectin.
  11. Also beneficial, Green Foods and B-Complex vitamins.