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Leaky Gut Syndrome: Meaning and Treatment Options

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The leaky gut syndrome has special conditions among digestive disorders. 

It is different from other disorders such as ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD) in a sense. Both UC and CD are widely-studied, less controversial medical conditions involving inflammation in the intestines, which causes the gut's barrier to function abnormally [1].  

Leaky Gut Syndrome 

Unlike these disorders, leaky gut syndrome is not acknowledged or recognized as a legitimate medical diagnosis. To this date, scientists have yet to figure out the many mysteries and questions surrounding this syndrome [2]. 

Yet, this topic has garnered so much interest and anticipation from researchers and the public alike.  

This is especially so with the abundance of resources that give readers and viewers a presumably guaranteed remedy to prevent or cure this leaky gut syndrome. Like many others, you probably want to know which of these work and which are a hoax. 

What Is A Leaky Gut?  

A Leaky gut is a simplified term that many resources refer to as an increase in intestinal permeability. Supposedly, this allows bacteria, toxins, or chemicals from your intestinal tract to enter your bloodstream, possibly causing long-term diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), which is a condition that affects your brain and spinal cord [3].  

As these toxins accumulate in your bloodstream, your body's immune system reacts by launching its defense mechanism. Due to this response, you may experience specific symptoms such as food intolerance (allergies), chronic fatigue syndrome or even conditions that affect the brain, namely, MS and autism. However, these claims are not entirely true, and there is unfortunately very little evidence from research studies that confirms these suspicions [2, 3, 4]. 

leaky gut diagram

The common perception is that the gut is a single barrier, and any breach in this barrier will allow toxins and bacteria access into the bloodstream. Yet, this is quite an oversimplified view.  

On the contrary, the intestine consists of several barriers with transporters that move substances into and out of the bloodstream, making it complicated for scientists to run accurate tests and pinpoint the exact factors as the definite cause for a ‘leaky gut' [2, 5].  


What Causes A Leaky Gut? 

Despite the limits of scientific experimentation, researchers have conducted many studies to determine the causes of a leaky gut. They proposed the following as possible main factors that increase a person's risk of getting this syndrome.  

1. Stress From Excessive Physical Training 

Some studies suggest that prolonged exercises induce stress on the digestive tract. That stress is transferred to the gut barrier causing an increase in intestinal permeability, leading to a leaky gut condition [6]. 

2. Diet And Drug Abuse  

Research suggests stomach ulcers as another cause resulting from the overuse or faulty use of non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Other studies investigated whether the dietary intake of unhealthy foods is likely to induce stress and ultimately lead to a “leaky gut”.  

The study showed that the modification of the gut microbiota through diet helped pregnant women and their fetus to have improved metabolic health and improved intestinal permeability [8]. 

3. Certain Health Disorders 

Many psychiatric and neuronal conditions are associated with increased intestinal permeability. Several studies have found a solid link between digestive disorders causing a leaky gut and aging, food allergies, liver diseases, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's diseases [2, 9, 10].   

Unsurprisingly, a lot of these claims have yet to be confirmed conclusively. Further research is still ongoing to prove or disregard these claims [2]. Even though these factors may increase the permeability of your intestines, this in itself is not proven to cause any major or long-term harm [3]. 


How Is A Leaky Gut Diagnosed?  

Because the ‘leaky gut syndrome is not classified as an actual medical diagnosis, it might be rare for your doctor to diagnose you exclusively with this after a check-up. Till the moment, there are no actual tests that doctors will run to confirm that your gut is ‘leaky'. 

There are symptoms that healthcare professionals suggest as signs that you may have this condition. Often, the symptoms related to a “leaky gut” include constipation, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fatigue, vomiting, bloating and gas [2].  

Nevertheless, these symptoms are also commonly related to other diseases that affect the intestines, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) [3]. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is recommended to get yourself checked out because, unlike the ‘leaky gut syndrome, these underlying diseases may severely impact your health and daily activities.  


How Is A Leaky Gut Treated?  

Treating a “leaky gut” is another widely controversial and highly debated topic surrounding this disorder. There are a bunch of remedies or therapies that some people swear by.  

Treatments range from herbal remedies and supplements like probiotics or prebiotics to changes in lifestyle and diet, such as consuming a gluten-free diet or a low FODMAP diet [2, 3, 11, 12]. FODMAP refers to carbohydrates or sugars that your small intestine does not absorb effectively. 

 

Based on multitudes of evidence, probiotics and prebiotics can potentially improve your digestive health. Also, a low FODMAP or gluten-free diet may improve the symptoms of a leaky gut, though the presumed symptoms of a ‘leaky gut' overlap those of other gut-related disorders. 

 Such an overlap of symptoms complicates the entire matter, but the bottom line is this; There is no proven cure for a ‘leaky gut' [2,3]. Take everything with a bit of salt, as some remedies or diet books claim to be the miracle cure for that syndrome.  


Leaky Gut: Summing Up  

If you still have many unanswered questions about the “leaky gut”, you are not alone. Researchers, scientists, and healthcare professionals have yet to confirm many things about this syndrome.  

Still, if you are concerned, your best bet is consuming diets low in processed fats and sugars and practicing healthy lifestyle habits, including restricted alcohol consumption, stress control practices, and quitting smoking. These may not directly prevent or cure a leaky gut, but they are general practices that will improve your digestive health as a whole.   

References:  

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4281375/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6790068/ 
[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/leaky-gut-syndrome/ 
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6313445/ 
[5] https://oce.ovid.com/article/00001574-201603000-00004/HTML 
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27943148/ 
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29221664/ 
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27466607/ 
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4353469/ 
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604320/ 
[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29345158/ 
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835969/ 

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