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Leaky Gut Syndrome; What is It and How to Recover?

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Vibhuti Rana

According to WebMD, "Leaky gut syndrome" is said to have symptoms including bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches and pains. However, it is still something of a medical mystery.

According to the gastroenterologist Donald Kirby, MD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic, “From an MD’s standpoint, it’s a very gray area. Physicians don’t know enough about the gut, which is our biggest immune system organ.”

Linda A. Lee MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the John Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center says, “We don’t know a lot but we know that it exists,” but “in the absence of evidence, we don’t know what it means or what therapies can directly address it.”

Though on the one hand they don't know what leaky gut syndrome is, yet Dr Lee admits it does exist. They go on to admit that celiacs and people with Crohn’s disease do indeed suffer from intestinal permeability or intestinal hyper-permeability and molecules indeed cross through the intestinal wall when they shouldn't.

leaky gut intestines

Dictionary.com defines permeability as:
  
1. The rate of flow of a liquid or gas through a porous material.

2. The ability of a substance to allow another substance to pass through it.

I don't know about you, but when one substance allows another substance to pass through it, that is a "leak", especially when it is not supposed to pass through.

So you can call it leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability because they essentially imply  the same.


Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Allergies, especially Food Allergies: When undigested food particles pass through the gut, the immune system can form IgE antibodies to that substance and attack it. When the immune system attacks any invader, it creates an inflammatory response and that response is often considered an allergic reaction because it happens shortly after the offending food was consumed.

Bowel Diseases: Diseases such as IBS and ulcerative colitis happen when the permeability is primarily in the colon.

Unexplained Skin Conditions: The skin is the largest organ of the body and when the inside becomes overwhelmed with toxins leaked from the colon, the skin will dump them through the pores. Eczema, psoriasis and unexplained skin conditions are often the result.

Autoimmune Diseases: These diseases include celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, etc. In these cases, it is believed that the immune system eventually becomes confused by the constantly leaking particles and begins to attack its host cells.

Probably the best thing to do if you think you have leaky gut syndrome is to be tested. There is a very simple urine test you can do yourself here.

Dr. Vibhuti Rana says...

Leaky gut is nothing but increased intestinal permeability due to which bacteria and toxins leak through the intestinal wall via the tight junctions. (1) An unhealthy gut due to faulty permeability and infiltration of toxins in the blood stream could induce inflammation in addition to making changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and other organs of the human system. (2) In 2017, a review was published by Odenwald and Turner in Nature Reviews. They revealed that the flux across the intestinal barrier was unrestricted in case of ulcerated and defective membrane. This barrier defect caused IBD and colitis in mice. Thus, if the tight junctions and their associated functions are preserved, the disease progression is delayed. (3)

1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-leaky-gut-real#section1
2. Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Posted September 22, 2017, 6:30 am , October 22, 2019. Marcelo Campos, MD. Harvard Medical School
3. Odenwald, M., Turner, J. The intestinal epithelial barrier: a therapeutic target?. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 14, 9–21 (2017) doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2016.169.

The Cause of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Grains, the blight of modern man.

For 2 million years we didn't eat grains. Then about 12,000 years ago, wheat miraculously cross bred with three different types of grass and its hard shell turned into a soft-shell that stayed on the stalk. Modern agriculture was born, and we've been eating wheat ever since.

We still cannot digest wheat unless it is processed first. So we harvest it and grind it up into flour, and make all kinds of things that are supposed to be good for you. In the last 100 years, we have taken this processing to new heights and produce all kinds of so called foods out of wheat flour. Pastas, breads, noodles, cakes, pies, chips, cereals, etc etc etc. It has become big big business worth billions of dollars a year. So much so that the Federal government recommends you get so many servings of whole grains per day to stay healthy.              

Medical Doctors Fasano A, Not T, Wang W, Uzzau S, Berti I, Tommasini A, and Goldblum SE, published a study in the Lancet in April 2000, that showed that gliadin in wheat interacts with the protein zonulin in the gut causing it to disassemble the cell junctions in the intestinal wall.(1)

Two additional studies published in 2006 and 2007 revealed that effects of gliadins on intestinal cell junctions happened in healthy people as well as those with celiac disease.(2,3)

Doctors Sandhu JS and Fraser DR determined in this study that rye, barley, oats, and corn, but not rice or soybean, damage the intestinal wall and can lead to increased intestinal permeability.(4) This study was further verified by Boyd and Bigwood in 2017.(5)

High intensity exercises without adequate rest periods causes heat and oxidative damage to the intestinal epithelial cell junctions, resulting in increased permeability to luminal endotoxins. This type of stimulation to the abdominal vagus nerve has an effect on the proteins responsible for tight cell junctions and increases the intestinal epithelial permeability.(6,7)

The consumption of alcohol can lead to an overgrowth of gram negative bacteria that produce acetaldehyde, which in turn results in damage to the epithelial cells of the intestine. Alcohol induced generation of nitric oxide may also contribute to an increased intestinal permeability. Alcohol may also increase the intestinal permeability towards peptidoglycans, which can initiate an inflammatory response in the liver and other organs.(8)

Pathogenic bacteria such as C. difficile, E. coli, H. pylori, C. perfringens, and others can all have an effect on the epithelial cells of the intestine, leading to leaky gut syndrome, inflammation, and other disease.(9,10,11)

Parasites, such as tapeworms also cause leaky gut syndrome.(12)

Candida albicans leads to a breakdown of the intestinal wall through an increase of transepithelial electrical resistance before subsequent barrier disruption, accompanied by a strong decline of junctional protein levels.(13)

Studies suggest that zinc deficiency contributes to leaky gut syndrome.(14,15)

NSAID's such as aspirin and ibuprofen have been found to contribute to intestinal permeability.16,17 So do PPI's.17 Long term use of aspirin can also cause stomach and intestinal bleeding that can kill you if not caught soon enough.

A deficiency in Vitamin D also contributes to leaky gut syndrome.(18,19,20)

This study that was published in the Journal of Proteome Research in 2015 showed that high fructose levels were positively correlated with an increase in intestinal permeability.(21)

Dr. Vibhuti Rana says...

The intestinal barrier is regulated by tight junctions, which work with the help of factors such as mucins, antimicrobial molecules, immunoglobulins, and cytokines. (1) Studies suggest that a protein called Zonulin is responsible for regulating the tight junctions, which act as the passages across the intestine. (2) The zonulin pathway is also a hot research area for diagnostics of a number of immune system regulated health conditions.

Additionally, a higher consumption of gluten, soy, or dairy in the diet leading to all symptoms of leaky gut like diarrhea, headaches, bloating, joint pain, etc. Other factors like prolonged use of NSAIDS, Crohn’s disease, alcohol intake, nutrient deficiencies, chronic inflammation, excessive sugar usage, and most importantly, a persisting yeast infection. (3)

1. Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. 2017 Frontiers in Immunology 8. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598/full
2. Fasano A. Intestinal permeability and its regulation by zonulin: diagnostic and therapeutic implications. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;10(10):1096–1100. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2012.08.012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3458511/
3. https://www.healthywomen.org/comment/61607

How to Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome

Eat right...

Eat plenty of vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, cabbage, Brussel’s sprouts, bok choy, and arugula daily, at least five or more servings, and it is best if they are fresh or frozen. Raw is preferred but you can also lightly steam, not boil them, if you wish. Do not buy canned vegetables either; they are over processed and almost devoid of nutritional value.
The above mentioned vegetables contain indole glucosinolates that break down into smaller substances called indolocarbazole, or ICZ that activate the AHR gateway receptor.

Studies show that when ICZ from cruciferous vegetables activates this AHR gateway receptor, it helps to enhance the gut’s important barrier function.

Consume plenty of good fats and oils that help the liver perform its job and lube the intestine. Good fatty oils are olive, macadamia, flax, avocado, and coconut oil. Grass fed beef, bison, ostrich, wild game, dark chicken, and turkey meat, wild Alaskan salmon and wild trout also are good because of the high Omega 3 fats that are critical for proper cell construction and function.

Do not eat wheat, corn, oats, rye, and barley while you are healing. Afterwards I would keep these foods to a bare minimum. It is best to avoid trans fats, vegetable oils, and sugar as well because they are toxic to the body and create inflammation.

Do not drink alcohol of any kind for as long as possible. A year is best but you're your own healer so act accordingly...

Avoid taking NSAID's and PPI medications if at all possible.

Do not consume fructose.

Supplements for Leaky Gut Syndrome

Address any pathogenic bacteria over growth, parasites or Candida yeast issues. You might want to do this stool test to determine if these pathogens are a problem is so it can be treated correctly. Candida issues can be addressed by doing the basic or systemic cleanse.

Pathogenic bacteria and/or H. pylori can be cleared by doing what I suggest here.

Parasites can be killed at the same time with either cleanse by taking this.

Supplement with zinc and Vitamin D daily. You can test your Vitamin D levels here if you would rather not take it without knowing if this is an issue. Any reading on the test of 29 or below is insufficient, ideal levels are in the 50's, and you will need to supplement if to low. Same goes for zinc and you could do this test first to see if it is an issue or not.

It would be a good idea to start taking L-glutamine because Doctors Lian-An Ding and Jie-Show Li from Nanjing University Medical School in China found that it remarkably alleviates damage to the small intestine.(22)

Also, in 1998 Bart et al., published a study in the Annals of Surgery, on the post operative effects and recovery rates related to patients that underwent digestive surgery. Post operative hospital stays were 6.2 days shorter for those that took l-glutamine than those that didn't, proving l-glutamines ability to heal the intestinal walls.(23)

I also suggest high dose colostrum tablets. Colostrum is not only an immune system stimulator but also has numerous growth factors for the digestive system. It also helps prepare the intestinal lining for attachment by good bacteria.

There are claims being made out there that anyone with leaky gut should not take probiotics because the bacteria could pass through the intestinal wall and cause illness. But a 2013 study out of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta; shows that probiotic bacteria actually "trigger the production of host epithelial cells, which line the various cavities of the body, which in turn activates and proliferates the spread of intestinal stem cells." These intestinal stem cells rebuild the intestinal wall. A high dose probiotic like those described here is suggested for leaky gut, 15 minutes after one or two colostrum tablets.

MPS-Gold is also good for leaky gut syndrome. Not only does it kill candida yeast and increase immune function, but I have seen it stop intestinal bleeding within 24 hours in animals and humans. That proves to me that it definitely heals the lining of the intestine.

Then you just have to give it time. It took you years to get leaky gut syndrome so it is going to take a while for your body to heal.

Dr. Vibhuti Rana says...

It is by now clear that pathological conditions and unhealthy diet lead to the conditions of leaky gut. Several recent reports have shown that probiotics can undo the ill-effects of leaky gut by facilitating the expression of tight junction proteins. However, additional and longer term studies are still required. A controlled and cautious modulation of the gut microbial interplay is primarily going to decide the vulnerability of an individual to tackle the problem of leaky gut. (1)

As far as the diet is concerned, it is suggested that increase in probiotic and high fiber content of your food while reducing the carbohydrate and NSAID usage in your daily life is a potent solution for ameliorating this health concern. Bottom line is, the greater the number of friendly bacteria in your gut, lesser the chances of developing gut-associated immune problems and discomforts. Including mineral supplements and vitamins help in restoring the balance and fading away the signs and symptoms of leaky gut. (2, 3)

1. Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. 2017 Frontiers in Immunology 8.
2. Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Posted September 22, 2017, 6:30 am , October 22, 2019. Marcelo Campos, MD. Harvard Medical School
3. Ulluwishewa D, Anderson RC, McNabb WC, Moughan PJ, Wells JM, Roy NC. Regulation of tight junction permeability by intestinal bacteria and dietary components. J Nutr (2011) 141(5):769–76. doi:10.3945/jn.110.135657.

Updated 1/20/2020

Leaky Gut Syndrome and Yeast Infection Advisor Home

Any questions about leaky gut syndrome please feel free to contact me from the contact page of this website.

Article References:

1. Lancet. 2000 Apr 29;355(9214):1518-9.
Zonulin, a newly discovered modulator of intestinal permeability, and its expression in coeliac disease. Fasano A, Not T, Wang W, Uzzau S, Berti I, Tommasini A, Goldblum SE.
2. Gut. 2007 Jun; 56(6): 889–890. Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals? Production of interleukin 15 in biopsy culture from non-coeliac individuals challenged with gliadin peptides.
3. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2006 Apr;41(4):408-19. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines.
4. Sandhu JS, Fraser DR. Effect of dietary cereals on intestinal permeability in experimental enteropathy in rats.Gut. 1983 Sep;24(9):825-30.
5. Boyd GM1, Bigwood C2, Paul SP3.When gluten free is harmful.Br J Nurs. 2017 Aug 10;26(15):844. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2017.26.15.844.
6. Med Hypotheses. 2015 Dec;85(6):882-6. Epub 2015 Sep 16. My gut feeling says rest: Increased intestinal permeability contributes to chronic diseases in high-intensity exercisers.
7. Br J Sports Med. 2014 Jun;48(12):980-6. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091585. Epub 2012 Nov 7. Exercise regulation of intestinal tight junction proteins.
8. Alcohol. 2008 Aug; 42(5): 349–361. Published online 2008 May 27. Alcohol, Intestinal Bacterial Growth, Intestinal Permeability to Endotoxin, and Medical Consequences
9. Gut. 2003 Mar; 52(3): 439–451. Intestinal epithelial responses to enteric pathogens: effects on the tight junction barrier, ion transport, and inflammation.
10. Science. 2003 May 30; 300(5624): 1430–1434.doi: Disruption of the Epithelial Apical-Junctional Complex by Helicobacter pylori CagA
11. Infect Immun. 2005 Dec; 73(12): 7844–7852. Helicobacter pylori Activates Myosin Light-Chain Kinase To Disrupt Claudin-4 and Claudin-5 and Increase Epithelial Permeability
12. J Parasitol. 2001 Dec;87(6):1260-3. Modulation of caudal intestinal permeability in the rat during infection by the tapeworm Hymenolepis diminuta.
13. Cell Microbiol. 2016 Jul;18(7):889-904. doi: 10.1111/cmi.12566. Epub 2016 Feb 26. Candida albicans infection leads to barrier breakdown and a MAPK/NF-?B mediated stress response in the intestinal epithelial cell line C2BBe1.
14. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2016 Jul 1;311(1):G105-16. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00405.2015. Epub 2016 May 5.
Cellular zinc is required for intestinal epithelial barrier maintenance via the regulation of claudin-3 and occludin expression.
15. J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1664-70. Zinc deficiency induces membrane barrier damage and increases neutrophil transmigration in Caco-2 cells
16. J Gastroenterol. 2009;44 Suppl 19:23-9. doi: Epub 2009 Jan 16. Intestinal permeability in the pathogenesis of NSAID-induced enteropathy.
17. Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology (2016) 7, e196; doi:10.1038/ctg.2016.54 Human Intestinal Barrier Function in Health and Disease.
18. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2015 Feb;21(2):297-306. Vitamin D deficiency predisposes to adherent-invasive Escherichia coli-induced barrier dysfunction and experimental colonic injury.
19. J Infect Dis. 2014 Oct 15;210(8):1296-305. Vitamin D deficiency promotes epithelial barrier dysfunction and intestinal inflammation.
20. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2008 Jan;294(1):G208-16. Epub 2007 Oct 25. Novel role of the vitamin D receptor in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal mucosal barrier.
21. J Proteome Res. 2015 Nov 6;14(11):4734-42. Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Altered Intestinal Permeability Induced by Combat Training Are Associated with Distinct Metabotypic Changes.
22. World J Gastroenterol. 2003 Jun 15; 9(6): 1327–1332. 2003 Jun 15. Effects of glutamine on intestinal permeability and bacterial translocation in TPN-rats with endotoxemia.
23. Morlion, Bart J.; Stehle, Peter; Wachtler, Paul; Siedhoff, Hans-P.; Köller, Manfred; König, Wolfgang; Fürst, Peter; Puchstein, Christoph. Annals of Surgery: 1998, Volume 227 - Issue 2 - pp 302-308.

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