In March, the journal Science published four bench research articles validating Leaky Gut as an entity and as a cause of systemic disease. To summarize the articles, excess translocation of bacteria from the gut into the bloodstream is associated with systemic inflammation. And that this chronic body wide inflammation causes disease! (1)
Ten years ago, I was invited to lecture to a large group of gastroenterologists. When I began discussing “Leaky Gut”, they thought I had lost my mind. Despite the fact that Integrative and Functional Medicine practitioners have been treating this condition for many years, Western medicine has been slow to adopt the concept. Even 3 years ago when those same gastroenterologists asked me to co-teach a class on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) some of the physicians wanted me to remove my slides on leaky gut. Too controversial! BTW, the preferred term among physicians is “increased intestinal permeability”. That’s OK, it works. We ultimately agreed the slides would stay, with disclaimers, since our patients were reading about this on the Internet and asking lots of questions!
So what really is leaky gut? The lining of the gastrointestinal tract is a single cell layer that normally has very tight cell junctions; this tight barrier limits the passage of various molecules from the lumen of the gut into our tissues and circulation. Various things like excessive stress (mental or physical), prolonged illness, food allergies or antibiotic use can cause those tight junctions to breakdown and allow molecules to leak from the gut into the circulation. Three recent articles demonstrate this concept scientifically:
One research group showed that a defective gene, known to be a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), makes the gut more leaky and allows excess movement of gut bacteria and bacterial products into the bloodstream with resultant inflammation (2).
Another group showed that a particular gut bacteria can breach the gut lining and translocate to lymph nodes and the liver and trigger Lupus (an autoimmune disease) in mice. This same bacteria is found in livers of humans with lupus. (3)
In a third report, investigators demonstrated that prolonged elevations in blood sugar reprogram the cells lining the gut wall making the gut barrier more permeable (leaky) and leading to movement of bacterial products and live bacteria into the circulation causing systemic inflammation. (4). So curb that sweet tooth because high sugar diets can lead to inflammation and disease!
What to do if you think you may have Leaky Gut? Seek out a reputable Integrative or Functional Medicine practitioner and get your gut checked out!