Digestive illnesses are one of the most common diseases of the Western world and in the UK more than one third of the population suffers from one (Gut Omnibus Survey 2003). A disorder of the digestive system that is becoming increasingly prevalent is ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ – an unpleasant condition that severely impacts a sufferer’s quality of life and, as it often affects the immune system, can result in a whole host of additional ailments when left untreated. In this article you’re going to learn what leaky gut syndrome is, its primary causes and most common symptoms and finally, how to treat and even prevent it.
What is a leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky Gut Syndrome (also known as intestinal permeability) is a condition caused by an imbalance of intestinal flora. In other words there is insufficient ‘friendly’ bacteria within the gut, to stop ‘bad’ bacteria and yeast from growing out of control. This not only compromises the immune system, it also results in tiny perforations in the intestinal tract, making it permeable and prone to leaking. As a result, partly digested food and other harmful toxins are able to seep into the bloodstream where they cause internal damage and trigger allergic responses. The condition can also prevent some of the beneficial nutrients in our food from being absorbed correctly, often culminating in nutrient deficiencies. According to Dr. William Crook, author of ‘The Yeast Connection’, intestinal permeability results in bloating and flatulence, cravings for carbohydrate rich foods (to feed the growing yeast), a toxic overload of the liver, a weakened immune system, fluid retention, swollen fat cells, hormonal imbalance and stress, which ultimately leads to an increased release of cortisol and weight gain.
Alternative practitioners believe that leaky gut syndrome is either linked to or prompts, a range of other diseases including asthma, diabetes, psoriasis, depression, bladder infections, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
The causes of leaky gut syndrome
As already mentioned, a leaky gut arises when your intestinal flora is out of balance. This can happen when you are taking antibiotics or other medication including NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), birth control pills, steroids, chemotherapeutic agents and antacids. It can also be triggered by diet – if you enjoy a diet that is high in carbohydrates and sugars for example, this greatly reduces the volume of friendly bacteria in your intestines and allows bad bacteria to multiply rapidly. And unfortunately, if you suffer from an imbalance of hormones or diseases such as Crohn’s, colitis, celiac, pancreatitis, HIV/AIDS, Candidiasis, cancers of the gastro-intestinal tract, food allergies or liver disorders, then you are at an increased risk of leaky gut syndrome.
The symptoms of leaky gut syndrome
Leaky gut can manifest in a variety of unwelcome symptoms – signs to look out for are:
– Abdominal pain (often accompanied by a slight fever)
– Joint pain
– Chronic skin conditions (especially eczema)
How can I prevent or cure leaky gut?
Despite the fact that GP’s prescribed some GBP766 million worth of drugs for the gastrointestinal system last year in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland alone, there is still no specific treatment for leaky gut. Leaky gut syndrome is a controversial topic among mainstream doctors, many of whom refute that the condition even exists. They often diagnose Candida instead and prescribe antifungal medicines, which temporarily relieve the symptoms, but fail to address the underlying cause. This means that symptoms frequently return almost as soon as the medication is stopped. In order to tackle the causes of leaky gut syndrome, it’s essential to promote a healthy digestive system and strengthen your overall immune system. This invariably involves taking a long, hard look at your diet and making some fundamental changes such as:
• Eliminating sugars, carbohydrates and alcohol as these are known to feed bad bacteria and yeast
• Including plenty of vegetables which starve the bad bacteria in your gut and prevent them from multiplying
• Adding healthy fats and proteins to strengthen your immune system
• Incorporating probiotics (found in yoghurt, micro-algae, fermented foods and probiotic supplements) to encourage an optimum ratio of ‘friendly’ bacteria and stimulate the natural digestive juices and enzymes that keep your digestive organs healthy
In addition, there are three key superfoods that have proven particularly successful in treating leaky gut syndrome.
Coconut oil is a superb source of healthy saturated fat and is rich in both lauric and capric acid, which possess antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. These help restore the balance to your intestinal flora by targeting harmful bacteria in your gut, without killing off the friendly ones.
Coconut oil is also high in medium chain fatty acids which require significantly less bile and enzymes to break down, making them easier to digest and especially suitable for those with digestion or absorption problems such as a leaky gut. Coconut oil actively improves the absorption of other essential minerals too, particularly iron, calcium and the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, ensuring that you obtain the nutrients your body needs to stay fit and healthy.
For optimum protection against leaky gut syndrome, it’s recommended to drink at least three tablespoons of coconut oil per day. You can also use this deliciously fragrant oil as a replacement for your regular cooking oil.
L-glutamine is an important amino acid, which is found in high levels throughout the body and especially in our skeletal muscle and blood. It plays a crucial role in protein synthesis, boosting the immune system and promoting healthy brain function. And, according to a study published in the June 2012 edition of ‘Clinics’, “Glutamine improves leaky gut syndrome by inhibiting inflammation and reducing oxidative stress in the digestive tract”. The research concludes that intestinal permeability can be effectively managed with the nutritional supplementation of L-glutamine.
L-glutamine is available naturally in a number of foods including barley, cabbage, spinach, parsley, yoghurt, egg white, pork, beef and poultry or can be purchased in the form of a dietary supplement.
Colostrum is a dairy product made from the ‘immune milk’ of cows and is usually available in powder form. Due to its high protein and probiotics content, colostrum is ideal for maintaining a healthy intestinal flora, promoting optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients and strengthening the immune system. Colostrum also boasts high concentrations of minerals (magnesium, zinc, selenium), vitamins (vitamins A, C, D, B1, B2, B12), 97 different types of immune factors and 87 growth factors, which actively repair the damage caused by antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. Donald Henderson, a gastroenterologist and chief of staff at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles claims that, “Colostrum has the greatest components of ingredients directed toward the digestive tract. Its growth factors help cells of the digestive tract redevelop themselves and it also has immune factors that re-establish the immunity of the gastrointestinal tract and kill off bad bacteria that is overgrown,” and goes on to recommend colostrum as a digestive remedy.
In addition to leaky gut, colostrum is used in the treatment of a number of other digestive diseases (including Crohn’s disease, colitis and osteoporosis), a range of (auto-immune) diseases (such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and AIDS) and is highly effective in the management of allergies, arthritis and the kind of chronic pain often associated with leaky gut.