What is leaky gut syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome is a non-medical condition that people associate with abdominal symptoms like bloating, discomfort, or change in bowel movements.

Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the lining of the intestines is weakened to the point that their contents can leak out and enter the bloodstream, causing a variety of health problems from fatigue to food sensitivities to skin rashes to migraines. Although the cause of leaky gut syndrome is not really known, it has at times been attributed to allergies, exposure to toxins (which would in turn cause the toxins to leak into the bloodstream), and poor dietary choices.

The symptoms of leaky gut syndrome can include abdominal pain, heartburn, fatigue, insomnia, bloating, anxiety, gluten intolerance, malnutrition, muscle cramps and pains, poor exercise tolerance, and food allergies.

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Because it connects apparently unrelated disorders, Leaky Gut Syndrome is one of the most misunderstood concepts in medicine today.

To begin with, Leaky Gut is not a single disease or syndrome; it's a pathological condition that occurs as part of many different diseases and syndromes. The term refers to an abnormal increase in the permeability of the small intestine. Increased intestinal permeability is a component of many different disorders.

The small intestine is the largest organ in your body and two-thirds of your immune system lies within its walls. The small intestine continuously activates itself by sampling the molecules that pass through the intestinal lining.

Leaky Gut Syndrome is increased permeability of this lining, and it alters the molecules which prime your immune system for action by allowing molecules that don't ordinarily pass through the gut lining to get access to your immune system.
Dr. Robynne K. Chutkan, MD

Our digestive lining serves an important barrier function. It's like a net with very small holes that allows only certain substances that are small enough to go through, while keeping out larger undesirable particles. With leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, the net becomes damaged, resulting in bigger holes that allow more things to pass through that ordinarily couldn’t.

The barrier function becomes compromised, so that bacteria, viruses, undigested food particles and toxic waste products can leak from the inside of your intestines through the damaged digestive lining into your bloodstream, where they're transported throughout your body and can trigger your immune system to react. The end result is inflammation in various parts of your body, leading to a wide variety of symptoms like bloating, cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, flushing, achy joints, headache and rashes.

With leaky gut not only is the digestive lining more porous and less selective about what can get in, but normal absorption can also be affected. Nutritional deficiencies may develop as a result of damage to the villi—the finger-like projections in the small intestine that are responsible for absorbing nutrients.

Multiple food sensitivities are another hallmark of leaky gut, because partially digested particles of protein and fat may leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and cause an allergic response. Increased intestinal permeability may potentially cause or worsen a number of other conditions, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), arthritis, psoriasis, eczema and asthma.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.