What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome (Intestinal Permeability) is a condition in which the tight junctions between cells lining the intestinal tract separate and allow molecules or substances to enter the bloodstream that normally would be prevented from doing so. In essence, substances that should be kept contained in the intestinal tract are able to “leak” into the bloodstream. These substances or molecules then circulate in the blood to other parts of the body and may cause damage, inflammation, and auto-immune reactions.
What causes leaky gut?
Leaky gut may have multiple contributing causes, depending on the individual. The following list represents a few of the many factors that cause irritation and imbalance in the intestines that can contribute to leaky gut:
- Antibiotics (both as a treatment for illness and antibiotics present in foods)
- Infections such as paracytes and yeast
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Autoimmune conditions of the gut, such as Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)*
- Environmental toxins
* SIBO is an important cause to note as it may begin as a slight imbalance in bacteria in the gut that creates a ripple effect, eventually disrupting balance of gut flora enough to allow certain bacteria to “overgrow” and crowd out other bacteria necessary for proper digestion and formation of certain neurotransmitters that are generated in the gut. SIBO can lead to significant nutrient deficiencies and imbalances in brain chemistry.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome?
Aside from digestive upset, diarrhea, bloating and gas, leaky gut can cause a number of other, seemingly-unrelated symptoms. These other symptoms may include headaches, compromised immune system function, brain fog, memory loss, fatigue, anxiety, depression, auto-immune reactions (the body attacks itself), and inflammation (joint pain).
The Gut-Brain Connection
Leaky gut syndrome may also hinder proper function of the Gut-Brain Connection. This is the general term for the communication between the brain and a portion of the nervous system located in the gut called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is similar to a monitoring station that assesses conditions from a second location and sends that data back to headquarters (the brain). The ENS uses a central nerve called the vagus nerve to send information to the brain from the gut. In fact, 90% of the communications in the gut-brain connection are signals going from the ENS to the brain.
How is leaky gut treated?
To properly address leaky gut, Dr. Thomas takes a thorough medical history of the patient and their symptoms. She then may order specific testing to identify the various factors involved in that individual patient’s leaky gut condition. Dr. Thomas creates a customized plan to address the unique needs of the patient to help heal the gut. This plan may include dietary changes, lifestyle changes, elimination of certain foods, correcting nutrient deficiencies, and probiotics or digestive enzymes to help correct the natural balance of beneficial flora in the digestive system. The factors contributing to the condition of leaky gut can vary greatly from patient to patient. Dr. Thomas uses evidence from testing, patient history, and clinical assessment to meet the needs of each individual patient.