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Leaky Gut Syndrome: Dietary and Lifestyle Recommendations

Leaky gut syndrome is a suggested condition caused by damage to the bowel lining – ‘suggested’ meaning that it is not a recognized diagnosis and that it is rather discussed in the realm of alternative medicine.

The theory behind leaky gut syndrome is that gut wall has become increasingly permeable due to being subjected to a high number of toxins, unhealthy foods and medications. This then allows various elements to pass through the gut and to thus affect the body abnormally – perhaps leading to an immune response or perhaps affecting the body directly. The idea is that macroscopic undigested proteins and fats ‘leak’ through the intestines and into the blood stream.

Here we will look at whether such a condition is likely to have any truth behind it, and how to moderate diet and behavior accordingly.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of leaky gut syndrome (also sometimes called ‘increased intestinal permeability’) are supposed to be caused by a gastrointestinal autoimmune responsive. These are thought to include excess gas, fatigue, sensitivity to food, pain, and skin rashes. Like many ‘alternative’ diagnoses however, the condition has been credited with a whole host of conditions and used to explain everything from lupus, to asthma, to diabetes to autism.

Is Leaky Gut Syndrome Real?

The question is though, is there any truth behind these claims? The answer is most likely not, particularly when you look at the lack of logic in the explanation. Proponents of the theory claim that whole pieces of un-digested food passes through ‘holes’ in the gut. However all the foods are broken down into particles very early in the digestive process – normally around the duodenum which is the first part of the small intestines. In other words, even if the intestines were to leak, there would be very little in there that was larger than the molecules intended to pass through. And it’s more complicated than all that too – you see absorption takes place via the villi which are tiny ‘projections’ of the mucous membrane (not ‘holes’). The nutrients pass through the epithelial cells via the inner lining of the villi and enter the capillaries through there. The villi themselves are covered by an outer layer of epithelium which food has to pass through to gain entry and the epithelium itself is composed of many cells. These have ‘selective permeability’ which means they only allow some substances through (which isn’t based on size). The epithelium is also composed of several layers of cells which rejuvenate themselves constantly. So it’s unlikely that there would ever be large ‘holes’ permanently penetrating through them all. Meanwhile the capillary walls themselves are only one-cell thick – so even if there were holes in the gut, the toxins probably wouldn’t make it through into the blood stream.

In short them, the ‘leaky gut’ theory relies on a very simplified explanation of the way that the digestive system works and is not grounded in reality. It is highly unlikely then to hold any real value. Apart from anything else, if large molecules were able to pass into the blood stream, then we’d surely have far more than a few toxins in there.

Solution

If you are experiencing the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, then it is likely that this has a different and scientifically sound explanation. While the diet changes recommended by alternative practitioners shouldn’t cause you any harm, you should make sure to get checked over by your GP as well and to certainly follow their advice.





Theodoros Manfredi

Article reviewed by Theodoros Manfredi, PhD. A licensed physician who has worked with children and families for over seven years.


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