Leaky Gut Syndrome
The cells lining the bowel must “take up” what the body needs and “keep out” that which is harmful to the body. For example, overload of minerals is toxic, so a little calcium is taken and the rest kept out, as with zinc, salt, potassium, and others. It normally keeps out antigenic and carcinogenic substances and toxins. To insure good function of the bowel, we must obey health laws, chew food well, not eat too much and be regular in all habits. If the bowel loses the abilities described, we call it a leaky gut.
All material that crosses the intestinal lining is inspected by the immune system and it is here the immune system may have its greatest antigenic exposure. If the immune system is damaged by something you have eaten, it may not be able to produce normal antibodies. When it produces an antibody, that antibody may be able to injure you, to give you hay fever, a headache, dermatitis, confusion, digestive complaints, reduced spirituality, fatigue, clumsiness, faintness, insomnia, depression or joint pain. There is a major association between bowel infections with Shigella or Salmonella and cystitis or arthritis; milk and eggs with uricemia; milk and cheese with Campylobacter. These germs and foods and the toxins they produce cause leaky gut. Nutrients pouring into the blood cause multiple symptoms.
Certain foods are known to be more or less toxic: Death cap mushrooms, alcohol, cyanide, even coffee. In addition to damage to various organs and life itself, most substances having a toxic power over the body will injure the intestinal mechanism that controls what and how much is taken up of the food we eat. Other injurious factors causing leaky gut are overeating, malnutrition, physical inactivity, eating foods one is allergic to, and genetic factors. It is ironic that the leaky gut syndrome will leave food allergies, whereas food allergies will also cause or aggravate the syndrome. With this syndrome, food sensitivities can often change literally from week to week, since the excessively permeable bowel mucosa is constantly allowing new allergenic substances to enter the bloodstream.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are all made of carbon chains, and some may have what we call “side chains.” In the elaborate process of digestion, we begin breaking some links between the carbon atoms in the carbon chains in various places, depending on the enzyme ability in the intestinal tract and the preparation the food has gone through before it reaches the small bowel. But what is absorbed depends on a combination of our need and the ability our intestines have to discriminate between what is appropriate and what is not.
We must keep out everything not in proper form. If we incompletely digest food, we may leave an alcohol, an acid radical, or an amine group which turns into ammonia. If we eat too much we may not have enough digestive enzyme to break the chains fully to avoid leftover nutrients. Some of these leftover acids, amines, etc., are toxic. The incomplete breakdown products of protein digestion (peptides) are especially allergenic and toxic. Little by little, the constant bombardment of these toxic compounds causes accelerated aging.
The Annals of Internal Medicine published a report: “Increased Intestinal Permeability in Patients With Crohn’s Disease and Their Relatives.” Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory process of the bowel. In this disease, many foods that should be kept out, go into the lymphatics or into the blood stream, or just into the intestinal lining cells and cause distress for the body. Researchers selected 11 persons who had Crohn’s disease and 32 healthy relatives along with 17 normal individuals. They gave them a standard test meal of lactulose, a synthetic sugar which cannot be metabolized and therefore should not enter cells lining the intestines. If they recovered lactulose in the urine, they would know the intestine had improperly taken it into the body. The normal subjects took up less than 215 mg. of the test meal, but the Crohn’s patients and their relatives took up an average of 500 mg.—more than two times as much. Certainly Crohn’s disease presents a problem of leaky gut.
The Journal of Physiology recently carried an article entitled, “Increase in Human Intestinal Permeability Following Ingestion of Hypertonic Solutions.” Illustrations of hypertonic foods are those with heavy salt, oil, sugar or honey content. “Increase in human intestinal permeability” means the intestine didn’t hold foods out as it should have. The researchers set up an experiment to give test subjects lactulose. Those taking the hypertonic solution took up much more lactulose than normal, apparently one of the causes of leaky gut in our rich and heavy diet. We expect to find a large variety of symptoms in those with leaky gut: dizziness, arthritis, aches and pains, sudden faintness, head noises, food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
People with inflammatory bowel disease have increased permeability and increased risk of autoimmune disease. It is now proven that the leaky bowel is a major cause of autoimmune diseases, as well as clinical disease manifested as infection—bowel infection or joint infection, kidney or lung infection.
Clinical conditions known to be associated with or caused by increased intestinal permeability include: inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), celiac disease (gluten intolerance), inflammatory joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis (and maybe any kind of arthritis); food allergy—anything from acne, psoriasis, eczema, and intestinal disorder to chronic fatigue syndrome and temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), alcoholism; autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter’s syndrome (urethritis, arthritis and inflammation of the bowel, more common in men), malabsorption; malnutrition; accelerated aging; giardiasis; intestinal infections; endotoxemia; schizophrenia; thermal injury; NSAID enteropathy; and being HIV positive.
After a single exposure to gluten, the intestinal permeability in celiac disease becomes temporarily abnormal. These persons can’t think well, don’t feel good, have fatigue, weakness, diarrhea and abnormal neurologic findings. It takes them about a week to return to normal.
Ways to Prevent or Treat Leaky Gut
Serve a few simple foods at meal with a nicety that invites the appetite! Use two to four dishes of simple foods, prepared in as natural and tasty a way as possible. The fewer items we eat at one meal the better. We need a variety—just not at a single meal. Other things one can do to prevent or treat leaky gut are:
1. Keep grease out of your food. It can cause digestion to be impaired.
2. Overeating weakens the digestive organs
3. Take moderate exercise after a meal, like a brisk walk.
4. A long term all liquid diet is not best for the intestine.
5. Do not take food too hot or too cold. You can cause thermal injury to the intestinal tract.
6. Take time to eat. Anxiety, it has been found, will increase permeability. During times of anxiety, reduce the quantity of food and eat a lot of fruits.
7. Take small bites: five minutes of time, five minutes worth of food; not 30 minutes worth of food in five minutes.
8. Avoid certain combinations of foods: milk and sugar and eggs.
9. Use no intestinal irritants. These include vinegar, all hot peppers or capsaicin preparations, irritating spices, fermented products, alcohol and baking soda or baking powder. These chemicals injure the entire system. (See our handout on “Stomach irritants”.)
10. Ministry of Healing, page 301. Grains used for porridge or mush [oatmeal or boiled rice] should have several hours cooking; Rice, three hours; corn grits, four or five hours, or cook all night in a slow cooker. It may actually be more nourishing after it has cooked several hours because some chemical bonds are broken that your body cannot break.
11. We have had very good success in some patients with n-acetyl glucosamine, a normal constituent of the intestinal connective tissue. Use 2 capsules twice a day between meals. Many will benefit from the plant digestive enzymes, such as Zymase, Similase, or Beano drops taken with meals. Since abnormalities of intestinal bacteria (dysbiosis) often coexists with leaky gut, taking “friendly bacteria” products such as Probionate and Probifidonate before meals may be quite helpful. Try getting these from your local health food store. Treatment should be continued for at least a year.
The majority of this content is taken from Dr. Agatha Thrash of Uchee Pines Institute, printed with permission by Wildwood Inn Health Retreat.