Is Your Gut Leaking? 6 Common Causes of This Sneaky Health Condition

In the early 1980s, researchers at UCLA, funded by a caring dad, did an intestinal permeability (leaky gut) study. They found that people with Crohn's disease and their parents had double the intestinal leakiness of control subjects.

A leaky gut is like a leaky bucket -- not very good at its job. 

This study was the first to suggest that leaky gut syndrome might be part of the development of Crohn’s and other chronic health diseases.

Since then, what is now mostly referred to as leaky gut syndrome has had over 10,000 research papers published, some of which state that leaky gut is required for the development of some diseases.

Despite a growing number of doctors who are now checking for it and treating it, the modern medical community at large is still in denial about this important contributor to many chronic diseases. This means it’s in your best interest to be as educated as possible on this topic in case you or someone you care for might be suffering from it.

What is a Leaky Gut?

The term Leaky Gut Syndrome is used to describe the condition of “Hyperpermeable Intestines,” a fancy medical term that means the intestinal lining has became more porous. The larger holes disrupt the normal digestive process by allowing the wrong sized molecules free entry into the bloodstream.

The consequences are undigested food molecules and other “bad stuff” (toxins, bacteria, yeast and all other forms of waste) that your body normally doesn’t allow into it are allowed to flow freely into your bloodstream. This creates a cascade of issues that start, contribute and exacerbate chronic diseases.

Surprisingly, our digestive tract is only one cell thick (our skin has 7 layers). This one layer contains intestinal cells that are connected to each other by structures called tight junctions.

During the normal digestion process the tight junctions stay closed, forcing all molecules to effectively be screened and only pass into the bloodstream through the cells (think of them like bouncers at the front of a club).

For reasons we will discuss later, these tight junctions can become stuck “open,” allowing un-screened molecules of all types to flow directly into the bloodstream.

Untreated Leaky Gut Syndrome Is Making People Sick

With all the new research being published since the groundbreaking study from the early 1980s, here’s a short list of diseases now associated with “Leaky Gut Syndrome:”

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Vitiligo
  • Narcolepsy
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism
  • Depression
  • Huntington’s
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Hashimoto's hypothyroidism
  • Crohn’s disease

In fact, now you can put just about any condition into Google along with “Intestinal Permeability” and find hours of research papers associating the two.

Here are a few examples for those of you who are nerds like me (the link will open a Google search in a new window):

But this is just the beginning of the connection of leaky gut to diseases and health symptoms. Probably the strongest link at this time is leaky gut and autoimmune disease.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the world’s leading autoimmune researchers, published this 2012 groundbreaking paper titled, “Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity,” which suggests that the 100+ autoimmune diseases we currently are aware of all begin with leaky gut.

Whether you have any of the conditions above, or are suffering from things like food sensitivities, migraines, fatigue, or any other health symptom that just won’t seem to go away, it’s a good idea for you to investigate your chances of having leaky gut.

Here’s a free quiz that will help you find out your risk level.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

The next logical question is what is the cause of leaky gut? The causes of leaky gut are widely debated in the medical community because research is just finally taking off in this area. However, there is currently some level of consensus that the following are the basic contributors:

–  Diet: Consuming high amounts of refined sugars, grains (especially wheat) and processed foods is extremely hard on your digestive tract and depending on your health, could actually be causing your gut to leak. Then if you add in a diet that is high in preservatives, flavorings and additives like MSG, which are toxic to your body, this will further disrupt your gut and cause inflammation. A recent 2015 Celiac disease study showed that even the normal controls in the study had increased intestinal permeability when they consumed gliadin (a part of wheat).

–  Chronic Stress: Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the digestive system. It causes changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal blood flow, visceral sensitivity and mucosal permeability. But it’s not just chronic stress (care-taking, abusive relationships, unsatisfying jobs, chronic over-exercising, etc), it’s also acute stress. This study showed how intense acute stressors, like public speaking, cause intestinal permeability. To make matters worse, we know that chronic stress downregulates the immune system, making you more likely to pick up an infection that also contributes to leaky gut.

–  NSAID Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Aspirin or Ibuprofen cause leaky gut. There have been several studies showing that all forms of these drugs cause the changes in the mucosal tissue. And most of them also cause inflammation to the tissues. The sad part is that these changes can occur very quickly - in some studies in as little as 3 days.

–  Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth / Parasites / Yeast: Infections of the digestive tract cause inflammation and damage to the areas in which they take up residence. This causes localized immune system reactions that can easily harm nearby healthy cells. This process and the resulting malabsorption of nutrients caused by infections contributes strongly to leaky gut syndrome.

–  Lack of Zinc: Zinc is a critical piece of maintaining a strong intestinal lining. A deficiency of the vitamin can lead to the mucosal lining losing strength and becoming more permeable. There are studies that show that supplementing with Zinc when it is deficient can dramatically improve intestinal lining integrity.

–  Lack of L-Glutamine: This amino acid is extremely important for the epithelial layer of cells that line our digestive tracts. It’s a preferred fuel source for these cells and has been shown in studies that a lack of it does create intestinal permeability problems. This is especially true for people with acute traumas and who are under lots of stress.

There are several other causes of leaky gut but these tend to be the most common for the vast majority of the population. The fascinating thing with leaky gut is that in the end what caused it is of less importance than figuring out how to fix it and repair your health.

Is Leaky Gut Making You Sick?

Leaky gut is a tricky condition. It can show up in every human being in a different way…

It’s not obvious. That’s why many people nicknamed it “The Disease Your Doctor Can’t Diagnose.” Not everyone with a leaky gut actually complains of digestive problems. And the reason is that leaky gut plays a large part in so many different kinds of problems:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Food intolerances or multiple food sensitivities
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty gaining or losing weight
  • Arthritis or other joint pain
  • Muscle pain or achiness
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis
  • Gut symptoms like chronic constipation or diarrhea, gas, bloating, or indigestion
  • Skin symptoms like rashes, eczema, rosacea, acne, hives, and psoriasis
  • Brain symptoms like chronic headaches, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and brain fog

Even people that “look” healthy can have leaky gut lurking in their digestive tract.

As you can see in the research above, gut health is important for just about every disease or symptom it’s been researched for. And that shouldn’t be so surprising because it’s the sole place our bodies get their nutrition from, where nearly 80% of our immune cells are located and 95% of our serotonin neurotransmitters are located.

To put it simply, if you’re struggling with chronic health complaints, you’re at risk for leaky gut.

There are two common ways to test for Leaky Gut:

  1. The Lactulose-mannitol intestinal permeability test
  2. Cyrex Labs “Array #2”

Both tests have their benefits and drawbacks, though. For example, the Lactulose-mannitol test is commonly used as the gold standard in research settings. The Cyrex panel is possibly a better option to measure the immune response from leaky gut, but both of these tests have some inherent unreliability in clinical settings.

The next problem is that these are specialty tests and unless your doctor is up to date on the latest information about intestinal permeability, it can be very hard to get access to the test and have someone knowledgeable interpret your results. Lastly, they will typically cost you about $200-$300 out of pocket.

I think this is just unacceptable, so we created a free “Leaky Gut Syndrome Risk Analysis” for people like you to get a quick personalized idea about where your risk level is.

You can take the free leaky gut quiz here.

Of course, an interactive quiz like this can’t diagnose anything. But based upon extensive research and clinical application, it can give you a very good idea of where your risk level is. We believe knowledge is power and that’s what a tool like this is created for - to help you get closer to the health you really desire.

6/5/2019 7:00:00 AM
Steven Wright
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I'm a gut health expert and author. I used to be very sick and used food, supplements, lifestyle changes and functional medicine to get better. Now it's my mission to help others like me do the same.
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