Here’s a theory that may be a valid part of explaining today’s increasingly bizarre collection of chronic diseases. Leaky gut syndrome outlines a condition in which damage to the bowel lining results in heightened permeability of the gut wall, allowing toxins, microbes, undigested food, or waste to enter the bloodstream.
Once they break and enter, these invaders are targeted by antibodies, forming immune complexes that are carried by the bloodstream to distant sites where they may stimulate the release of inflammatory cytokines. Transient gut pain and mild fever result. In patients with no other obvious problems, an apparent inability to absorb nutrients develops. These offenses to the intestinal lining are thought to be caused by poor diet, bacterial or yeast infection, antibiotics, toxins, or parasites.
Proponents of the leaky gut theory maintain that systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, allergies, asthma, and autism may all be caused or exacerbated by the offending invaders in the blood. Add to this list autoimmune diseases such as lupus, scleroderma, colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. These damaging substances may affect the body directly, or they may be instigating an immune reaction that causes further damage throughout the body. This concept has some credibility because most of the associated conditions involve inflammation, according to Steven Horne, RH, immediate past president of the American Herbalists Guild.
“Intestinal inflammation can start in infancy, from a variety of causes, including infections, excessive antibiotics, and even emotional trauma,” Horne says. “Inflammation causes plasma proteins to move into the tissue spaces, causing localized swelling. In the intestinal tract, this swelling increases the permeability of intestinal membranes.
“The reason excessive use of antibiotics are a problem is because of how they affect the friendly flora of the GI tract,” Horne continues. “These friendly microbes that inhabit the digestive tract kill harmful bacteria or prevent them from sticking to the intestinal walls. When the normal balance of these microbes is disturbed, intestinal inflammation increases.”
And many clinicians give a nod to yeast as the worst invader. The noxious by-products of a yeast infection circulate through the bloodstream and activate symptoms in distant parts of the body. This tissue distress can result in conditions as sundry as asthma, sinusitis, lupus, PMS, and kidney stones, according to Ralph Golan, MD, a noted holistic physician in Seattle.
“Candida is responsible for flooding the system with an accumulation of toxic acetaldehydes. Acetaldehydes are known to poison tissues—accumulating in the brain, spinal cord, joints, muscles, and tissues,” says Stephan Cooter, PhD.
Sherry A. Rogers, MD, believes that leaky gut syndrome may also cause food allergies, because the immune system may create antibodies to any food particles that pass undigested into the bloodstream, resulting in “allergies” to those foods, or reactions (“attack” response) every time they are eaten. In addition, they may cause chemical sensitivities, because bacterial toxins that leak through can damage the liver and reduce its ability to handle other chemicals in the environment, says Rogers, who notes the irony of how nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat many conditions that result from leaky gut syndrome, when in fact these very drugs can also cause these conditions.
Remedy 1. Friendly bugs balance the bowel load.
Probiotics. Find a high-quality, powdered source of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum in the refrigerated section of your local natural food store. Take5 billion of each organism daily for at least three weeks to create a massive blast of good bugs. They’ll have a party and serve an eviction notice on the bad element in the neighborhood.
Remedy 2. Tighten up.
Turmeric.Turmeric is a medicine chest in a jar for leaky gut. It is a potent astringent that contracts the proteins in the bowel lining, squeezing the spaces between the cells and reducing gut permeability. Plus, it’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Use up to 10 grams per day in your cooking, or take in capsule form.
Remedy 3. Improve Digestion.
Gentian root. Traditional herbalists agree that herbs with bitter taste promote digestive secretions and speed up digestion. Gentian root is the most popular “digestive bitter” in Western herbalism. Europeans often drink a “bitter aperitif”—an ounce or so of bitter herbal beverage—before a meal, to stimulate digestive secretions and keep food passing through at a good clip. Bitter herbs stimulate the upper GI tract to release copious digestive juices to enhance the breakdown of food, reducing the possibility that large allergen molecules make it through the gut wall. Bitter herbs reduce gas, bloating, food allergies and indigestion. Other bitters include barberry root, dandelion and artichoke. To improve your digestion take 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of gentian tincture in 4 ounces of water and sip before each meal.
Product Examples (left to right)
Enzymedica Digest Gold + Probiotics contains the enzymes needed to break down food and assist in the digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber, plus it has probiotics to improve digestion.
New Chapter Turmeric Force is the only full-spectrum turmeric extract, a key balancing and detoxifying herb in Ayurveda. Processed to ensure full curcuminoid fractions.
Sedona Labs iFlora Multi-Probiotic Powder works in both the small and large intestine to maintain a healthy balance of good flora to support a healthy urinary tract and normal bowel function.
Urban Moonshine Organic Handcrafted Digestif Bitters in Citrus are made with organic herbs and roots to help stimulate digestion or soothe an upset stomach.