01 April 2012

Leaky Gut - The Syndrome Linked to Many Autoimmune Diseases...

"Leaky Gut" Syndrome

Hyperpermeability or "leaky gut" syndrome is the name given to a very common disorder in which the cells lining the intestines become "leaky" due to inflammation. The abnormally large spaces present between the cells of the gut wall allow the entry of toxic material into the bloodstream that would normally be eliminated.

The gut becomes leaky in the sense that bacteria, fungi, parasites, undigested protein, fat and toxic waste normally not absorbed into the bloodstream in the healthy state, pass through a damaged, hyperpermeable gut membrane. This can be verified by special gut permeability urine tests or microscopic examination of the lining of the intestinal wall.

Common Causes of Leaky Gut

  • Infections - fungal overgrowth, parasitic infections
  • Drugs like
  • NSAIDS, chemotherapeutic agents
  • Crohn's disease or Ulcerative Colitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Food allergies

Leaky Gut and the Connection to Autoimmune Disease

Leaky gut syndrome is almost always associated with autoimmune disease. In fact, reversing symptoms of autoimmune disease depends on healing the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Any other treatment is just symptom suppression. An autoimmune disease is defined as one in which the immune system makes antibodies against its own tissues. Diseases in this category include lupus, alopecia areata, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome (dry eyes & dry mouth), vitiligo, thyroiditis, vasculitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, urticaria (hives), type 1 diabetes and Raynaud’s syndrome. Fortunately doctors are beginning to realize the essential role that the gut plays in these disease. Understanding the leaky gut phenomenon helps us see why allergies and autoimmune diseases develop and how to design therapies to restore intestinal integrity and reverse leaky gut.

Inflammation is a key trigger for leaky gut
Inflammation causes the spaces between the cells of the gut wall to become larger than usua. Then protein molecules are absorbed before they have a chance to be completely broken down. The immune system starts making antibodies against these larger molecules because it recognizes them as foreign, invading substances. Antibodies are made against these proteins derived from previously harmless foods. The immune system becomes hyperstimulated and over-reactive to substances that are not necessarily supposed to be dangerous.

Human tissues have proteins & antigens very similar to those on foods, bacteria, parasites, candida or fungi. The antibodies created by the leaky gut phenomenon against these antigens can get into various tissues and trigger an inflammatory reaction in that tissue when the corresponding food is consumed or the microbe is encountered. Autoantibodies are thus created and inflammation becomes chronic. If this inflammation occurs in a joint, autoimmune arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis) develops. If it occurs in the brain, myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome) may be the result. If it occurs in the blood vessels, vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) is the resulting autoimmune problem... and so on.

If the antibodies end up attacking the lining of the gut itself, the result may be colitis or Crohn’s disease. If it occurs in the lungs, asthma is triggered on a delayed basis every time the individual consumes the food which triggered the production of the antibodies in the first place. It is easy to see that practically any organ or body tissue can become affected by food allergies created by the leaky gut. Because the foods can trigger delayed reactions, it can often be very hard to pinpoint the triggering entity.


Leaky gut may cause increase risk of infection and sensitivity to environmental chemicals
This ongoing inflammation also damages the protective coating of antibodies normally present in a healthy gut called IgA. Since IgA helps us ward off infections we become less resistant to viruses, bacteria, parasites and candida. These microbes are then able to invade the bloodstream and colonize almost any body tissue or organ. In the clinic we often find patients with leaky gut or autoimmune disease also have microbial infections ongoing in the gut.

Not only can leaky gut create food allergies as the proteins we consume are activating antibodies, but the microbes in the gut can cross over into the blood stream creating a toxic burden that overwhelms the liver's ability to detoxify. Often in severe cases of leaky gut, patients will develop sensitivities to perfume, cigarette smoke or other environmental chemicals. Common complaints are also "brain fog", confusion, poor focus/concentration, or memory loss.

Leaky gut also causes malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies

Finally, leaky gut may contribute to a long list of mineral deficiencies because of the ongoing inflammation and damage to carrier proteins. The most common are iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, magnesium deficiency which can lead to fatigue, neuropathies or muscle pain. Zinc deficiency due to malabsorption can result in hair loss or baldness as occurs in alopecia areata. Copper deficiency can occur in an identical way leading to high blood cholesterol levels and osteoarthritis. Further, bone problems develop as a result of the malabsorption of calcium, boron, silicon and manganese.

Part II - Diagnosis and Treatment of Leaky Gut...

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This lady is absolutely bang on, I have hypothyroidism and also had low B12, following this advise my B12 is now normal - no more injections and it looks as though my thyroid has now stabilised and no more meds for that either, and you know what - my GP does not believe me....Neanderthal!! I will be printing and taking this article on my next visit! Pat Hicks (UK)

  3. thanks for sharing this Dr.Jill. I have faced these problems for years and was not diagnosed. Recently, I started eliminating certain foods that aggravated my condition and found significant difference. Now, I include ginger, turmeric, fermented foods, flax seed powder in my diet and it seems to help. I also try to avoid all kind of stress. What's the point in worrying about things you can not control?

  4. Thank you for this easy to read definition of leaky gut! I reposted!! Keep the education coming.....Thank you, Eileen

  5. This is a great post. I know people who suffer terribly with autoimmune "syndromes" that defy treatment. I've had my own issues with arthritis, dermatitis, and GI issues. Changing my diet has improved my health. I look forward to the day that leaky gut is considered "mainstream medicine" and targeted treatments are available. It will be a huge leap forward in combating many debilitating conditions.

  6. I discovered my gut issues last year after a trip to India. Number one symptom was not diarhhea or stomach pain. It was fatigue, I tested positive for various entamoebas. .After courses of Flagyl and Paromomycin, I was not feeling any relief from the fatigue, perhaps even WORSE. My Dr. suggested my Hashimotos was triggered so I stopped eating gluten 8 months ago. He put me on Armour thyroid which helped fatigue slightly. My blood work is okay, but I have very high Vit B12 levels, high iron, and high Magnesium. This is odd. I don't take multivitamins. Also saliva adrenal testing showed low SigA. My gut is clearly screwed up. Is there anyway I can bring down those high B12 and iron levels?

    1. Hi,
      Talk to your doctor to check your metal toxicity levels and MTHFR gene mutation.

  7. Not sure if this helps or if anyone is interested but I recently heard about a new oral prescription alternative to the injections called Eligen B12. I recently read that it works even if you don't have intrinsic factor (so even if you don't have normal gut absorption). Apparently it came out a month or two ago. Has anyone heard of it or tried it??

  8. i have under active thyroid low b12 and now leaky gut only had 6 loading doses for b12 do you think that is why i have leaky gut problems now

  9. Hypothyroid may contribute to poor gut motility and small bowel bacterial overgrowth which may decrease absorption of B12 but hypothyroid doesn't directly cause leaky gut...