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Leaky Gut Syndrome, Part I: What The Heck Is It and Are You At Risk?


Leaky gut…it’s a popular buzz word right now that almost sounds like a made up ailment from a bad comedy sketch.

But all jokes aside, leaky gut syndrome is real, serious, and prevalent (if not epidemic) condition that affects millions of Americans.

Leaky Gut Syndrome and its effects have been linked to:

And the worst part?

Though word is gradually getting out (thanks in-part to many of my Integrative and Functional Medicine colleagues and government-funded research on the microbiome), modern medicine has just begun to recognize it as a REAL disease, so most doctors don’t know how to diagnose or treat it.

This often leaves patients feeling sick, confused, and led to believe their symptoms must be “psychosomatic” or “all in their head”.

I am here to tell you today that gut pathology, including Leaky Gut Syndrome, is one of the main things I treat in my practice. It is real, it is treatable, and it is NOT all in your head.

Despite its prevalence, common misdiagnosis, and myriad of symptoms, there is tremendous hope.

Though its effects can be devastating, leaky gut is not difficult to treat, and can usually be resolved quickly without drugs or invasive therapies.

In today’s kick-off to our 3-part series, you’ll learn exactly what Leaky Gut Syndrome is, what really causes it, and who is at risk.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Leaky Gut Syndrome is caused by hyper-permeability of the intestinal wall.

In plain English: it means you have enlarged holes in your gut.

Let’s look at it like this:

Your gastrointestinal tract is a long tube that runs from your mouth all the way to your anus, and includes all the organs that contribute to digestion and waste removal such as your esophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract.

Once a food, substance, or toxin enters your body and reaches your gut, it then has to get by the “guardian at the gate”, known as the gastric epithelium. Its job is to protect and discern what foods, nutrients, chemicals, etc. are safe to be absorbed into the body.

Now, picture your intestines as an absorbent yet tightly woven net.

This “net” serves as a physical and functional filter between your inner body and the outside environment, allowing tiny, easy-to-absorb nutrients to flow into your body while larger harmful substances and pathogens are kept out and eliminated through your poop.

When your intestinal wall becomes compromised, due to toxins from food, medications, stress, gut flora imbalance, and chemicals, the tightly knit holes in your “net” become weak, stretched, and can easily tear.

This leaves your body wide open to pathogens, undigested food particles, toxins, and other scary substances that would usually be broken down and eliminated by a healthy gut.

Your immune system, sensing these “foreign invaders” goes into an inflammatory attack mode to reject these unwanted and foreign substances. Symptoms of this “red alert” may include congestion, diarrhea, a rash, bloating, brain fog, joint ache, depression, etc.

This attack mode is a natural and beneficial response in a properly working system. But when your gut is continually leaking foreign substances, it leaves your body in a chronic inflammatory state.

And that is NOT natural or beneficial to your health.

Are you at Risk of Developing Leaky Gut?

To be clear, leaky gut isn’t something you can “catch”,  but is a condition that develops over time based on a number of individual factors.

The research is slowly trickling in on this, but based on studies and my own clinical experience, those at greatest risk share one or more of the following issues.

Common Symptoms and Causal Factors of Leaky Gut Syndrome

  • Chronic stress
  • Consumption a highly processed diet
  • Multiple-rounds of antibiotics
  • Chronic digestive issues such as dysbiosis and IBS
  • History of food poisoning
  • Take NSAIDs regularly
  • History of steroid use
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Chronically tiredness or low energy
  • Mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, or depression
  • Multiple allergies or food sensitivities
  • Chronic skin ailments such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Nutrient deficiencies such a B12, iron, and zinc (a by-product of a malfunctioning digestive tract)
  • Unexplained aches, pains, or arthritis due to inflammation
  • Chronic congestion or sinus issues

Genetics, lifestyle, and specific dietary choices also play a role in your risk factor—and we’ll go into that in more detail in an upcoming post.

Why is Leaky Gut Syndrome so prevalent?

The Integrative and Functional Medicine community has known about leaky gut for decades, so it’s nothing new.

Its prevalence is due to the sheer amount of toxins we are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.

Chemicals, environmental toxins, gluten, and casein can damage our delicate gut lining, while a diet high in sugar can cause an imbalance of gut bacteria leading to a breakdown of the intestinal wall.

Chronic stress, a lack of nourishing foods (more on this to come), the ultra-sterile environments we live and work in, and our lack of exposure to nature all either contribute to or degrade our gut health.

But take heart.

Despite the laundry list of risk factors, there are plenty of things you can do to nourish your digestive system and bullet proof yourself from leaky gut. And that’s what this series is all about.

In the next leaky gut series post you’ll learn everything you need to know about prevention, detection, and more eye-opening facts on what causes this bizarre and often misunderstood condition.

Until then,

-Dr. Alex