123—It turns out you actually need a...

‘Leaky Gut’

I'm leaking this important information to you about your gut

A number of people have been either diagnosed (or more likely self-diagnosed), with something called Leaky Gut Syndrome. Otherwise known as Increased Intestinal Permeability.

In this article, I’m going to try to make some super technical information easily digestible. To that end, I’m going to start by breaking things down into some bite-sized chunks.

Firstly: From a gut perspective
Nothing is in your body until it crosses the gut barrier and gets into your bloodstream. This is why a huge percentage of your immune system resides in your gut — to police your very own internal border control.

Secondly: Leaky Gut
It’s not an actual thing.
Unwanted (bad) substances cannot leak from the gut lumen (the ‘Hydroslide’ that runs from your mouth to your anus), through the gut barrier into your blood stream. Please stop using this term as nobody suffers from this condition 🤓

Thirdly: Increased Intestinal Permeability
This is an actual thing.
But, it’s a potent response to stress and/or inflammation — it’s not a diagnosis. And, it works in reverse to what you might think; water gets drawn from the body, through the the gut barrier, flushing the gut lumen out which ultimately results in diarrhoea, and/or vomiting.

In my opinion, Increased Intestinal Permeability should only be used to describe the body’s perfectly normal response to an immune challenge/threat, or irritant that occurs in the gut lumen.

The investigation has come up dry on 'Leaky Gut'.

Proponents of this theory told us that ‘Leaky Gut’ caused your gut barrier to have defective tight junctions, which instead of blocking pathogens (bacteria and other toxins) from gaining entry into your bloodstream, allowed their entrance willy-nilly through a pathway between the cells of the gut barrier.

This giant free-for-all supposedly caused chronic inflammation throughout your body which would result in a set of correlated symptoms (a syndrome) which could include: chronic diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, nutrient deficiency, poor concentration, confusion, fatigue, rashes, joint pain, headaches and/or migraines.

Here's the thing though...

Tight junctions are kinda-supposed-to-be ‘leaky’…
Well, more ‘flushy’ to be exact!

The research shows that these pathways are two-way gatekeepers that select what gets into your body (water, electrolytes and solutes) and what doesn’t (noxious substances) — and what therefore gets flushed out via these pathways in response to the body’s immune system commands.

Further to this:

Size does matter…
When it comes to tight junctions, it’s physically impossible for ‘bugs’ to pass through these pathways from the gut lumen to the bloodstream. That’s because they are simply too big to fit through these small channels.

Tight junctions are repulsive!
They repel anything that contains fat e.g the infamous endotoxin, lipopolysaccharide (LPS) can’t get through the pathways.

This all means that only small molecules that can be mixed with water can get from the gut lumen via these pathways in your gut barrier and into your body (your bloodstream).

So while some things can certainly wind up where they’re not meant to be in your body (they can become ‘translocated’) they sure as heck ain’t getting ‘leaked’ there…

It was my gut instinct that made me not treat 'Leaky Gut'

I’ve never really subscribed to people having ‘Leaky Gut’ in all my 16 years practising at OOMPH. And my reason for this, having dealt with clients for a good decade and a half, is that most ‘gut issues’ that I come across are primarily due to user error.

And what do I mean by user error? The person is doing it to themselves in some capacity; either consciously (with food, drink and stress) or unconsciously (with, well, food, drink and stress).

Therefore a lot of my job is simply removing the issue that the body finds so offensive, after which the body generally heals itself. The gut has a huge ability to regenerate itself in mere days — if given the chance to do its important work.

Here are some ‘good’ ways to upset your gut, and cause the immune cavalry to rush in:

  1. Chronic stress (and even acute stress if severe enough).

    Stressors can include:
    Physical stress
    Endurance exercise

    Mental or emotional stress
    From life 🤪

    The stress response (and immune response) is hard-wired to our gut response. So, what affects one affects the others.

    Please read my article on Chronic Stress

  2. Inflammation

    Certain health conditions
    Coeliacs disease or severe gluten sensitivity
    Food intolerance (produces antigens)

    Poor diet
    A high fat diet
    A high sugar diet
    Dietary emulsifiers and surfactants

    Excessive alcohol consumption
    Infections (dysbiosis)
    NSAIDS (Non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs) — seems ironic, huh…?

    Note: Even moderate inflammation won’t upset the Tight Junctions. We’re more resilient than that! 💪🏽

The effects that stress and inflammation have on someone will be dependent on their individual threshold — the extent to which they are exposed to the challenge, and on how sensitive/resilient they are to this threat.

Severe, or chronic, inflammation

These out-of-control ‘flames’ cause areas of cellular damage and the loss of tight junctions. This then creates an unrestricted pathway to open up in the gut barrier, and it therefore  loses its ability to be selective!

This erosion generally stems from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which is a medical term used for two conditions: Crohn’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis.

Note: It’s important to know that even here the content of the gut cannot escape into the bloodstream as the immune system ‘brings the rain’ (ultimately causing diarrhoea and/or vomiting).

(Unfortunately, I don’t see many cases of these conditions at OOMPH, as I don’t believe that these sufferers are told by Doctors that Naturopathic care can support them. And, to be fair, I don’t market myself as a ‘gut expert’ as some Natural Practitioners might.)

Lisa says:

If your symptoms are mild to moderate

Ideally remove, or eliminate the thing that’s upsetting your gut.

For instance, stop the heavy drinking, the ‘trendy’ high fat diet, and the addiction to life-affirming marathons.

If that doesn’t help, ‘Leaky Gut’ protocols (still) work to improve the gut-barrier function (digestive enzymes, bacteria, immunity, and inflammation). Here, under the guidance of your Naturopath, you can use such supplements as Zinc, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, probiotics, and Glutamine.

In an effort to make you more resilient, stress support and dietary support will also be a vital part of your treatment programme.

If your symptoms are severe

You’ll need to use the best of both worlds here — both Modern Medicine, and Naturopathy.

Talk to your Naturopath about how they can help treat your medical condition, and support your body while taking pharmaceuticals.

We have a number of potent natural anti-inflammatory aids we can use to help resolve your issue (SPMs, Boswellia). We also have very effective supplements and can provide recommendations that can help to support vagal tone/gut communication e.g Gut directed Hypnotherapy, and the use of a TENS machine.

(Note to self: Must do an article on vagal tone/gut ‘comms’ 🤓)

We're not working to curb intestinal permeability. We're working to keep your gut healthy & calm.

Make an appointment with Lisa

Lisa Fitzgibbon is a degree qualified (2006), experienced and registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist. She runs her own private practice – OOMPH in Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand.

Lisa has been involved in the Natural Health industry for 16 years. She draws on her professional training and experience, as well as her own personal experience to bring you realistic, holistic health advice.

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