Leaky Gut Syndrome: The Hidden Root Cause to Many Digestive Disorders

By Dr. Scott Olson

You may have a condition called leaky gut syndrome and not even know it. It's very common. In fact, Leaky gut may be the root cause of many digestive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and others.1 It may also be the root of a generalized inflammatory condition that causes allergies such as eczema, asthma and hay fever; and even such common diseases as arthritis and heart disease.2

Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes can greatly improve leaky gut syndrome, but to understand why this is so, you have to first understand what leaky gut is all about.

It Starts with Digestion

Food is broken down first by the stomach (with its hydrochloric acid) and then by the pancreas (with its digestive enzymes). What is left after the digestive process is the basic building blocks of life: the micronutrients and the macronutrients. Micronutrients consist of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Macronutrients consist of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

In order for the macronutrients to be absorbed by the body, they need to be broken down into their smallest possible pieces. Proteins are broken down into individual amino acids. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars such as glucose, sucrose and fructose. Fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol.

In a healthy body, it's only after these nutrients are broken down into the smallest molecules can they pass through the gut wall and into the blood. Even in a healthy body though, we sometimes need the help of digestive enzymes to get the food broken down into these tiny molecules.

The Leaky Gut

The gut is made up of millions of cells that allow only these small macronutrient molecules to pass into the blood. Usually, only broken down nutrients such as glucose and amino acids are let into the blood. Larger macronutrients, particularly larger proteins, tend to cause problems when they enter the blood stream. The body thinks that they are foreign invaders, causing the immune sytem to release white blood cells to attack the invaders. These white blood cells have chemicals within them that, when leaked, induce swelling and inflammation.

The cells of the gut are normally packed tightly together in order to allow only the broken down proteins into the blood. Inflammation causes these tightly packed cells to swell and loosen. Much like block walls that have lost their grout, spaces open between these cells and larger undigested proteins escape into the blood stream. This is leaky gut: undigested proteins and other unwanted material leaking through the intestinal wall directly into the blood.3

The gut can become leaky when we eat foods we shouldn’t, are exposed to chemicals, have the wrong kind of bacteria in our guts, or are under stress. Any of these conditions can cause the gut to become inflamed.

The biggest problem with leaky gut is that it creates an endless cycle where proteins cause inflammation and the inflammation allows for more proteins to release into the blood stream causing even greater inflammation, progressively making the leaky gut worse and worse.

This endless cycle creates what is called a generalized inflammatory state in the body. Your doctor can measure how much inflammation you have in your body through a test called C-reactive protein; the higher amount of C-reactive protein, the more inflammation in your body. High levels of C-reactive protein are related to eczema, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, many autoimmune diseases, and even colon cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Probiotics to the Rescue

Probiotics are small bacteria that are beneficial to the body. These bacteria help repair the intestinal wall and have been shown in numerous studies to reduce inflammation and repair leaky gut.4

The stomach contains literally trillions of active bacteria, both bad and good. Helping your body establish a health balance of good bacteria can be difficult. There are two primary ways to increase the good while reducing the bad:

Food. Probiotics are found naturally in organic unpasteurized yogurt that contains live, active cultures. Unfortunately the amounts of probiotics you receive from this source vary widely and there is rarely enough to make a positive impact.

Supplements. The most effective way to increase the amount of health bacteria or probiotics in your system is by taking a high dose supplement. The problem with most brand name probiotics is that they do not contain enough health bacteria to make a difference. Remember, the intestines contain trillions of live bacteria. Probiotic supplements that contain less than 5 billion active and healthy bacteria are just a drop in the ocean. To be truly effective you must take a probiotic supplement that has over 5 billion active cultures; and the more active cultures, the better.

So, whether you have inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or even arthritis, asthma, or heart disease, it would be a good idea to pick up some quality probiotics and start healing your gut today.

Related Resources:



Cited Sources:

  1. Bai AP, Ouyang Q: Probiotics and inflammatory bowel diseases. Postgrad Med J. 2006 Jun;82(968):376-82.
  2. Shen L, Turner JR: Role of epithelial cells in initiation and propagation of intestinal inflammation. Eliminating the static: tight junction dynamics exposed. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2006 Apr;290(4):G577-82.
  3. Fasano A, Shea-Donohue T: Mechanisms of disease: the role of intestinal barrier function in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases. Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2005 Sep;2(9):416-22.
  4. Resta-Lenert S, Barrett KE: Probiotics and commensals reverse TNF-alpha- and IFN-gamma-induced dysfunction in human intestinal epithelial cells. Gastroenterology. 2006 Mar;130(3):731-46.





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