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Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Greetings friends. Today I am going to be talking to you about a chronic condition that lays at the root of many “other” chronic conditions. This condition is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. The reason I am going to provide you with some information on this today is because many of my clients present with chronic conditions that fit within the range of what leaky gut syndrome can effect. Often clients are a little puzzled as to why I immediately go for an initial treatment schedule that is all about the gut and why I am constantly plugging the benefits of fermented foods and good gut health in general. Now you know!
So today I am going to do my best to explain what leaky gut syndrome is and what is caused by, symptoms and what chronic conditions are linked to it and finally what substances and natural medicine are useful for helping to reduce, control and eliminate this condition.

What is Leaky Gut and What Causes It?

On the surface it sounds like something is going to fall out of you but it not about that at all so relax! The term leaky gut is shorthand for what health practitioners call increased mucosal permeability in the small intestine, the six metre tube that connects your stomach to your colon and sits folded in your abdomen. The small intestine absorbs nutrients from food and passes them to the blood stream as amino acids, sugars and fats. If the lining of the small intestine is damaged, it may become “leakier” – or have increased permeability – meaning larger particles could potentially pass through to the blood stream. Naturopaths and some other alternative practitioners believe that larger particles than normal, including undigested food, bacterial toxins and germs, pass through the lining of the small intestine, setting off the immune system and causing a range of health problems. Stress, what we eat and drink, medications and even high intensity exercise have all been suggested as causes of increased gut permeability.

It is worth pointing out here that good old conventional medicine is slow as always to respond or acknowledge this condition; bit like they were with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, none the less, the condition exists and many natural health practitioners are as always helping people. All you will get from the medical establishment is the usual mouthful of arrogance towards their natural health counterparts. Gastroenterologist Dr Peter Katelaris, an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, says in an article on body + “The possibility that increased intestinal permeability occurs in well people in a way that might cause a wide range of symptoms such as backache, headache and fatigue, is unproven. “These claims are easy to make and may sound plausible but are based on belief and theoretical possibilities rather than medical evidence. The term ‘leaky gut’ is also used very loosely by practitioners who are not constrained by evidenced-based medicine, to make unsubstantiated claims about people’s health,” Katelaris says. MMmm it’s a slippery slope when we start to talk about “evidence based” when we have all seen the Catalyst program and the revelations surrounding Statin drugs.

On the other side, for Sydney nutritionist and homeopath Christine Pope, even the fact that the conventional medical fraternity has acknowledged the existence of a leaky gut at all is progress. In the same article on Body + “If you’d asked doctors 20 years ago if there was such a thing as leaky gut they would have laughed at you,” says Pope, who is also head of nutritional medicine at Sydney’s Nature Care College. She says science is starting to catch up with what complementary therapists have been observing for years – that leaky gut is real, causes a wide range of symptoms and can be treated through dietary changes and supplements. “We attribute such a long list of symptoms to it because that is what clears up when we deal with it,” Pope says. So tell me again about this evidence stuff then Dr Katelaris? Thankfully not all doctors are as blinkered as this man.

So what causes leaky gut? According to Dr Robynne. K. Chutkin on the Dr Oz website “So what causes increased intestinal permeability? There’s still much to be learned, but diet, chronic stress, certain medications and bacterial imbalance seem to play important roles. Eating a diet high in refined sugar can lead to overgrowth of yeast species, which has been associated with leaky gut. Preservatives and chemicals in processed foods can damage the lining, and so can consumption of gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system, affecting your ability to fight off invading bacteria and viruses and worsening the symptoms of leaky gut. Medications like aspirin and non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can damage the lining of your gut, as well as antibiotics that kill off your essential good bacteria are also associated with increased intestinal permeability. In fact, an imbalance between beneficial and harmful species in your gut called dysbiosis is one of the leading theories about what causes increased intestinal permeability. Excessive alcohol consumption, infection with parasites, radiation and chemotherapy can damage the lining of the intestine and are also risk factors.

What Are The Symptoms of Leaky Gut?

In addition to bloating and digestive distress, a lot of the patients with leaky gut have a combination of other symptoms like food allergies, chronic sinus infections, achy joints, fatigue, brain fog or unexplained rashes. Typically they’ve been to multiple doctors trying to make sense of their symptoms, and conventional tests and imaging studies have been unrevealing. There can be a feeling of hopelessness and despair, because the symptoms seem so unrelated. When you think of leaky gut not so much as a disease, but as a mechanism by which a number of different conditions can develop, it starts to make sense. A leaky gut is the pathway for how toxins enter the body through the GI tract and create all kinds of mayhem once they’re in, sort of like party crashers who slip through security and proceed to make a mess of the venue. Some of the many conditions, both chronic and autoimmune related, leaky gut has been found to be an associated or causative factor with include;

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Anxiety and / or depressive symptoms
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Coeliac disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory joint disease
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Psoratic arthritis
  • Food allergies
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Eczema

So How Can I Find Out If I have It?

Diagnosing is tricky because leaky gut is a clinical diagnosis, and while there’s no specific test that can tell you with 100% certainty that you have it, a positive Intestinal Permeability Test is strongly associated with the condition. This test measures the ability of two non-metabolized sugar molecules – mannitol and lactulose – to get through the digestive lining. Mannitol is a small molecule that normally passes through easily and serves as a marker of how well nutrients are being absorbed. Lactulose is a larger molecule that doesn’t normally pass through very well and serves as a marker for whether there are large holes in the lining. To perform the test, the patient mixes pre-measured amounts of lactulose and mannitol and drinks it. The test measures the amount of lactulose and mannitol recovered in a 6-hour urine sample. Low levels of both mannitol and lactulose indicate malabsorption. Elevated levels of both lactulose and mannitol suggest general increased intestinal permeability, consistent with leaky gut. Permeability to lactulose may be increased, suggesting leaky gut, while permeability to mannitol may be decreased, suggesting malabsorption of small molecules. The lactulose/mannitol ratio is a useful value; an elevated ratio indicates that the effective pore size of the gut lining has increased, allowing larger, possibly harmful molecules to gain access to the body.

The one favoured by naturopaths is Gut Dysbiosis testing where by a urine sample is tested. A test is available in naturopathic consultations which can assess the presence of bad bacteria in the gut. This test is called the ‘Urinary Indican Test’ or ‘Obermayer test’. It is performed by mixing a urine sample with two reagents and assessing the colour change according to a chart. Dysbiotic bacteria in the intestine produce a chemical called indole. A portion of this is reabsorbed and metabolised to a indoxyl sulfate (or indican) which is then excreted in the urine where is can be assessed by this test. Having one or both of these tests is so far, the best way to find out if this condition is affecting you.

If I have It, How Can it Be Helped?

Probably not going to get much help from your GP unless they are a little more progressive so visiting your Naturopath / Natural Health Care Practitioner is your best bet for now. This is NOT something you want to try to treat on your own. There are a range of good natural medicines that are able to help but these are best administered and suggested by your natural health practitioner. But for information sake here is what is most commonly used;

  • Glutamine – Aids in the repair of intestinal cells. Preferred respiratory fuel for enterocytes and colonocytes. May increase intestinal epithelial resistance to apoptotic injury and promote epithelialisation – (That is just a flash way of saying it protects the lining of the gut and helps it to rebuild!)
  • Glutathione – Antioxidant protection for mitochondria. Glutathione antioxidant system plays a vital role in gut barrier protection. Intestinal barrier destruction occurs once glutathione is depleted.
  • Quercetin – Restores expression of junction proteins. Counteracts glutathione depletion. Antioxidant. Anti-inflammatory. Stabalises mast cells.
  • Licorice Root – Anti-inflammatory. Antioxidant. Mucoprotective – (Protects the mucous lining)
  • Cinnamon – Anti-inflammatory. Immunomodulating – (Helps regulate the immune system)

So in closing friends I’d like to say that if you currently suffer from a chronic illness and are not getting any help from the usual channels then it may be time to approach a natural health practitioner and ask about the possibility of this condition being an underlying cause of your problem. This is a serious problem so please do not attempt to self treat, please seek out the advice of a natural health professional and embark on a new course of therapy. I hope this has helped you learn more about your well being and that it helps you on your healing journey.

Until next time, be well, naturally.


Craig Hitchens – Natural Health Practitioner


Alternative & Natural Health Disclaimer:

The information contained in this article is accurate at the time of posting but may change thereafter. The information provided on the various natural health subjects from this website of is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as any form of medical advice. The information in the article this disclaimer is linked from is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with your health professional before taking any products or following any advice that you believe may conflict with other forms of health care. Always consult your health care professional before you start, stop or change anything that has been previously prescribed. Certain herbs and holistic remedies are unsuitable to take if you are pregnant or nursing and must always be cleared by your health professional before use.

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Craig Hitchens Therapies
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Dunsborough, Western Australia, 6281
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