Increased intestinal permeability: the root of all evil!


Its medical term is “Increased Intestinal Permeability” and refers to the lining of your gut or membranes being inflamed, injured, and ruptured to a point that the particles of food that you eat, or of bacteria that reaches your digestive system, will be squeezing through the gut membranes’ gaps into the blood stream. This is a situation of red alarm to your immune system and it comes with serious side-effects and complications.

Leaky gut syndrome signals inflammation and imbalance of the barrier function of the gastrointestinal mucosal lining.

The causes are various:

• Chronic stress
• Dysbiosis (altered gut flora)
• Environmental pollutants (pesticides, beauty products, cleaning products, herbicides in your garden, etc.)
• Overconsumption of alcohol (more than 2 units per week)
• Poor diet choices
• Chronic use of pharmaceutical drugs (prescribed and over-the-counter)
• Food and environmental sensitivities
• Rising levels of lectins (due to daily or regular consumption of grains and legumes)
To determine whether you have increased intestinal permeability I will always investigate this issue with functional lab tests. I use an advanced comprehensive stool analysis as well as a (next generation) food intolerance test. I also check for an add-on marker that shows loss of mucosal integrity, called zonulin.
The problem with having gut membranes that are leaky is that toxic particles or simply ‘foreign’ particles to the blood stream, will pass through the mucosa’s gaps invading the outside of the digestive system. These ‘invaders’ include bacteria, fungi, toxic molecules, undigested food particles, etc. The foreign particles will activate the immune response, so antibodies and ‘alarm substances’ called cytokines will start fighting the enemy back. These cytokines will alert the lymphocytes (white blood cells) and send them to ‘war’. In each one of these ‘battles’ (at least three per day each time you’ll eat foods or drink beverages, or even smoke) inflammation and irritation will occur. This is actually not good news, as with increased inflammation and irritation the intestinal mucosa loses its ability to absorb nutrients to keep you well-nourished and healthy. If the cells of your gut are damaged due to chronic inflammation, now you’ll have a problem of malabsorption of nutrients as well. If nutrients don’t reach the trillions of cells in your body daily in order to form and maintain them (brain cells, heart cells, vessels cells, lungs cells, nails cells, hair cells, etc.), these cells will suffer malnutrition and will start losing functionality. Major diseases of any type can start developing under such conditions.
Also, intestinal mucous is formed in the cells of the lining of the gut (in the mucosa). This mucous has a very important role of blocking bacteria from moving and circulating freely to other parts of the body where they’re not supposed to be, like your joints, your brain, your arteries, your bladder, etc. When this bacteria is allowed to colonize other body parts or ‘translocate’, several chronic illnesses  mainly auto-immune disorders and other inflammatory illnesses, begin to develop.
This is what happens in people with leaky gut syndrome: they develop major diseases of inflammatory and auto-immune nature.
Leaky gut syndrome is at the root of the following diseases:
• Allergies
• Asthma
• Celiac Disease
• Crohn’s Disease
• Malabsorption syndromes
• Ankylosing spondylitis
• Arthritis
• Atopy
• Proriasis
• Skin problems
• Eczema
• Bronchitis
What happens to your liver?
Leaky gut syndrome puts an extra burden on your liver which filtrates all the body’s impurities as long as this toxic load is manageable. In leaky gut syndrome, the liver is over-exerted to the point that it simply loses its ability to cope with the high demands that it is forced to deal with on a daily basis (junk food, no fresh food, alcoholic drinks, coffee, stress, pharmaceutical drugs, poor gut flora, poor sleep quality, etc.). These non-filtered toxins that the liver cannot deal with anymore cause inflammation of the liver itself. They make your liver sick and end up causing liver disease or even cirrhosis of the liver, whether you drink alcohol frequently or not.
How I help my clients with leaky gut syndrome with Functional Medicine?
The main symptoms of leaky gut will be abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation, gas, indigestion, pancreatic insufficiency and food intolerances. However, they can easily also be respiratory issues like allergies, asthma, rhinitis or shortness of breath. Other very common signs that you may have leaky gut syndrome is arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, acne, recurrent bladder infections, unexplained fatigue, chronic muscle or joint pains, and nervousness or anxiety.
This is one of the reasons why each time that I have a client that comes to me with rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, for example, I investigate the health of their digestive system first and foremost. When I address any of the above with functional medicine, my first  line of action is not dealing directly with the arthritis or with the asthma, but dealing with increased gut permeability before anything.
Once I get the results back from the lab, I can then devise a comprehensive and advanced strategy involving and anti-inflammatory diet that involves removal of offending foods and other toxins, and addition of potent healing foods that help in healing the gut lining; targeted nutrients to support healing of this injured gut mucosa, like cabbage juice, Zinc, quercetin and L-Glutamine in therapeutic doses; good bacteria that promotes a healthy immune response, like probiotics (L.Plantarum) and prebiotics like FOS (fructooligosaccharides); potent anti-inflammatory agents like curcumin, aloe vera, and colostrum, all in therapeutic doses. I also make sure that my client is digesting her foods properly and if there’s the need (I see this in the lab tests’ results), I prescribe hydrochloric acid (HCL), pancreatic enzymes, and bile.
Stress management and yoga with pranayama (which alkalizes the intestinal environment) are also part of my lifestyle prescriptions for leaky gut syndrome.
The use of antioxidants like vitamin C, A, E; of deglycyrrhized licorice; and of phosphatidylcholine are of vital use in all cases of increased intestinal permeability. These agents bind viruses and toxins to chelate them out of the body and soothe the mucous membrane of the digestive tract.
If you have respiratory issues, joint pains, anxiety, insomnia, or any auto-immune disorder, you can start betting that the root cause is intestinal permeability.

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