Leaky gut syndrome is as unpleasant a problem as its name suggests. Leaky Gut Syndrome, or intestinal hyperpermeability, describes a condition in which the intestines actually leak toxins, undigested food, harmful organisms, and waste into the blood stream. This happens when tight junctions, which are the barrier that prevents undigested or harmful material from crossing into the blood stream, become weakened. In simpler terms — imagine if you had a garden hose made of cotton instead of rubber; it’s something like that. Unfortunately, leaky gut syndrome is a problem that’s affected many and has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, asthma, autism and Type I diabetes. 
Causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome
The main cause of leaky gut syndrome is tight junction breakdown, and research is continuing to examine why that happens. As with many Irritable Bowel Diseases, the focus remains food intolerances, allergic reactions, genetic disposition toward the problem, and gut flora imbalances. These situations lead to redness, swelling, and damage to the lining of the intestines. These are prime factors that encourage leaky gut to occur.
Leaky gut syndrome does have one unique cause — alcohol.   Alcohol is especially responsible because it wears down the lining that protects the intestinal wall, exposing the intestinal wall to damage from undigested material and toxins in the gut.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Since leaky gut allows toxins and other intestinal material into the bloodstream, the symptoms and conditions that develop vary greatly. Some of these may be allergies, or cardiovascular and metabolic disturbances. 
Two conditions receiving much attention for their association with leaky gut syndrome are chronic fatigue syndrome and depression. While each of these conditions are unique, researchers have identified the similar mechanism that can lead to their development. In response to gram-negative (unfriendly) bacteria entering the blood stream, the body releases antibodies. In patients suffering from both chronic fatigue syndrome and depression, these antibodies have been found in higher levels.   
Is There Anything That Can Be Done?
Many people have found that nutritional management to be one of the most effective means of managing the problem of a ‘leaky gut’. Adding compounds such as glutamine and curcumin to the diet may also promote a more healthy intestinal environment by reducing redness and oxidative stress that contribute to tight junction breakdown. 
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or crohn’s disease, keeping a food journal may be helpful in identifying foods causing intestinal discomfort. If you notice it to be happening frequently, especially when alcohol is involved, it may be best to pass on the pint or glass of wine. Additionally, some people have found that adding a probiotic supplement such as Latero-Flora or regularly cleansing their colon can help.
Has leaky gut syndrome been a problem in your life? How have you managed it? Please leave a comment below and share your experience.
– Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Liu Z, Li N, Neu J. Tight junctions, leaky intestines, and pediatric diseases. Acta Paediatr. 2005 Apr;94(4):386-93.
- Cubero FJ, Nieto N. Kupffer cells and alcoholic liver disease. Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2006 Jun;98(6):460-72.
- Tang Y, Banan A, Forsyth CB, Fields JZ, Lau CK, Zhang LJ, Keshavarzian A. Effect of alcohol on miR-212 expression in intestinal epithelial cells and its potential role in alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008 Feb;32(2):355-64. Epub 2007 Dec 21.
- Rapin JR, Wiernsperger N. Possible links between intestinal permeability and food processing: A potential therapeutic niche for glutamine. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2010 Jun;65(6):635-43. doi: 10.1590/S1807-59322010000600012.
- Maes M, Kubera M, Leunis JC, Berk M. Increased IgA and IgM responses against gut commensals in chronic depression: further evidence for increased bacterial translocation or leaky gut. J Affect Disord. 2012 Dec 1;141(1):55-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.02.023. Epub 2012 Mar 11.
- Maes M, Kubera M, Obuchowiczwa E, Goehler L, Brzeszcz J. Depression’s multiple comorbidities explained by (neuro)inflammatory and oxidative & nitrosative stress pathways. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2011;32(1):7-24.
- Maes M, Leunis JC. Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Dec;29(6):902-10.