October 6, 2009

What is a "leaky" gut?

I remember very well the day that I first heard of "leaky gut" syndrome. It was at my first visit with my naturopath, Dr. Maurice Werness. After a lengthy consultation, he explained to me that I had a "leaky" gut. At the time I didn't really understand what it meant, but I was just glad that he knew what was wrong, and more importantly, his calm presence conveyed hope that I could get better. We began testing with US Biotek Laboratories IgG Antibody Assessment, 96 General Food Panel, for delayed food sensitivities and then I eliminated those highly reactive foods and continued supplementing with specialized nutrients to assist in healing the gut.

Soon after eliminating the allergic foods, I began to understand just how addictive these foods were to me. My doctor was on the phone with my husband giving him the results of my second food intolerance panel, which included a panel of 24 spices and 24 herbs.. He gave instructions for me not to eat anything with vanilla, because my reaction was so high, it was "off the chart." Meanwhile, I was driving home from my hairdresser's making plans to eat something with vanilla! My body was conspiring with my mind and making me crave what gave me more energy. Usually foods that we eat repeatedly, as vanilla, are the foods that will be more reactive, if we have increased intestinal permeability.

The good news was now I knew what to do, but the bad news was these food intolerances stimulated an allergic response which gave me energy; a false energy that constantly overstimulated my immune system and was exhausting my adrenal system. I believe this may have been the trigger that caused my immune system to attack my body and setting the stage for the low platelet disorder, immune thrombocytopenia purpura.

You may wonder why these diet changes are important? According to Metametrix Clinical Laboratory, "The 'leaky gut' phenomenon causes food antigens to permeate into the bloodstream where the immune system generates IgG4 antibodies to protect against more dangerous types of reactions. The process of antibody production and removal cause a metabolic stress". My doctor explained that inflammation could attach itself to random parts of the body far away from the gut as stated on the following quote by US Biotek Laboratories:
The inflammatory process is gradual and may take anywhere from several hours to several days, which is why this type of reaction is termed, delayed. Although immune cells called macrophages dispose of these immune complexes immediately, they only have a finite capacity to do so. Excess antigen may saturate the macrophages capacity resulting in the prolonged circulation of complexes and their deposition into the body tissues. Depending on which tissues are involved, it is thought that these complexes may be implicated in many different conditions/symptoms.

Unfortunately In many celiac disease individuals, there is increased intestinal permeability or "leaky gut" that causes immune responses. I believe that this is a seriously overlooked health issue for many people which may result in serious consequences, if left untreated. When I see others who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, who appear to have an abundant energy supply and able to maintain a high level of activity, I get concerned. They have either been told, or believe that by removing gluten from their diet that all their health problems will be solved. I think it is quite likely that they have a "leaky gut" and may not know it. Auto-immune disorders that are associated with celiac disease, and the fact that it takes an average of 10 years to receive a diagnosis of celiac disease are factors that make a "leaky gut" an insidious, ticking time bomb in the health of, probably, thousands of people.

An excerpt from an article, Medicine Man, featured in the June/July 2008 issue of Living Without Magazine explains this very well.

Living Without’s editor Alicia Woodward talks with Dr. Alessio Fasano, founder and medical director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Celiac Research.

You and your team of researchers discovered zonulin, the human protein that may hold clues to the cause and treatment of celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders. Can you talk about that?

Yes. It turns out that celiac disease is an excellent model for gaining insight into how other autoimmune diseases develop. In studying this condition, we’ve realized that in addition to genes and the environmental trigger (that’s gluten), there is a third element —the loss of the intestinal barrier that protects us from invaders. In other words, people with celiac disease have a leaky gut. Big chunks of molecules—allergens—pass through the intestines and trigger a response by the immune system, which harms the patient genetically predisposed to autoimmunity. We discovered that zonulin is the protein that unlocks the intestinal barrier and creates the leaky gut. People with celiac disease produce higher levels of zonulin. So do people with Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.
I was really glad to read this article from a doctor who specializes in celiac disease, because the gastrointestinal doctor I visited denied that this condition existed. At the time it caused confusion and frustration in getting the care that I needed. I am thankful this information is getting to the celiac community finally.
Symptoms of leaky gut include:

  • chronic fatigue
  • respiratory problems
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • gas and cramps in abdominal area
  • bloating
  • joint pain
  • brain fog
  • muscle and nerve pain
  • headaches and migraines
  • memory loss
  • poor concentration
  • weakness
  • allergies
  • swelling in the facial region
  • fevers
  • abdominal pain
  • skin rashes
  • toxic feelings
  • and constant illness and inability to recover

I appreciate Living Without Magazine, Alicia Woodward, and Dr. Alessio Fasano for the informative health article that will change the outcome of many lives.

I also have a deep gratitude to Dr. Maurice Werness for teaching me and assisting in my healing the past seven years.  Thanks, Doc!


  1. I know I had leaky gut when I was diagnosed. After several years I was feeling much better and really quite normal. Then, about 3 years ago I developed Hashimoto's thyroid disease. I haven't been the same since.

  2. Very interesting article. I have been looking for ways to help leaky gut, and this and your links are very helpful. Thank you.

  3. Hi Debbie,
    More people need to read your post! I too have been learning a great deal about leaky gut syndrome and without a doubt, realize now I've had one for years.

    I too am concerned about the growing gluten-free movement and that everywhere you look, resources claim that the only cure for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet.

    But most people who have celiac or who are allergic or sensitive to gluten end up eating a lot of gluten-free grains and a lot of sugar that doesn't help the gut repair itself and heal - it just makes the problem persist.

    The specific carbohydrate diet created in the mid 1900's was actually healing people of celiac, leaky gut and other digestive problems. Then the gluten-free diet became coined as the diet for celiac disease and SCD went out the window.

    Anyway, I am reading the Gut and Pscyhology Syndrome where this is talked about, if you, or anyone else in interested.

    I'm going to tweet your post!

  4. Linda, thank you for sharing your experience.

    Kathy, I'm glad that you came by and that you found the post helpful.

    Sarah, thank you for sharing with us your thoughts and insights. I look forward to reading the book you mentioned. I'm glad to find someone who shares in my concerns so we can encourage others going through this process of learning and healing.

  5. I have doctored for years with digestive problems - generally with just take Nexium (which didn't really help). I have been recently told I have leaky gut - after a test showing I have 38 food intolerances. I have decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and join all the people who have this problem and get back to living and eating what is right for my body. Thank goodness - I found your website.


I am made richer by your being here. Please leave us a comment.


Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin