I give my mother credit for introducing me to a term called “leaky gut” about ten years ago. I remember saying at the time “Leaky Gut What?” As a caveat, it’s important to know that I’d just graduated from medical residency after twelve years of college, medical school, and post-graduate training in family medicine. Needless to say, I thought I was pretty smart. I actually mocked my poor mother for her reference to the term as if it were something a uneducated person would say (as only a son would!).
A little background information is that my mother is a self-taught nutrition guru (my description) that started reading books like “The Vitamin Bible” and “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” in the 70’s. As a side note, I can recall my sister and I scampering off to grade school with our silver dollar size chewable vitamin C tablets in our lunch boxes. My salivary glands still twinge when I think of those huge Vit C tabs!
Fast forward ten years…I now use the term “leaky gut” often in discussions with my patients specifically those with chronic problems such as fatigue, joint pains, and /or autoimmune problems. It’s an important term to understand and has far reaching implications in health.
The term itself is laymen for increased intestinal permeability which is a biologic and histological certainty, not some trumped up term “uneducated folks would use”. In other words, it’s not just some trashcan term to describe a person with upset stomach.
To back up for a moment, the intestinal tract is a wild microscopic world full of thousands of strains of bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms, proteins, fatty and organic acids, gases and chemicals both from metabolic processes and ingested. In a perfect intestinal world, only small amino acids (broken down from digested proteins), small fatty acids (broken down from digested fats), glucose(broken down from consumed starches and sugars, and micronutrients should traverse the intestinal lining making their way into our system.
So what happens when larger proteins (for example those from bacterial cell walls or partially digested food products) are able to traverse the lining and again access and exposure to our immune system? Well that’s a loaded question I just asked and I don’t have a lot of space here but let me says that this IS essentially “Leaky Gut”. Fundamentally, increased intestinal permeability is the window that opens that can lead to or contribute to a whole host of systemic symptoms and diseases including autoimmune disease, food allergies, fibromyalgia, brain fog, depression…and the list goes on..and on… and on…
The immune system is extremely sensitive to the presence of foreign proteins. These proteins serve as the targets for the immune response. Viral and bacterial proteins illicit significant immune responses as a protective mechanism. Although symptoms of fever, body aches, sore throat, cough, runny nose etc come along with that response…Once those infectious microorganisms are destroyed by our immune systems, the symptoms resolve.
However, what if certain proteins are coming from permanent residents or frequent visitors (i.e. normal bacteria within the intestinal tract or from consumed foods)? These proteins are not some occasional exposure but in some cases part of our everyday existence. This is when leaky gut can lead to serious problems.
At this point healing the gut becomes first priority in order to regain health and resolve symptoms. If you have chronic pain, brain fog, fatigue or even conditions like Fibromyalgia or Autoimmune disease its worth educating yourself on the term and considering a test called a gut permeability assessment.
To your health,
Brian E Lamkin DO