What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut is a common term to explain a dysfunction of the gut wall. We want the lining of our intestines to be fairly water tight. However, over time due to internal and external stressors the lining of the wall can become thin and porous, allowing certain particles, proteins and microbes to escape into the body cavity. This causes inflammation in the body and in the gut itself which can give rise to symptoms locally and systemically. This includes but is not limited to bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea, burping, skin conditions, joint pains, mood disturbance, headaches and fatigue and in later stages autoimmune diseases and chronic disease.
How can it present?
Often symptoms can arise slowly over time (years in some cases) and be intermittent in nature. Individuals will often have a diagnosis of Irritable bowel syndrome which is a label that accounts for an array of uncomfortable gut symptoms, some of which are mentioned above.
If you suffer with ongoing tummy pains, bloating, heartburn, headaches, low mood or you do not open your bowels daily and with ease, these are all symptoms that should encourage you to seek help to discuss the potential of leaky gut.
What patients are prone and what to look out for?
Anyone can be subject to the effects a leaky gut given that causation is multifactorial. However, if you lead a particularly stressful life due to work or family pressures, or your diet is not as healthy as it could be and contains high amounts of sugary, processed foods or large amounts of simple carbohydrates and gluten, or you have needed numerous courses of antibiotics in your life time, or suffered with Gastritis or food poisoning in the past, these are some of the triggers that can affect the gut lining and make it more porous and vulnerable over time.
It is not normal to be bloated or not pass stool at least once a day with ease, or suffer any sort of discomfort second to food or even without food as a trigger on a regular basis. In addition, common skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, or seasonal allergies and food sensitivities can all be attributed to a ‘leaky gut’. Therefore, if these are symptoms you are struggling with to get to the bottom of and control without the need for regular medication, you should consider comprehensive testing to assess for leaky gut syndrome.
Lastly, a few conditions that are common, where the root cause of the issue is often overlooked are Hypothyroidism, PCOS, Hormone imbalnances, Infertility, depression and anxiety and inflammatory autoimmune diseases. In these diagnoses the answer to the problem often lies in the gut, its microbiome and its porosity. Addressing the gut can be the long term, permanent solution to these medical issues.
Is there medical treatment?
Treatment comes second to comprehensive testing. Following this, treatment involves the 5R’s:
- Remove (any pathogens, parasites, unwanted microbes and excess yeasts with the use of herbals, botanicals, elimination diets, or antibiotics)
- Replace (upstream digestive support for stomach acids and enzymes)
- Reinoculate (with good bacteria, feeding with pre and probiotics)
- Repair ( the wall of the gut, the gut lining to reduce porosity)
- Rebalance (address causation, including internal and external stressors and triggers)
What are the tests and when should they be done?
Typically we take an extensive medical history to understand symptoms, potential triggers from birth to present day and ongoing exacerbating factors that are preventing you from recovery.
Following this, symptoms depending, patients will often receive a test kit for a stool analysis. This is done in the comfort of your own home and once completed, posted to the laboratory for analysis. The results will show us your unique digestive system and how well it is functioning. In addition, we will see the abundance of good bacteria as well the ‘bad bacteria’, the presence of excess yeast or parasites. Moreover, it will show inflammation of the gut wall and within, helping to diagnose ‘leaky gut’ and potential causation.
Alternatively, testing may be more specifically aimed at ruling out Small intestinal Bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This test specifically looks at the production of Methane and Hydrogen gases emitted from the body second to specific bacterial overgrowth. This can help support a diagnosis of SIBO and guide treatment.
In addition, elimination diets and food allergy and sensitivity testing is used to help decipher underlying causes for leaky gut and to help guide treatment plans.
Tests can be done at home, at a time that suits you. For women, it is typically encouraged to perform testing in the luteal phase of the cycle and all patients are advised to stop probiotic and prebiotic supplementation at least 7 days in advance of collection.
What is the best test?
Which test that is suggested for you is dependent on your symptoms and medical history. However, a comprehensive stool analysis is often the gold standard approach given the extensive information and insight that can be drawn from this analysis.
Can it be cured/how long until improvement?
Gut symptoms as well as secondary symptoms such as skin, thyroid, mood or inflammatory diseases can most definitely either be cured fully through gut testing and treatment or improved upon substantially.