In a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) system, the intestinal mucosal lining lets digested nutrients pass into the bloodstream, but blocks metabolic and microbial toxins. Nutrients are ‘tagged’ by immune cells so the body accepts them. Leaky gut syndrome (LGS) occurs when intestinal cells are compromised, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream. The immune system also releases antibodies to destroy previously well-tolerated foods, producing auto-antibodies which cause chronic inflammation.
“A urinary indican test measures slippage of larger protein molecules from the digestive track into the bloodstream, indicating dysbiosis, or bacterial imbalance,” explains naturopath Teresa Mitchell-Paterson. “Treatment is ‘weed-seed-feed’. For weeding, I use antiparasitic and antimicrobial herbs. To feed, I introduce probiotics and prebiotics like slippery elm to build good gut bacteria. I may order faecal matter colonisation tests to see if we’re dealing with a particular bacteria or parasite, which dictates the probiotic used. Finally, feeding – glutamine, to nourish and seal the gut wall, and sometimes astringent herbs.”
The food factor
“Eliminating dairy and wheat is vital,” adds Mitchell-Paterson. “If those dietary proteins enter the bloodstream, the body sets up an immune response. Because Australians tend to eat so much of these foods, this reaction can become constant. Sugar must go, and the amount of protein in the diet must be reduced. “Instead of 200g of protein – which is what some people eat at every meal – cut back to 60g. Digestive enzymes help break the protein down.”
Naturopath Ann Vlass says LGS often underlies fertility and hormonal problems, because the GI tract and liver affect hormone synthesis and degradation. “Susceptible patients are often highly stressed, and have lots of coffee and refined carbohydrates to compensate for their plummeting energy,” she says. “This persistent load of GI stimulants and irritants results in improperly digested food particles degrading the intestinal wall and entering the blood, causing immunological complications that disrupt conception.
“We use low-reactive foods with nutrients that induce GI tract epithelium regeneration and tighten gaps between cells, and individualised mineral formulas to rebuild tissue,” explains Vlass. “Antimicrobial herbs may be necessary, as sick tissue and undigested food attract unhealthy bacteria, plus astringent herbs to bind permeable tissue and digestive stimulants to boost stomach acid. In severe cases, supplementation with acid and enzyme precursors might be necessary.” Lifestyle measures – regular sleep-wake times, hydration, sun exposure, exercise and relaxation techniques – are encouraged, as is chewing every mouthful 20 times: “This in itself can make a tremendous difference to their health.”
Could you have LGS?
A problem with a leaky gut is its variety of symptoms, including: bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation, anxiety, confusion, poor memory, nervousness, depression, poor immunity, rashes, bladder or vaginal infections, fatigue, aggression, and bed-wetting. “We always look for it,” says Mitchell-Paterson. “If we don’t understand why someone has suffered, say, depression for some time, we treat the gut. Our protocol is that the gut is the seat of all treatment.”