Could Leaky Gut Be What’s Troubling You?

By Robynne K. Chutkan, MD, FASGE Assistant Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University Hospital Founder and Medical Director, Digestive Center for Women

Posted on | By Dr. Robynne Chutkan | Comments ()

Leaky gut can be a difficult diagnosis to establish for a number of reasons: It's associated with a wide range of seemingly unconnected symptoms; it has a lot of different causes; there's no specific test to confirm it; and evidence tying it to other conditions can be murky. As a result, there’s a fair amount of skepticism in the mainstream medical community about the legitimacy of leaky gut as a diagnosis. But as the evidence that this is indeed a real and recognizable condition grows, opinions are slowly changing. That's a good thing, because leaky gut is likely to emerge as one of the most significant medical concepts of our time.

How Leaky Gut Affects You

Our digestive lining serves an important barrier function. It's like a net with very small holes that allows only certain substances that are small enough to go through, while keeping out larger undesirable particles. With leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, the net becomes damaged, resulting in bigger holes that allow more things to pass through that ordinarily couldn’t.

The barrier function becomes compromised, so that bacteria, viruses, undigested food particles and toxic waste products can leak from the inside of your intestines through the damaged digestive lining into your bloodstream, where they're transported throughout your body and can trigger your immune system to react. The end result is inflammation in various parts of your body, leading to a wide variety of symptoms like bloating, cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, flushing, achy joints, headache and rashes.

With leaky gut not only is the digestive lining more porous and less selective about what can get in, but normal absorption can also be affected. Nutritional deficiencies may develop as a result of damage to the villi - the finger-like projections in the small intestine that are responsible for absorbing nutrients.

Multiple food sensitivities are another hallmark of leaky gut, because partially digested particles of protein and fat may leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and cause an allergic response. Increased intestinal permeability may potentially cause or worsen a number of other conditions, including Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), arthritis, psoriasis, eczema and asthma.

Dr. Robynne Chutkan

Article written by Dr. Robynne Chutkan
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