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Leaky Gut Explainer

man holding his abdomen talking to his doctor
July 24, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Imagine living with a condition that most conventional doctors claim doesn’t exist. If you press them, they’ll insist it’s just “nerves,” or–to get you off their back–they’ll prescribe a drug that either does nothing or makes your symptoms worse.

That’s the situation with leaky gut. Too many mainstream doctors are ignoring this condition, and calling those who treat it “quacks” or worse.

So when a patient complains of stomach discomfort–bloating, gas, or diarrhea after meals–or symptoms of exhaustion and irritability, these doctors settle for the conventional wisdom.

Take an antacid, they tell you. Or give up spicy favorites or fried foods, two recommendations that won’t help much at all.

Even worse, ask a mainstream doctor about leaky gut and you’re likely to get more of that “wisdom,” with a remark about it being a questionable or an unproven condition.

Really? What about the nearly 11,000 studies on the subject in the government’s medical database? I’ve asked that question of conventional doctors and am still waiting for an answer.

Mainstream medicine’s lack of interest in leaky gut makes it difficult to get a diagnosis. And the fact that leaky gut symptoms are not limited to digestive issues doesn’t help.

A leaky gut may cause stomach pain, but it can also lead to insomnia, anxiety, muscle cramps, repeated infections, migraines, and a long list of conditions that have nothing to do with the intestines.

That’s because leaky gut interferes with your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients, weakening your immune system. It has been linked to serious chronic diseases, including diabetes, asthma, heart failure, kidney disease, skin disorders, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The lining of your intestines is responsible for filtering nutrients from food and other substances. To do that, the lining’s cells are sealed together by what’s known as “tight junctions.”

Like bouncers in a nightclub, these junctions allow some particles to go into your bloodstream, like nutrients from food, and turn away others, such as bacteria.

Antibiotics, alcohol, stress, allergies, and some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can damage these cells and loosen the lining’s junctions. The result is leaky gut, which simply means the tight junctions have lost their ability to sort out the good from the bad.

As a result, bits of food, bacteria, waste material, or other matter can end up in your lymphatic system or bloodstream, where they cause problems, big time.

Leaky gut, also known as “increased intestinal permeability,” sends the immune system on a wild goose chase, trying to track down what it mistakenly takes for dangerous invaders.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

The end result is the type of whole-body inflammation that I repeatedly warn you about, because of its ability to silently destroy your health.

There are no statistics available on the number of people living with leaky gut, but I’m guessing there are millions of sufferers. Why? Simply because leaky gut is often caused by very popular over-the-counter medications that you’ve been told are perfectly safe, even for children.

The truth is far different.

Researchers have known for more than two decades that stomach damage is the result of taking common pain-relievers–Aleve, Motrin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other Cox-2 inhibitors. They’re also called non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. (Aspirin is the only exception, and that has been linked to vision disorders.)

No doubt you’ve taken NSAIDs. They’re some of the most popular drugs available. Thirty million people worldwide use NSAIDs each year, racking up annual sales of $12 billion.

An occasional pain-reliever won’t cause leaky gut. But many people pop pain relievers like candy, day in and day out, even though the side effects include ulcers, perforations, and internal bleeding.

No matter what your doctor says, there are ways to treat leaky gut. Here are some of my favorites.

Healing leaky gut starts with lifestyle changes. My patients have to give up alcohol, processed and prepared foods, sugar, and, of course, ibuprofen.

Often, I order a food allergy test so they can avoid problem foods, like dairy, corn, wheat, or nuts. Regardless of the test results, all foods that contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are strictly off limits.

In addition, I prescribe:

Probiotics: These “friendly” bacteria belong in a healthy digestive tract, but a poor diet, stress, too much alcohol, and antibiotics can wipe them out. Look for a product containing at least 10 billion live organisms, combined with a “prebiotic,” to keep them going strong.

Aloe vera liquid: Extracted from the aloe vera plant, this very popular remedy can help soothe the lining of the stomach and intestines. Take after meals, following product directions.

L-Glutamine: This amino acid is the key energy source for stomach cells. It’s commonly used to treat conditions like ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. It’s also used in products that treat leaky gut. Follow dosage instructions on the product.

Your small intestine is actually the size of a tennis court, and the large intestine is even bigger, so healing leaky gut can take time. It will happen, and you’ll be surprised at how good you feel when your digestive tract is working properly.

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