Leaky Gut Syndrome (Intestinal Hyperpermeability)


Leaky Gut Syndrome denotes the condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, thereby allowing the passage of damaging substances into the bloodstream. If this condition goes unchecked and the causes are not addressed, the body's Total Toxic Load will increase and serious illnesses can result.

Under healthy circumstances the small intestine is responsible for the absorption of nutrients into circulation. Proteins, fats, sugars, vitamins, and minerals are all dependent on the integrity and proper functioning of the intestine. But just as the lining of the intestine, known as the mucosa, is responsible for the passage of nutrients, it also provides a barrier to potentially toxic substances from entering the blood. Thus, the small intestine is a selectively permeable structure facilitating the passage of nutrients, while blocking the entrance of toxins into the body. Partially digested proteins, bacteria, yeast, parasites, and the waste products from these intestinal organisms are all substances that can harm the body if absorbed.

Adequate protein intake is necessary to survive. However, the complex proteins found in the foods we ingest must be first broken down into amino acids to be used by our cells. The first stage of protein digestion occurs in the stomach where acid cleaves large proteins. As the food moves along to the small intestine, enzymes from the pancreas further the breakdown into amino acids. These are the smallest fundamental units of proteins, and are then transported into the blood by the cells that line the intestine. If any sequence in this entire process is impaired, proteins will not be fully broken down into amino acids and a high proportion of large, undigested protein molecules will be found in the intestine. If we have leaky gut syndrome, these partially digested proteins enter the blood, and our immune system will attack the proteins believing they are invading organisms. If this scenario continues, food allergies and an increased liver burden due to increased toxic load will result.

The Cause

There are a variety of causative factors involved in the evolution of leaky gut syndrome. Poor diet, intestinal bacterial imbalance (dysbiosis), parasites, yeast, and prescription drugs can be to blame. The effective treatment of this disorder is dependent upon the identification of which factors are responsible.

Our diet is the most fundamental relationship we have with the environment. Identifying a health diet goes far beyond analyzing the ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Considerations have to be made with regard to how foods affect the bacteria in our intestine, how foods provoke immune reactions, as well as what foods possess the ability to directly damage the mucosa.

Billions of bacteria inhabit the intestine. Some are good, and some are potentially not so good. It's a number game. Ideally there exists a bacterial balance in the intestine that prevents the overgrowth of pathogenic, or disease causing bacteria. The beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium inhibit the intestinal colonization by harmful bacteria and parasites. They also produce short-chain fatty acids from the fermentation of undigested plant sugars. Short-chain fatty acids provide about 70% of the energy requirements of the mucosal intestinal cells that are responsible for the semi-permeable nature of the intestine. If either these beneficial bacteria or the types of fiber that are turned into short-chain fatty acids are deficient, the intestinal cells will lack the energy to properly absorb vital nutrients. Because cellular repair is also an energy-requiring process, the intestinal cells will also become physically damaged and a leaky gut syndrome will result.

Yeasts, such as Candida, normally inhabit the intestine. However, when a dysbiosis develops, or a diet is too high in simple sugars, a yeast overgrowth can result. These fungi release toxic by-products that enter and circulate throughout the bloodstream and cause disturbances in tissues and organs distant from the growing yeast colony. A variety of conditions such as lupus, sinusitis, bleeding between periods, recurrent infections, dermatitis, and kidney stones can develop.

Parasites, normally not present in the intestine, can be introduced by eating improperly cooked foods and by traveling to other countries with poor sanitary conditions. Under normal circumstances many of these organisms are killed by stomach acid. However, low stomach acidity, known as hypochlorhydria, may allow the passage of parasites into the lower intestine. Chronic use of antacids will facilitate this process by lowering stomach acidity. As is the case with yeasts, parasites also secrete substances that are absorbed and may cause systemic effects depending of the overall health of the affected person.


The diagnosis of leaky gut syndrome can be accomplished by testing the integrity of the intestinal mucosa. This is done with a procedure that utilizes the ingestion of two sugars, one that is small enough to be absorbed, and the other that is large and not normally absorbed. If the large sugar is found in the urine, the integrity of the intestine has been compromised. This is not a conventional medical test.
Once this diagnosis has been made, the next step is finding the underlying cause of the intestinal damage. There are numerous diagnostic tests to discern the cause:

1. If a dysbiosis is suspected, a Stool Microbiology Test can be run to identify the types and numbers of organism in the intestine.
2. A Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis, besides identifying intestinal organisms, will demonstrate how well food is being digested and absorbed, and provides a measurement of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA's). SCFA levels are a useful fact to know because a SCFA known as butyric acid is available in supplement form. Low SCFA levels are also highly indicative of an increased risk for colon cancer.

Natural Therapy

  • Treatment of leaky gut syndrome includes measures to directly heal the wall of the intestine, addressing bacterial imbalance or parasitic infections, and modifications in digestion.
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) such as fish oil, flaxseed oil and borage oil, will assist in the cell rebuilding process, and EFAs also decrease inflammation in the intestine. Usual recommended dosage is in the range of 4-6 grams per day with food.
  • L-glutamine is an amino acid that intestinal cells use preferentially to heal. Glutamine is believed to improve the intestinal barrier. Amounts of 1-3 grams per day are usually warranted.
  • The short-chain fatty acid known as butyrate can be taken rectally in the form of a retention enema. Four to six capsules should be mixed in water and instilled with an enema bag. Butyrate should also be taken orally at a dosage of 1-2 grams per day.
  • If Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium levels are low, they can be taken orally between meals, or rectally in a retention enema. Fructooligosaccharides, a preferred sugar for acidophilus and bifidobacterium use can also be taken orally.
  • If pathogenic, or disease producing bacteria are present in the intestine, garlic supplements, Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), or plant tannins can be taken to diminish numbers. Goldenseal is potentially toxic and should be taken no longer than one month, and only in those individuals who do not have impaired liver function. The Complete Digestive Stool Analysis Test analyzes the types of bacteria and they are cultured to determine what substances they are sensitive to, including both prescription and natural antibiotic agents.
  • Parasites are many times sensitive to Black Walnut or Chinese Wormwood. They must be taken for at least a month. If results are not obtained, prescription anti-parasitic drugs should be used. In any event, it is advisable to retest to ascertain if the organism(s) is eliminated.
  • If food allergies are present, they should be treated. Ingested foods that the immune system is attacking causes direct damage to the intestine by increasing inflammation. Foods usually need to be avoided for at least three months to decrease immune sensitivity.
  • Eat a whole foods diet and avoid man-made food additives and agricultural chemicals.
  • Fasting can clean the intestines, thereby diminishing intestinal inflammation. The digestive process is an energy-intensive process, so fasting also gives the digestive tract a respite from its ongoing labors.