Leaky Gut

Leaky gut syndrome: the unrecognised root cause of chronic disease

A strainer instead of an intestinal barrier is a summary of what leaky gut syndrome is.

In this syndrome, our intestine, which normally forms a barrier protecting us from toxins, poorly digested macromolecules (especially proteins) and pathogens (bacteria, fungi, etc.) present in our digestive tract, will be much more porous, thus facilitating their passage in our organism.

It can be the cause not only of intestinal disorders (bloating, diarrhoea, etc.), extra-digestive symptoms (fatigue, headaches, eczema, joint pain, mental fog) but also of chronic diseases.

It is fascinating to remember that our intestine is a tube five to seven metres long, with a wall with an area of more than 1000sqm (about two tennis courts) allowing it to fulfil its main function: that of absorbing as many nutrients as possible from partially digested food arriving from the stomach.

However, our intestine has another function, less known but just as important as the first, that of forming a barrier protecting us from the threats present in our digestive tract.

For this, our intestine is made up of a layer of 50 billion cells called enterocytes which, united to each other (by molecular complexes), form a real barrier. The latter is nevertheless thinner than cigarette paper (approx. 0.025 mm thick) and can, therefore, be damaged easily. It is no coincidence that 60% of our immune system is located in our intestines, just below this famous intestinal barrier.

Once you have read this, it is easy to understand that when the barrier function of the intestine weakens and its permeability increases excessively, the body will then be exposed to multiple substances (bacteria, etc.). The latter can indeed pass between two enterocytes, which, in a normal situation, are strongly united through molecular complexes (called tight junctions), but which, in leaky gut syndrome, will be damaged and less solid.

The passage of these foreign substances (called antigens) will trigger the activation of our immune system and will, therefore, initiate a so-called “low-grade” inflammatory reaction, because of low intensity but sufficient to generate inflammation molecules (like cytokines) which will diffuse throughout our body and will lead us to chronic inflammation of our entire organism (see figure 1).

Fig 1: Factors contributing to intestinal barrier impairment and systemic diseases. HFD: high fat diet; LPS: lipopolysaccharide; GVB: gut vascular barrier; TLRs: toll-like receptors. Ref: Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021 Dec; 18(23): 12836.
Fig 1: Factors contributing to intestinal barrier impairment and systemic diseases. HFD: high fat diet; LPS: lipopolysaccharide; GVB: gut vascular barrier; TLRs: toll-like receptors. Ref: Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021 Dec; 18(23): 12836.


Leaky gut syndrome: consequences on our health

 However, we have known for several years now that this chronic inflammatory state (called “low-grade systemic”) has major consequences on our health: overweight, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmunity, cancers, depression, and degenerative diseases. Furthermore, this chronic inflammatory state is also one of the root causes of accelerated aging (called “Inflammaging”).

 Leaky gut: the causes

 The vast majority of leaky gut syndrome cases is caused by dysbiosis (imbalance of the intestinal microbiota) or intestinal disorders. But many other causes can lead to it, such as excessive consumption of gluten (which has a direct inflammatory action on the intestinal mucosa), food hypersensitivities (misnamed “food allergies”) very often produced by casein (a milk protein) or ovalbumin (one of the egg proteins), stress, excessive alcohol consumption and prolonged fasts (more than seven days).

But, also, many drugs such as antibiotics are still prescribed too automatically and which are nevertheless real bombs for our ecosystem, antacids (PPIs) prescribed for a long time in the event of gastroesophageal reflux, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) prescribed in case of pain (but which have the side effect of altering the production of intestinal mucus, a protective element of our intestinal barrier) and chemotherapeutic drugs. Finally, pesticides which are mutagenic products, but also endocrine disruptors, will alter our intestines insidiously (always try to favour an organic diet).

 The solution: taking care of our gut

 First of all, it is important to eliminate or moderate the causes (or triggering factors) of the leaky gut syndrome by rebalancing our intestinal microbiota as a priority. The objective will then be to support and heal our intestinal mucosa so that it regains a functional and protective state.

For this, it is necessary to provide the important micronutrients for a correct renewal of our enterocytes (things they do every 36 hours), such as zinc and glutamine. Vitamins A and D will also be essential for the intestinal mucosa. Finally, we can combine plants or spices that have antiviral and anti-inflammatory action, such as Boswellia, turmeric, or quercetin.

As Hippocrates said in 400 BC: “All disease begins in the intestines” and leaky gut syndrome seems to be the unrecognised cause.

By Dr Aurélien Núñez

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Aurélien Nuñez is a Functional and micronutritional Medical Doctor, graduated from the Favaloro University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Specialised in Micronutrition, Food, Prevention and Health (MAPS) from the Paris Descartes University. He is working at Hotel Capela Das Artes in a project named Smart Treatments, where with his colleague, Silvestre Gonzalez, an Ayurveda-oriented Medical Doctor, and a team of therapists, are offering consultations, body therapies, retreats, yoga, meditation classes and workshops.
Instagram: @smart_treatments