Some alternative practitioners teach that "leaky gut" is one of the causes of autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS.) On the other hand, sites like quackwatch say that leaky gut is just another fad diagnosis. So, what is leaky gut, and how does it affect your health? Is it something to worry about?
According to the authors of an article about leaky gut, published in the June, 2010, journal "Clinics," increased intestinal permeability (IP), commonly called leaky gut, is found in disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease, and in the case of severe abdominal injuries. When the intestines are unusually permeable, bacteria and other toxins can leak from the intestines into the abdomen, triggering inflammation. Auto-immune diseases are conditions of excessive inflammation.
Usually the linings of the intestines are not very permeable. The cells that make up the walls of the intestines have very tight joints. However, the joints between cells can be disrupted due to chronic inflammation or injury.
What causes intestinal inflammation? The authors of the article say that injury, infection, allergies and even asthma are some of the conditions that cause intestinal inflammation and subsequently intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
For most people this isn't a problem; their intestines can handle most disruptions without becoming leaky. However, one of the causes of IP relates to diet, specifically high levels of fats or glycated proteins. The combination of high cooking temperatures which causes browning, plus high levels of fat and sugar in foods produces irritants known as advanced glycation end products (AGE.) The process which produces AGE includes chemical reactions that produce free radicals, triggering inflammation. People who already have IP, due to conditions such as irritable bowel, Crohn's disease or injury, could benefit from reducing the amount of fat and sugar in their diets, and from cooking most of their food by steaming or boiling, which produces the least AGE.
If you don't have a condition such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or asthma, it is unlikely you have IP. Even so, reducing sugars and fats in your diet will help to prevent inflammation in your intestines. The same is true if you reduce the amount of browned foods you eat, cooking more foods by boiling or steaming. This doesn't mean you can never bake, barbecue, grill, roast, broil or fry your food. Healthy intestines can handle some of it. However, browned proteins and fat should be a minor part of your diet. You can accomplish that by using high-heat cooking methods less often, and eating smaller portions of your favorite succulent charred steak or ribs.
In addition, eat plenty of fiber, so that food material, bacteria and other toxins move through the intestines quickly, take a probiotic supplement daily, and if you like, take an anti-inflammatory glutamine supplement.
Rapin, Jean Robert and Wiensperger, Nicolas.Possible Links between Intestinal Permeablity and Food Processing: A Potential Therapeutic Niche for Glutamine. Clinics (Sao Paulo) 2010 June; 65(6): 635–643.
Andrew Weil: What is Leaky Gut?
Quackwatch: Be Wary of "Fad" Diagnoses