The term “Leaky Gut Syndrome” is all over the Internet. What does it really mean? It is used to refer to a range of digestive symptoms that include gas, bloating, cramps, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, and food sensitivity. But you won’t find the term in any medical textbooks, and most doctors consider it a gray area. Even Wikipedia calls it a “hypothetical, medically unrecognized condition.”
Recently though, articles have begun to appear in top medical journals using this term and suggesting that everything—from Inflammatory Bowel Disease to Type 1 diabetes—is caused by a leaky gut.
How does Leaky Gut Syndrome relate to Ayurveda? Ayurveda explains that most diseases are caused by the accumulation of “ama,” which is the result of undigested food getting into the blood stream and tissues. This is remarkably similar to the theory of modern scientists who believe that a leaky gut leads to chronic inflammation. Our gut lining is a critical barrier, which keeps out anything dangerous to the body, and digested food particles are meant to be transported across the membrane of the cells lining the gut wall only through highly selective gates. In a leaky gut, however, the tight junctions that hold the cells of the gut wall together become loose and as a result, undigested food and harmful substances “leak” through the gut wall into the bloodstream.
Celiac disease is the best model of a leaky gut. It is a well-studied genetic disorder in which gluten triggers the release of a chemical substance (zonulin) that causes the tight junctions of the gut wall to come apart, allowing undigested food to get through to the bloodstream, resulting in an immediate immune response. This creates excessive inflammation, which damages vital cells and hampers the absorption of nutrients, eventually leading to a lifetime intolerance to wheat, barley, rye, and other grains containing gluten.
Celiac disease can have over 300 different symptoms, from mild to extreme, and even testing is complex (the definitive test is a biopsy of the small intestine). You may have this disease, yet be completely asymptomatic. You can also be gluten-sensitive without having celiac. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center estimates that at least 3 million people are living with celiac disease right now and 97% of them are undiagnosed. Ultimately, there is only one treatment for celiac disease—NO gluten. Even this isn’t clear because some studies show that people who are gluten-sensitive may cross-react to other grains, which contain gluten-like substances. The good news is that we are increasingly well informed and there are numerous sites on the Internet that offer good advice and gluten-free recipes.
A number of diets and treatment programs can help to repair a leaky gut and many include probiotics, which are thought to help protect the gut wall. DocGut suggests beginning your healing with this simple but very important program:
- Begin The Rest And Repair Diet for about four weeks, eliminating all grains, all milk products, and sugar
- Take bone broth (for meat eaters) or kitchari (for vegetarians) two or three times a day to help rest and repair the gut wall
- After three weeks, gradually reintroduce grains and milk products into your diet and monitor their effect on your body and mind
- Take probiotics, either directly in food or in capsule form (see DocGut’s Probiotics Rating)
- Some experts also recommend doing probiotic enemas, which are similar in effect to Ayurvedic “bastis.”
GUT CRISIS discusses each of these steps in great detail. (See Chapter 33 for Ayurveda treatment programs.) It also reviews and compares the different programs of leading alternative experts like Dr. Mercola, Dr. Axe, Dr. Gundry, Dr. Perlmutter, and Ayurveda experts Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary and Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar.
It is extremely heartening that at last there is a growing recognition among modern health experts of the ancient precept, All disease begins in the gut.