“No guts, no gory” (Leaky Gut Syndrome)


Leaky Gut Syndrome is a made-up malady in which germs and toxins allegedly enter the bloodstream through porous bowels, creating multitudinous health problems.

While some minor bowel conditions can be caused by increased intestinal permeability (“a leaky gut”), there is little evidence to suggest this permeability causes the significant medical issues some attribute to it. No scientific research indicates that Leaky Gut Syndrome exists or that the treatments recommended by alt-med peddlers would alleviate the symptoms they associate with it.

Dr. Stephen Barrett at Quackwatch writes that these treatments include dietary supplements, probiotics, and herbal concoctions. If one prefers ambiguity in their treatment plan, one alt-med practitioner recommends “restoring good balance.” Others suggest fad diets, such as gluten-free, low-sugar, no-diary, and anti-fungal varieties. Others diets contain restrictions, such as never having proteins and starch at the same meal. It’s now a hamburger OR fries for you, bud. Also, while a few folks have problems caused by gluten or lactose, most people do not and eliminating these from a diet may cause nutritional deficiencies and do more harm than good.

Promoters insist these remedies will combat Leaky Gut Syndrome symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps, inflammatory bowel disease, fatigue, joint pain, moodiness, weakened immunity, irritability, sleeplessness, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, lupus, migraines, multiple sclerosis, depression, and even autism. Dr. James Gray, a University of British Columbia gastroenterologist, has noted that the idea of one syndrome causing such disparate afflictions is preposterous. “One diagnosis that explains arthritis, IBD, skin problems, fatigue, and more seems fictional,” he said. “Even more unrealistic is that all of these symptoms will go away if the patient just takes a few supplements and avoids certain nutritious foods.”  

Physicians sometimes detect increased intestinal permeability in those with Crohn’s disease or celiac and in patients receiving chemotherapy or who regularly consume alcohol or take aspirin. Celiac sufferers who attack their hangover with Excedrin must really be at risk. However, intestinal permeability is a symptom of these ailments, not the cause, and the only thing the permeability might lead to is an inflammation of the bowel walls. It won’t cause skin to redden or joints to ache.

Still, some patients who try these methods begin to feel better. That’s usually because of the health benefits of a sensible diet. One of the diets recommends limiting sweets and increasing the intake of bright-colored veggies and legumes. Replacing ice cream sandwiches and Pop-Tarts with green peppers and red beans is apt to make you feel better. But if a person really has a medical condition, treating a faux one with improved eating habits will cause the patient to delay seeking help for what truly ails them. And unless one has a sickness that necessitates removing a nutritious food from one’s diet, doing so is inadvisable. Such a suggestion is a good sign the speaker has no idea what he or she is talking about. And a certain giveaway is if they suggest the only way to improve the situation is to buy their herbs, shakes, and supplements.

Some alt-med practitioners give patients a test to determine if they have intestinal permeability by measuring levels of two indigestible sugars in their urine. Gray says it is unlikely to work but even if it does, is useless for establishing the legitimacy of the syndrome: “Using this test to diagnose Leaky Gut Syndrome would be like ordering a test to look for blood in the stool of someone with IBD and using a positive test result to prove that the bloody stools caused some other mysterious disease that in turn caused the IBD.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Mark Crislip at Science Based Medicine notes the complete lack of reference to Leaky Gut Syndrome on PubMed, indicating the corresponding dearth of clinical trials that have validated this condition and treatments for it. So if needing double blind studies and published papers to support an assertion that the syndrome exists, you’re out of luck. But if anecdotes from self-styled mavericks are what you want, we can set you up. 

Paleohacks.com, for instance, blames Leaky Gut Syndrome for causing “bad things.” The use of such medical terminology may explain why this work has yet to be published in scientific journals. Or perhaps it’s because where one would normally include the results of a double blind study, we instead learn that the syndrome’s existence is “backed by so much anecdotal evidence it is hard to ignore.” Either the author or his 8-year-old son crafted this nifty diagram to show how the Syndrome progresses:


The author writes that if toxins get through the intestines, the next line of defense is the liver, and if that fails, the conditions described in this post will result. But if your liver fails, your situation is more serious than insomnia or a headache. And if trying to establish that a medical condition exists, you need more than campfire stories about bad thingies.


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