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Leaky Gut Syndrome: What Is It?

What you should know if you think you have leaky gut syndrome.

Unsolved Mystery continued...

“You may have leaky gut and we may be able to treat what causes it,” Kirby says. “If you have something going on, it is incumbent upon the medical community to listen to you.”

Unfortunately, Lee says, not all doctors make the effort to get at the root of the problem, and that’s what frequently sends patients to alternative practitioners.

“Often, the reason they have resorted to alternative medicine is because of what they have been told and how they have been treated by other practitioners,” Lee says. “We need to listen.”

Treatment Without Research

In her clinic, Lee combines conventional medicine with evidenced-based complementary therapies. But with leaky gut, she says, the evidence -- about what causes it and how to treat it -- has yet to fully accumulate. This is something that is essential for patients to understand.

“We are in the infancy of understanding what to do,” Lee says. “People who are making claims about what to do are doing so without evidence.”

For example, many web sites offering information on leaky gut, recommend taking L-glutamine supplements to strengthen the lining of the small intestine. Lee says that, theoretically, that makes sense, given glutamine’s role in intestinal function -- but there is no research to back up such claims.

“There’s no evidence that if I give you a pile of glutamine pills, that you will improve,” Lee says.

Lifestyle May Matter

Treating the underlying condition, such as Crohn’s or celiac disease, will often resolve symptoms associated with the condition. But without a firm diagnosis, a doctor's hands are often tied by a lack of evidence.

Diet likely plays a big role in having a leaky gut, Lee and Kirby agree. So if you have symptoms of leaky gut, you would do well to see a gastroenterologist who is also trained in nutrition.

Chronic stress may also be a factor, Lee says. “You need to tend to your stress, whether through medication or meditation. That’s what you need to focus on.”

Lee says that lifestyle modifications, such as those that reduce stress and improve the diet, may be among the best ways to treat leaky gut, particularly when no underlying condition is identified. “Chronic health problems are so often due to lifestyle, and we don’t have pills for those,” she says. “We’re talking about the way we live and the way we eat.”

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