A (Leaky) Gut Feeling

Women's Health South Africa|June 2020

A (Leaky) Gut Feeling
Tummy trouble? There’s a good chance Dr Google will diagnose “leaky gut syndrome”. But, before you start grabbing supps and “cures” left, right and centre, here’s what you need to know…
Penny Carroll

What do stomach problems, fatigue, skin rashes and joint pain have in common? They’re all possible symptoms of leaky gut syndrome. But, there’s a catch: depending on who you ask, leaky gut is either a widespread health crisis or a marketer’s dream. Welcome to the wellness world’s latest conundrum. It wasn’t that long ago that any mention of gut issues in polite conversation would elicit a TMI warning; now we’re only too happy to talk sh*t over a glass of kombucha. You’ve probably heard your bestie mention leaky gut or seen a blogger talk about it on Instagram, while its long list of symptoms makes it sound like it could be the culprit behind any number of health niggles. Only, your GP has probably never heard of it.

So, is leaky gut even a thing? “It is a very real phenomenon,” confirms professor Terry Bolin, a gastroenterologist. In medical terms, though, it has a far less catchy name: increased intestinal permeability.

Quick biology lesson: the lining of the gut is made up of cells that are bound together tightly. In a healthy body, this lining is designed to allow only water and nutrients into the bloodstream. But, if the tight junctions of the gut loosen, larger food particles and bacteria can leak (hence the name) through and float around where they don’t belong, causing problems from inflammation to, in severe cases, malnutrition.

Tummy Talk

Where health practitioners begin to butt heads is over what causes the problem, how it presents and who has it. According to Bolin, who’s been researching increased intestinal permeability for about 20 years, it’s not well known in the wider medical community, which is why the term “leaky gut” might raise your doctor’s eyebrows.

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June 2020