As we shall see, the diagnosis of “leaky gut syndrome” is a convenient catch-all to offer an illusion of knowledge to patients suffering from medically obscure symptoms. This is particularly pernicious, since in many cases such conditions have a psychosomatic component: the illusion of diagnosis is almost its own cure.
A competent and ethical health publication would urge caution around unproven diagnoses that make claims which should be verifiable from pathology, but aren’t.
WDDTY of course supports the nutritionist industry agenda.
Leaky gut syndrome
Proponents of ‘leaky gut syndrome’ claim that many symptoms and diseases are caused by the immune system reacting to germs, toxins or other large molecules that have been absorbed into the bloodstream via a porous (‘leaky’) bowel.
There is little evidence to support this theory, and no evidence that so-called ‘treatments’ for ‘leaky gut syndrome’, such as nutritional supplements and a gluten-free diet, have any beneficial effect for most of the conditions they are claimed to help.
While it is true that certain factors can make the bowel more permeable, this probably does not lead to anything more than temporary mild inflammation of an area of the bowel.
The world of alternative medicine has a certain fondness for inventing conditions in order to be able to sell a “cure” that medicine cannot offer. morgellonsW and chronic Lyme diseaseW are two of the better known. Another, particularly beloved of nutritionists, is leaky gut syndromeW.
Often there is an overlap with reality: in morgellons the condition is delusional parasitosisW, patients preferring the alternative because they repudiate the psychological cause; in chronic Lyme there is a genuine condition (post-Lyme syndrome) though many self-diagnosed sufferers show no evidence of borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease.
In the case of “leaky gut syndrome” there is some substance to the idea that the gut wall can become more permeable in those suffering from inflammatory bowel diseaseW but the crossover between this and the alternative diagnosis of “leaky gut” happens early. However, the idea of a leaky gut syndrome, particularly as the cause of autism, CFS and even multiple sclerosisW, is entirely speculative and not supported by credible evidence.
As an example, the website leakygutcure.com uses the illustration at right. This shows: top left, a normal gut wall; top right, villous atrophy, a diagnostic sign of coeliac diseaseW, and bottom, vague references to food and unspecified “toxins”.
I am not aware of any credible pathological findings of undigested food in the blood, as this suggests, nor is any such objective test proposed for “leaky gut”. Instead the diagnosis is one of – well, guesswork: usually exclusion diets, but with the nutritionist’s favourite bête noire always in the mix, and (it seems) always found to be the One True Cause.
Comparison with coeliac is illustrative. Coeliac is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the gut wall where the proteins in gluten are absorbed. Diagnosis is by blood tests for tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies, possibly confirmed by duodenal biopsy, which typically shows exactly the features seen at top right in the picture: blunting of the villi, enlargement of the crypts and invasion of the crypts by lymphocytes (white blood cells).