Leaky Gut Syndrome

Nancy (not her real name) came to see me for acupuncture to treat her lupus symptoms of chronic neck and upper back pain. She had a host of other issues, too–anxiety, poor sleep, low energy, intermittent joint pain–but the neck and upper back were the worst.

When someone has pain, Chinese medicine believes that there is usually an element of stagnation present–blood stagnation, dampness causing stagnation, maybe cold causing stagnation–and we do a treatment to move that stagnation, and strengthen the patients qi so that their bodies can keep battling stagnation off of the treatment table.

When I agreed to work with Nancy, I encouraged her (actually, I practically begged her, at almost every visit) to get tested for Celiac disease and food allergies. I have seen in my clinical practice that a condition called “leaky gut syndrome” can be the cause of autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Leaky gut syndrome can occur when someone has an overgrowth of candida, or if they are consuming food that their body can’t tolerate. Overuse of oral antibiotics can be a factor, too, since they destroy all of the “good” bacteria in the intestines, leaving them weak and inflamed. The small intestine becomes porous and toxins leak out into the body, stimulating an autoimmune response.

Western medicine has not gotten on board with the idea that a leaky gut could have anything to do with autoimmune disease. I can’t say that it’s the only cause, but I’ve seen it in a few patients.

Nancy finally had to get allergy testing after two severe allergic reactions that sent her to the emergency room for anaphylactic shock. Her first test showed that she was allergic to at least 90 different things. No wonder she was so sick!

Food intolerances are not a part of Chinese medicine, but digestive health is believed to be one of the most important keys to well-being. People with digestive problems often have dampness, which can lead to pain. So, while we don’t have traditional explanations for a problem like leaky gut syndrome (at least not that I’ve encountered), it fits into our medical theory that problems with the intestines can make problems in the rest of the body.

To avoid another experience with anaphylactic shock, Nancy needs further testing to check for other allergenic foods. Her doctor has her eating the foods that she seems least allergic too until they can get more test results. Unfortunately for Nancy, it’s only 2 items–dairy and eggs.

It’s a difficult and depressing situation for her, and she’s hungry and getting tired of eating only eggs and dairy products. But, her pain is already starting to recede. For the first time in years, her neck is not in excruciating pain all the time. I expect that as her body detoxes (and as she is able to incorporate other foods into her diet), she will feel better than she ever has.

Jake Fratkin, and acupuncturist and naturopath in Boulder, has a great article about leaky gut syndrome. You can also go to his website here.

Dr. Andrew Weil has a brief posting here.

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