Dan considers the Leaky Gut Theory

I just want to say a word about the last column before we begin.  There was such an overwhelming response to the post about my engagement to Allison that I was truly moved.  All of my readers, sent me messages, posted about it, and responded to the story I told with such warm, caring, comments, that both Allison and I were almost moved to tears.  It is such a wonderful feeling to know that not only are you supporting our decision, but celebrating it as well.  When I began writing this column years ago, it was more of a therapeutic exercise for me alone; to help combat some of the demons I was facing at the time.  Now, though, I see just how much these posts affect people, and it is astounding to think that thousands of you who I have never met take the time every two weeks to read the things that I write.  Sometimes I think, “Who am I? Why would anyone care about what I’m feeling and experiencing?”  All I have to do during those moments of doubt is look at how much you all truly care about the life I lead, and it erases all signs of doubt. 

Battling this horrible disease, as most of you know, can be trying at times.  It is no small task to get up, each and every day, and face whatever lies ahead – there are so many unknowns!  Might I dislocate my hip again? Maybe.  Could I fall and wind up in the emergency room? Possibly.  Will my implanted defibrillator shock me today? Unsure.  The one thing I can always be sure of, though, is that I can pour my heart out to all of you here at CreakyJoints without fear of derision, pity, repulsion, or plain old ridicule.  I cannot express to you just how much that means to me, and to Allison as well.  All I can say, as cliché as it sounds, is that without you, my devoted and wonderful readers, this column wouldn’t be worth the bytes of data it takes up.  Thank you all so much, and I will never forget where I came from – even if I become the official health writer of the White House! Oh, and, for those of you who wanted to hear more about how Allison and I got to this point in our relationship – don’t worry – the story isn’t finished just yet.  This week, though, I figured it would be best to get back to something that has at least a passing relation to autoimmune disease.

In this column I thought I’d discuss a new theory about autoimmune disease that has been popping up on my radar more and more lately.  You all know, as I do, that theories about what causes autoimmune illness are as numerous as grains of sand, and just like it is impossible to get every last bit of sand out of your hair, some of these crazy theories get into people’s minds and last for years.  Autoimmune disease being caused by an under-functioning immune system is one of those wildly incorrect theories that spring to mind.  Be that as it may, though, I will present to you a fairly new theory that, based on the research I have done, sounds plausible at least.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this theory has its detractors and it is most certainly not medically confirmed by any means.  It is just something that I’ve seen enough now to make you aware of it, if you haven’t heard about it already.  It’s called the “Leaky Gut theory.”

Leaky Gut is a real ailment that exists independently of autoimmune illness.  The official medial term is intestinal and/or bowel hyper-permeability.  No matter which term you use, though, they mean the same thing – the bowels are allowing normally toxic substances to pass through the intestinal wall into the body, and this can potentially cause a host of health issues.

The cause of Leaky Gut itself is unknown (of course), and the list of possible triggers include just about everything except alien abduction.  Diet, antibiotics, lifestyle changes, micro-organisms, and nutrient deficiencies are all listed as probable reasons.  No matter what causes it, though, the result is the same – the gut is malfunctioning.  The intestines are made up of large cells that allow certain nutrients to pass through the lining and enter the body.  These nutrients are usually not harmful, and moreover, the body usually needs these nutrients to keep functioning.  In Leaky Gut, the seal between the cells that line the wall of the intestine becomes damaged, and this results in microscopic holes in the bowel.  These holes allow toxic particles, which are usually expelled from the body, to pass through the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream.

Now, this is where the autoimmune disease comes into play.  The theory, in layman’s terms, is that when these toxic substances get into the body, they collect in different places – joints, muscles, or organs, and depending on where these toxins end up, different autoimmune illnesses develop.  For instance, if these poisons and foreign bodies end up amalgamating in the joints, then the body will do what it normally does – try to wipe out or contain these toxins.  In other words, the body begins attacking its own joint cells.  We all know what happens when the autoimmune system attacks its own joints – you get autoimmune arthritis.  This can happen with the organs and the muscles as well, which supposedly causes diseases like fibromyalgia and Chron’s.

Now, that sounds like a plausible theory, doesn’t it?  It does to me.  To be fair, though, there are reasons why the Leaky Gut explanation might not be correct. I won’t confuse you with the terribly confusing medical jargon, I’ll just lay it out in simple English.  According to some, if the cells of the intestine are damaged enough for their seals to stop “sealing” completely, then those cells would stop breaking down food particles small enough to seep through these “holes” in the gut.  It is a valid argument, and much more research is needed before the question can be decided either way.

As of now, proponents of the Leaky Gut hypothesis claim that diet and food allergies can play an important part in just how “leaky” your gut can get.  They recommend seeing a food allergist and getting tested for all food allergies.  Also, some proponents suggest that there are people who have a genetic predisposition to Leaky Gut, and thus are more susceptible to autoimmune disease.  If this theory proves to be true, some claim that autoimmune disease and even Autism might be a thing of the past.  Don’t get too excited just yet, though, we still have years to go before anyone will have a definite answer – that’s if getting an answer is even possible.

What do I think?  Well, it never hurts to get tested for food allergies, and eating well never hurt anyone (physically, anyway – God, I miss cheeseburgers). Of course, it is easier said than done. Making yourself forget about some of your favorite foods is difficult when someone next to you orders a dish full of spaghetti. Learning everything you can about your disease is always a good idea, though, and as for remedies that haven’t been proven, well, here’s my rule of thumb.  If the proposed “cure” doesn’t physically harm you, then I say have at it.  Strength of will is something that people who are ill have in spades.  Resisting a nice cold glass of milk or a few Oreo cookies here and there is nothing compared to enduring a Spinal Tap or Endoscopy and then waiting to see if the results don’t turn out in your favor.  You can read more about Leaky Gut all over the net, both sides of the issue are just a web search away.  I encourage you to read all you can about your ailment; don’t just take my word for it.  You never know what you might find.  As for the story of Allison and me, well, to be continued….

 

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