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Leaky Gut and Rheumatoid Arthritis

There is always mention of ‘leaky gut’ whenever there is a discussion of RA. According to most physicians it is strictly a theory and one that’s not very relevant at that. (You expected something else?)  But according to many with autoimmune disorders, it is a fact of life.

Who should we believe, how do we fix it, and what difference does it make?

The concept of ‘leaky gut’ is finally receiving attention from researchers as it becomes clear that every molecule in the body is related to every other in a dynamic balancing act. No part of our bodies functions in a vacuum and nothing about it is simple. The intestinal tract, it is now known, is not a disinterested bystander that stands back while nutrients  make a dash for the blood stream. Through a complex barrier mechanism, it controls the equilibrium in the gut. When this dance is disrupted in the genetically susceptible and large molecules reach the bloodstream before processing is completed in the gut, autoimmune disorders can occur or become worse – our immune system’s attempt to cope with the unexpected.

Leaky gut results from defects in the intestinal barrier which allow particles of food, medicine or bacteria to permeate the gut and move into the blood stream and surrounding tissue. It has been observed in a number of bowel disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and is now becoming evident in the pathology of gastrointestinal diseases, cardiovascular disease, and other acute and chronic diseases including RA.


The fact is that the gut has to be permeable to enable the absorption of nutrients by our bodies. Problems move in only when the healthy function of the gut is hijacked by pathogens, like viruses, or bacteria; by physical triggers like drugs, pharmaceuticals or damaging foods; or by other inflammatory stressors, including our state of mind.

Those of us with an autoimmune condition like RA live in a semi-constant state of inflammation, made better or worse by our food choices. Items that make it more likely that we will accidentally create a leaky gut include gluten or other damaging foods, toxins like alcohol, and especially drugs, including over the counter and prescription NSAIDS  including naproxen sodium (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin of every descriptions.

There is no longer any doubt that NSAIDS wear away our stomach lining, causing ulcers and bleeding problems. The anemia that is so often associated with RA may be the direct result of blood loss through our intestines attributable to the use of aspirin-type products. It’s a very short step from the intestinal permeability created by NSAIDS to a leaky gut.

How to fix it?

Some compounds that may help are such natural pain killers as glutamine, N-acetyl cysteine and zinc,  as well as probiotics.  Berberine is a traditional herbal medicine from Southeast Asia which has been used by patients with gastrointestinal disorders for a long time. According to other sources, Berberine can alleviate intestinal inflammation and may be capable of restoring barrier function. 

Although I found no research that focused on healing a leaky gut, we may be able to learn from other disorders that have shown that the correct function of the intestine can be restored within weeks by simply eliminating the toxins that caused the problem.  Our body wants to be healthy and knows how to do it better than we do.  Doesn’t it always right itself after a cold, broken bone, flu,  scrape or burn?  Celiac disease fixes itself soon after the gluten trigger is eliminated.  Gout, Irritable Bowel Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis all vanish quickly as soon as we stop annoying our immune systems with food it doesn’t like.

NSAIDS are anticoagulants and slow the clotting ability of the blood.  For that reason, your surgeon will probably tell you that he doesn’t want to operate until any you’ve taken clear your body, which they usually reckon at two weeks. The blood loss from aspirin products also disappears within two weeks.

A substitute for aspirin-type products is Tylenol (aceteminophen) which is not an NSAID and does not generally damage the intestinal tract.  Always follow package directions for meds that contain aceteminophen.  Your life may depend on it.

The good news is that, according to all reports, leaky gut is something we do to ourselves, by using harmful food and drugs.  So we can fix it.

If we toss the toxins from our lives we won’t have to worry about handling a messy intestinal tract.   All we have to do is get out of our body’s way and let it work its magic.

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