~Allergies, Part 3 - Leaky Gut Syndrome and Supplements

  • Supplements that Improve Digestive Health
Leaky gut syndrome is a term used to explain the malfunctioning of the gut when particles such as poorly digested foods, bacteria, and toxins are allowed to leak through the gut wall into the lymphatics and subsequently the blood stream. When this occurs, the immune system produces a response which causes a reaction against the foods and other materials. A resulting inflammatory response can lead to conditions such as allergies, asthma, immune disorders, Crohn's disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. There can be sufficient inflammation in the gut to hamper digestion.

There appear to be multiple contributory factors involved in the leaky gut syndrome. They include:
  • Food sources such as sugar, refined flour, processed food with preservatives and low fiber content, and caffeinated beverages
  • Alcohol and prescription drugs such as antibiotics
  • Nonprescription drugs such as aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
  • Mercury (such as in dental fillings)
If you have food allergies, a leaky gut could be a large part of the problem and taking steps to correct it could be the beginning of better health. Improving a diet by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and sugar could be a good start. If you use tobacco, stop!

Minimize your exposure to toxins, chemicals, and unnecessary medications. Maintain a balanced diet, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables. Shop on the periphery of the supermarket where perishable foods requiring refrigeration are sold. Eat foods on a 3-day rotation basis. That is, allow at least 3 days between eating any particular food. Remember, some foods such as wheat and corn, as well as soy and milk protein, tend to appear in many forms, particularly in processed food. Diligence is required to recognize and avoid all of these.

  • Digestive Enzymes
  • Probiotics
  • Bifido Bacteria
  • Fructo-Oligosaccharides
  • Saccharomyces Boulardii
  • L-Glutamine
  • Aloe Vera
  • Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root
Digestive Enzymes. Supplemental digestive enzymes will help the natural enzymes secreted by the pancreas to adequately digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Natural digestive enzymes are often missing or inadequately secreted in cases of food allergies or leaky gut syndrome. Digestive enzymes such as Super Digestive Enzymes should be taken with every meal.

Probiotics. Probiotics are nutritional supplements that contain the same friendly bacteria that are found in the intestinal tract. These beneficial bacteria aid in the breakdown of fats and proteins and help absorb vital nutrients from our food. Natural intestinal bacteria may become compromised with aging, illness, or taking certain medications such as antibiotics. Probiotic supplementation with a human strain of acidophilus (small bowel friendly bacteria) and a human strain of bifidus (large bowel friendly bacteria) should be taken two to three times a day.

Lactobacillus acidophilus is a naturally occurring friendly bacteria that resides in the upper section of the GI tract. Friendly bacteria provide a barrier against bad bacteria and also assist in the digestion and absorption of food. Some commercial yogurt companies claim that their products contain live active Lactobacillaceae. The strains commonly used in production of yogurt are helpful and beneficial, but cannot actively colonize the gut because they are not "human adapted." Human adaptive Lactobacillaceae are an example of probiotic organisms that can help recolonize the GI tract with beneficial bacteria. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, pregnant women with a first-degree relative or partner with atopic eczema, allergic rhinitis, or asthma were given lactobacillus. Supplementation of the women and their infants continued after birth for 6 months. The study found that the frequency of atopic eczema in the probiotic group was half that of the placebo group. The researchers interpretation of the study was that lactobacillus was effective in prevention of early atopic disease and also to children at high risk. It was suggested that microflora may be an unexplored source of natural immuno-modulators for the prevention of atopic disease (Kalliomaki et al. 2001).

A meta-analysis documented that probiotics exert a prophylactic and therapeutic benefit both in viral gastroenteritis and in atopic disease. Probiotics appear to act by enhancing gut immunological reactions (Saavedra 2001). It appears that allergies in early childhood can be related to improper input from gut-colonizing bacteria in the regulation of immunological activity. Certain strains of lactobacillus appear to stimulate the production of beneficial interleukins and other cytokines. The lactobacillus may act by modifying the gut microflora to provide pro-T helper cell I (TH1) activating signals which tend to correct the TH2-type bias that promotes allergy (Cross et al. 2001).

Bifido Bacteria. Bifido bacteria reside in the lower section of the digestive tract and are naturally occurring friendly bacteria. Like Lactobacillaceae, they have a role in maintaining a healthy gut. Bifido bacteria work by hindering the growth of pathogens and their entrance into the body and by assisting digestion. A baby's first experience with bifido bacteria is usually through breast-feeding. Bifido bacteria have been shown in studies involving both infants and adults to suppress pathogens in the digestive tract, especially if given 8-10 days before exposure (Chen et al. 1999; Silva et al. 1999; Uhlemann 1999; Kunz 2000). Bifido bacteria are one of the first bacteria to colonize the gut. When a child reaches about 5 years of age, the ratio of bifido to acidophilus bacteria reverses with more acidophilus than bifido bacteria observed. However, both types of organisms are essential throughout life.

Fructo-Oligosaccharides. Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are a class of carbohydrate that we do not digest or absorb into the bloodstream, but which have an important function in feeding friendly bacteria, especially the bifido bacteria. By aiding the proliferation of bifido bacteria, the result is more protection in the gut from pathogens (Nemcova et al. 1999). Better digestion and absorption are reported in some cases along with improved lipid profile. FOS have been shown to increase the number of bifido bacteria and even Lactobacillceae (Sghir et al. 1998). In one study, adding 15 grams a day of FOS (about 3 tsp) resulted in an increase in bifido bacteria in the feces and healthier gut microflora which enhanced the condition of the bowel (Gibson et al. 1994, 1995). FOS are naturally present in some foods such as artichoke and have a slightly sweet taste.

Saccharomyces Boulardii. The beneficial yeast Saccharomyces boulardii is also useful for restoring normal flora. Saccharomyces boulardii is a large yeast that destroys harmful fungi and bacteria, but which will not colonize the human gut. The recommended dose of Saccharomyces boulardii is 2 capsules in the morning and 2 in the evening (each capsule contains 1 billion live cells). A few days after taking the last dose, it can no longer be found in the GI. However, while present, it helps restore and maintain the normal balance of the intestinal tract flora and once restored will remain normal if the above factors are connected.

L-Glutamine. L-glutamine is a nonessential amino acid that is abundant in blood and tissue and is used as a vehicle for nitrogen transport. Anyone concerned with GI help should understand the importance of this nutrient for the entire digestive tract. It is one of the key sources of energy for the GI tract in times of health, but especially in times of physiological stress. Most amino acids have many functions, but glutamine appears to be the most versatile, as stated by Sir Hans Krebs, a pioneer in glutamine research. Glutamine is associated with improving GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) and GALT functions, i.e., stimulating mucosal growth and promoting intestinal health (Wilmore 1997).

Two studies show the effects of glutamine on immune system function in the gut: (1) glutamine is critical in the regulation of intestinal IgA (Fukatsu et al. 2001) (IgA is an antibody that attacks virus and bacterial pathogens and is found in saliva, tears, and mucus secretions.); and (2) glutamine produces a normalizing effect on the TH-2 type IgA stimulating cytokines (allergy-associated) (Kudsk et al. 2000).

Glutamine has been used in total parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding) to help relieve problems associated with bowel surgery. It has also been shown to protect the integrity of the gut mucosal lining of the intestinal tract after surgery when the patients could not be fed orally (Hanna et al. 2000). Glutamine has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut and prevent enterocolitis. One study suggested glutamine could modulate inflammatory conditions caused by imbalanced cytokine production which compromises the immune response (Coeffier et al. 2001). Glutamine is probably best taken as a powder, dissolved in water or other liquid. (See the Summary for dosing recommendations.)

Aloe Vera. Aloe vera has been around for thousands of years. In the past few decades, research has centered upon the active ingredients occurring in aloe vera. These have been shown to boost the immune system, aid in blood glucose control, and help heal diabetic ulcers and wounds. Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a former associate at the Linus Pauling Institute, who is now Director for the Institute for Functional Medicine in Gig Harbor (Washington), conducted a study in 1985 entitled "Effects of Orally Consumed Aloe Vera on Gastrointestinal Function in Human Beings."

The study found that people had better digestion and more regular bowel movements; an increase in emotional well being; and reduction in harmful bacteria and yeast overgrowth while using aloe vera. Bland (1985) stated that aloe vera seemed to help "the gastrointestinal pH while improving the gastrointestinal motility, increasing stool specific gravity, and reducing populations of certain fecal micro-organisms, including yeast." It has also been noted that the active components in aloe vera prompt healing caused by burns or stasis ulcers while inhibiting fungus, bacteria, and inflammation (Klein et al. 1988). The PDR for Herbal Medicine cautions that aloe is contraindicated in cases of intestinal obstruction or intestinal diseases (Crohn's or ulcerative colitis) or abdominal pain of unknown origin. An appropriate dose of aloe in the form of aloe leaf gel would be 10 grams or 2 tsp three times daily.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL) has also been found to be beneficial for leaky gut syndrome. The recommended dose for this would be 500 mg of a 10:1 extract 3 times daily. It must be stressed that DGL retains the beneficial GI effects, but avoids the other potential side effects of using whole licorice that may include hypokalemia, hypernatremia, edemas, hypertension, and cardiac complaints.


For allergy problems with symptoms not relieved by personal measures, a healthcare professional trained in allergy should be consulted for allergen identification, assistance in allergen avoidance, and symptomatic treatment. Many allergy problems may be treated with allergen immunotherapy (desensitization, a series of treatments which can make you less sensitive to some allergens). Women who are pregnant (or may become so) and persons with other significant medical problems should seek guidance from a healthcare professional before using supplements and herbs, as should parents before giving these products to their children.


Carmen Fusco is a registered nurse and college professor in New York City who treats patients using alternative therapies. Professor Fusco recommends 300-500mg 2 times a day of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) in the form of calcium pantothenate. Pantothenic acid helps both the adrenals and the thymus gland in the fight against allergies. Fusco also suggests Drenamin, which helps most allergies, and Antronex, which contains an antihistamine produced by the liver to alleviate nasal allergies. Stress often precipitates allergies so any nutrient such as vitamins B5 and C that help buffer stress will help against allergies.

Studies have shown that the thymus gland, responsible for cell mediated immunity, is also responsive to various levels of pantothenic acid. Pantothenic acid is virtually nontoxic in higher doses. Unlike other B vitamins, it does not imbalance or increase requirements of the other B vitamins. The Life Extension Mix formula, which has been used by many to alleviate allergy problems, provides 600 mg of pantothenic acid in each daily dose.

Continued . . .

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