Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Leaky Gut Syndrome are both Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions with unknown causes.
There is a good chance you have either heard of, suffer from, or know someone who suffers from IBS. Leaky Gut Syndrome isn’t as well-known, so it may be new terminology for you.
But what exactly is IBS and Leaky Gut Syndrome…?
IBS = a functional Gastrointestinal (GI) disorder characterised by stomach pain and irregular bowel motions (diarrhoea and/or constipation) which can’t be explained by structural abnormalities.
Quality of life can reduce significantly when suffering from IBS. It is easy to understand why given common symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating and nausea.
Despite IBS impacting between 9-23% of the global population, an exact cause is still unknown. Some proposed contributing factors to IBS development include impaired gut-brain communication, stress, psychological conditions (such as depression and anxiety), dysbiosis (altered gut bacteria), and GI infections.
Various factors can worsen IBS symptoms including certain fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs), caffeine, high fat foods, alcohol, and stress.
Leaky Gut overview
Leaky Gut = increased intestinal permeability which is associated with a variety of conditions.
Intestinal permeability is basically how easily something can move through the cells of our intestinal (gut) barrier. This barrier allows the ‘good guys’ to cross into the gut (e.g nutrients, gut bacteria, fluid, electrolytes) and acts to stop the ‘bad guys’ from entering (e.g toxins and pathogens). So if intestinal permeability increases, larger (and more) substances can cross the gut barrier more easily. This then increases risk of disease and GI complications.
The exact cause of Leaky Gut remains unknown. Impaired gut barrier function and increased intestinal permeability (i.e leaky gut) has been associated with a variety of conditions, particularly Irritable Bowl Disease (IBD) and Coeliac Disease. Other conditions which have been linked to altered gut barrier function include GI infections such as salmonella and gastroenteritis, IBS, liver disease, food intolerance, and chronic fatigue.
Other factors which can increase intestinal permeability include a low fibre diet, antibiotic use, alcohol consumption, high fat foods, and use of Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
So what is the difference between IBS and Leaky Gut?
- Exact cause and effect relationship in both conditions is unknown
- Both can impact integrity of the GIT
- Low-fibre diets, high-fat foods, and alcohol can be triggers for both
- Gut bacteria (microbiota) plays an important role in both
- Both may improve with the use of probiotics and prebiotics
- IBS is a functional GI disorder which can be incredibly debilitating, and has an established criteria for diagnosis. Leaky Gut is more of a phenomenon, which is associated with multiple diseases/disorders and use of certain substances. For example, any inflammatory process can increase gut permeability, and multiple factors may compromise barrier function.
- Diet plays a much larger role in IBS management
- IBS has various typical signs and symptoms, whereas Leaky Gut does not.
- Better established treatment options for IBS symptoms, such as a low FODMAP diet.
Where to seek help:
If you have IBS or Leaky gut, or are concerned you may, it is important to seek help from an accredited practitioner. This includes a GP, an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and potentially also a Gastroenterologist.
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Quigley EM. Leaky gut–concept or clinical entity?. Current opinion in gastroenterology. 2016 Mar 1;32(2):74-9.
Oświęcimska J, Szymlak A, Roczniak W, Girczys-Połedniok K, Kwiecień J. New insights into the pathogenesis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Advances in Medical Sciences. 2017 Mar 31;62(1):17-30.