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Feb 25, 2012

Leaky Gut May Increase Risk of Some Cancers

If you have visited your naturopathic doctor lately, you may have been told by him or her that a healthy body first begins with a healthy gut.  Optimization of digestive function is an essential component of achieving health and longevity, and naturopathic doctors know that almost any, if not all, medical conditions can be dramatically improved by correcting problems going on inside the digestive tract.  

One of the most important aspects of a having a properly working digestive system involves a strong intestinal barrier.  In the cause of leaky gut syndrome, otherwise known as intestinal permeability, unwanted items like bacteria and their toxins, and incompletely digested proteins and fats, can “leak” through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.  Many types of conditions are associated with leaky gut, including inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, food allergies, and autoimmune diseases.   

Interestingly, a new study published in PLoS ONE revealed that leaky gut may be at the root of certain cancers.  Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University have been studying the effect of a hormone receptor guanylyl cyclase C, also called GC-C, on strengthening the body’s intestinal barrier.  GC-C has previously been identified as a tumor suppressor present in the intestinal tract.  When the receptor is absent, the intestinal barrier has been found to weaken.    

Scott Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., and other researchers at Jefferson discovered that turning off the GC-C receptor in mice led to a compromise in the intestinal barrier while stimulating the receptor improved it.  Pathological changes associated with a compromised intestinal barrier included inflammation, damaged DNA, and the formation of cancer outside the intestine in such places as the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes.  

The team of researchers expresses how strengthening the intestinal barrier could potentially serve as protection from inflammation and cancer developing in the rest of the body.  "If the intestinal barrier breaks down, it becomes a portal for stuff in the outside world to leak into the inside world," said Dr. Waldman. "When these worlds collide, it can cause many diseases, like inflammation and cancer."  

While the results of this study and others like it are laying the groundwork for the development of a new drug intended to be used in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and cancer, the bottom line here seems to be that healing the intestinal barrier is an important step to take in optimizing health.  

A drug that activates GC-C may be one method of strengthening the intestinal barrier, however, natural medicine offers a comprehensive combination of diet, nutritional, and lifestyle therapies that can naturally prevent and treat “leaky gut” while also being affordable, non-invasive, and without any potentially harmful side effects.  Doesn’t it make more sense to correct the true underlying causes of leaky gut (i.e. poor diet, chronic NSAID use, overuse of antibiotics, food allergies and intolerance, etc) than to hope that a new drug will serve as the magic bullet?

Dr. Shana McQueen