One very confusing condition in medicine is leaky gut syndromealso called intestinal permeability. The names themselves are perplexing; they’re terms that different medical communities use to describe different conditions and theories.

When it comes down to it, there are three sides to the leaky gut syndrome story. Let’s look at the first side: the conventional medical community’s understanding. Most conventional doctors and surgeons use the term “leaky gut” for a critical intestinal disease that perforates the lining of the intestinal tract or stomach and causes severe blood infections, raging fevers, and/ or sepsis. They have that right. True leaky gut is a serious ailment that causes extreme pain and misery.

Leaky gut could stem from ulcers embedded deep in the stomach lining. Or it could result from bacterial strains of E. coli developing pickets in the intestinal tract lining; or superbugs like C. difficile causing megacolon; or from hemorrhaging, abscesses, or diverticulosis. The name “leaky gut” is applied when one of these conditions breaks through the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and allows the pathogens to leach into the bloodstream.

Another way that leaky gut can occur is when a colonoscopy goes wrong and punctures the colon. (Clients have come to me who had very long hospital stays due to this.)

No matter the cause, true leaky gut results in dire symptoms. The second side of the story is the alternative, integrative, and naturopathic understanding of leaky gut syndrome. These medical communities use the term to describe a condition in which mold, funguses like Candida, or unproductive bacteria burrow tiny holes in the linings of the intestine and cause micro levels of toxins to leak directly into the bloodstream, resulting in a multitude of symptoms. This theory needs some adjustment.

While it’s true that a toxic gut environment, including unproductive bacteria and fungus, can contribute greatly to ill health, referring to this as leaky gut is misleading. If these pathogens were truly breaking through the gastrointestinal lining in even the slightest way, then severe symptoms such as high fever, blood infection, extreme pain, and/or sepsis would result. “Leaky gut” should only be used to describe actual perforation of the digestive tract walls.

So why are tens of thousands of people who have fatigue, aches and pains, constipation, digestive discomfort, and acid reflux being told they have leaky gut or intestinal permeability by alternative practitioners?

Because there’s something real going on, and this misunderstood catchphrase is the best theory the practitioners can offer. In the conventional medical world, millions of patients receive the tags IBS, celiac, Crohn’s,colitis,  gastroparesis, or gastritis to label these sorts of symptoms- yet the conditions remain mysterious, Or they experience gut symptoms and receive no diagnosis.

There is an explanation for these mystery gut problems that aren’t actual leaky gut. I call it ammonia permeability, and it’s the third side of the story.

Ammonia Permeability

Please do not confuse ammonia permeability with the recently trendy term “intestinal permeability.” Intestinal permeability is just a new name, meant to give the illusion of progress, for the old theory of leaky gut.

Ammonia permeability is a real occurrence. To comprehend what it is, you must first learn a few things about how your body processes food.

When you eat, the food quickly travels down to your stomach so it can be digested. (If you’re chewing slowly enough for saliva to mix with the food, digestion will begin its initial stage in the mouth.) For dense protein based foods – e.g., animal meat, nuts and seeds, and legumes – digestion in the stomach largely occurs through the actions of your stomach’s hydrochloric acid coupled with enzymes, which break the protein down into simpler forms that can then be further digested and assimilated by your intestines. This is a relatively smooth process if your stomach contains normal levels of hydrochloric acid.

If your hydrochloric acid levels have become low, however, your food won’t be sufficiently digested in your stomach. This is common when you’re eating under stress or pressure. When the proteins reach your lower intestine, they won’t be broken down enough for your cells to access their nutrients, and instead the food will just lie there and rot. This is called gut rot- putrefaction that creates ammonia gas and can result in symptoms of bloating, digestive discomfort, chronic dehydration, or oftentimes no symptoms at all. That’s just the start.

In some people, good hydrochloric acid diminishes and bad acids take its place. A person could live with this condition for many years and not notice. Eventually, though, the bad acids can travel up the esophagus. (If you’re experiencing acid reflux, these rogue acids are causing it, not your stomach’s hydrochloric acid. This is a very common confusion; the medical world sees all stomach and intestinal acids are the same.)

A related issue is that the lining of your gut creates mucus in an effort to protect you from the bad acids. If a lot of mucus is coming up your throat for no apparent reason, its probably your gut struggling to keep you safe because the rogue acids are trying to eat away at your stomach and esophagus lining… and it’s a signal that you’ve got a problem that needs to be addressed. The mucus can also travel down the intestinal tract and stop proper absorption of nutrients.

Let’s go back to the ammonia gas, though. This is the key piece of information: when food decomposes in your intestinal tract and produces ammonia, this toxic gas has the ability to float, ghost-like, out of your intestines and directly into your bloodstream, This is what’s called ammonia permeability.

It’s the ammonia gas that creates most of the havoc associated with leaky gut syndrome. It doesn’t have to do with the infections or punctures of the small intestines or colon. And it isn’t Candida yeast expelling toxins through the intestinal walls, either.

Millions of people walk around with digestive health problems, and the culprit is ammonia permeability. As I’ve said, what many alternative doctors diagnose as leaky gut syndrome has nothing to do with holes or other imperfections in your gut; it has nothing to do with acids or bacteria leaking out.

Rather, ammonia gas in your intestines is drifting into the blood stream… which then carries the gas throughout your body. Besides the gut symptoms I mentioned earlier, ammonia permeability can result in malaise, fatigue, skin problems, restless sleep, anxiety, and so much more.

At this point you might reasonably ask, “If this all happens because of too little hydrochloric acid in the stomach, what causes that?” The number one reason for a deficiency of hydrochloric acid is adrenaline.

What is not known is that there isn’t just one form of adrenaline. Your adrenal glands produce 56 different blends in response to different emotions and situations. And the ones associated with negative feelings such as fear, anxiety, anger, hatred, guilt, shame, depression, and stress can be severely damaging to a variety of areas of your body- including your stomach’s supply of hydrochloric acid. So if you’ve been chronically stressed or upset, that can be enough to slowly break down your hyrochloric acid- and your ability to properly digest food. Different levels of stress and emotions that we experience in our everyday lives can hinder good bacteria and grow bad bacteria.

Also often wreaking havoc with your stomach’s hydrochloric acid and prescription drugs. Antibiotics, immunosuppressants, antifungals, amphetamines, and a variety of other medications our bodies haven’t adapted to can disrupt the chemical balance in the stomach.

Your hydrochloric acid is likely to be damaged if you overeat any type of protein, such as animal meat, nuts, seeds, and/ or legumes. (If the protein comes from greens, sprouts, or other vegetables, it doesn’t have the same effect.) Eating a lot of foods that combine fat and sugar (such as cheese, whole milk, cakes, cookies, and ice cream), can have the same harmful effect on hydrochloric acid.

Both these categories of food require much more work to be digested than fruit or vegetables do, placing a huge strain on your gut. This can eventually “burn out” your stomach’s hydrochloric acid and weaken digestive enzymes. If you’re eating high protein meals (for example, chicken, fish, or meat) and you’re experiencing symptoms of low hydrochloric acid such as bloating, stomach discomfort, constipation, sluggishness, and/or fatigue, then eat the animal protein sparingly and limit it to one serving per day.

There is good news in all of this. You can recover your hydrochloric acid and strengthen your enzymes with a miraculous herb that’s sold everywhere.