Increased intestinal permeability, also often called leaky gut syndrome, has been popularized by some health practitioners, mainly those of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). There is insufficient evidence to support its existence and the claim that SCAMs are effective treatments of it is unsubstantiated.
This study aims to describe the health-seeking behavior of Australian adults with suspected increased intestinal permeability (IP). A cross-sectional survey was conducted of 589 Australian adults who have been diagnosed with IP or have suspected (undiagnosed) IP.
The majority (56.2%) of participants with suspected IP reported self-diagnosing their condition, with the majority (56.7%) of these participants preferring to be assessed using an accurate method by a general practitioner or naturopath. On average, Australian adults with suspected IP spent 11.1 (95% CI: 9.5, 12.8) years between first suspecting IP and receiving a formal diagnosis. Over the previous 12 months, participants spent an average of $699 on consultation fees, $2176 on dietary supplements for the treatment of IP, and an average of $287 on the assessment of IP. Furthermore, participants who find it difficult to live on their available household income spent significantly more (mean=$2963) on dietary supplements compared to participants who find it easy to live on their available household income ($1918) (p=0.015).
In terms of the preferred method of treating IP, participants ‘strongly prefer’ the use of dietary products (n=392, 82.2%), followed by lifestyle habits (n=357, 76.5%), and dietary supplements (n=324, 68.6%). On the contrary, 82.8% (n=351) of participants ‘slightly prefer’ the use of medications to treat IP, representing the least preferred method of IP treatment.
The authors concluded that the majority of participants experienced a considerable length of time between first suspecting IP and receiving a diagnosis of IP. The out-of-pocket expenditure associated with the management of IP suggests a financial burden for people with suspected IP. The results of this study provide novel patient-centred considerations that can be used to inform a clinical practice guideline for the management of IP.
I would, however, draw a very different conclusion from these data: patients who think they suffer from IP often fall into the hands of SCAM practitioners who assure them to have a non-existing disease and relieve them of their money by treating them with bogus SCAM.