Illnesses 15 of 25

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Conventional western veterinarians are now recognizing and treating equine ulcers more frequently. With increased awareness of this syndrome, more horses are routinely being given antacids and acid blocking drugs. These medications may temporarily give relief only to set the horse up for more serious chronic health problems. The mucosal lining of the digestive tract is like an internal skin or barrier. What is inside the gut is actually outside the body. When the lining is healthy, it prevents bacteria, large protein molecules (antigens), and toxins from entering the blood. If it is not healthy, the blood becomes contaminated and in turn the internal organs, especially the liver, become damaged.

How Damage Occurs

A healthy mucosal lining has a protective barrier made of the mucous layer as well as large numbers of beneficial bacteria, which prevents toxins from having direct contact with the epithelial surface. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs interfere with secretion of mucous, and antibiotics decrease healthy gut flora (bacteria), so these drugs alone or in combination can set the stage for leaky gut syndrome. Antacids and acid-blocking drugs also upset the normal pH (acid/alkaline balance) in the intestinal tract, creating a hostile environment for healthy bacteria and an attractive environment for pathogenic bacteria.

Bacterial dysbiosis is an imbalance between normal and pathogenic gut flora. This condition creates a very unhealthy gastrointestinal system that then impairs proper digestion and absorption of nutrients and irritates the intestinal lining. Other causes of leaky gut syndrome include surgery, injury, chronic intestinal infection, drugs such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, malnutrition, and vaccinations.

Pathology Associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome

To prevent noxious substances from entering the bloodstream, the healthy gut responds in a complex, highly integrated fashion. Enterocytes, or gut-lining cells, actually bind the noxious substance and release chemicals to destroy it. These cells then secrete substances which draw fluids into the interior of the gut and wash away the offending substance. Damage to the mucous lining and enterocytes often takes the form of weak places in the gut wall, which then allows large protein molecules and other antigens to invade the bloodstream. When these antigens, which may even include poorly digested food particles, pass through the intestinal wall, the immune system reacts by forming antibodies to combat them. This is the foundation for many food allergies and auto-immune conditions. Antigen/antibody complexes can also create allergic reactions such as urticaria (hives), skin eruptions, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (heaves).

Stiffness and joint soreness can also be related to leaky gut syndrome. This results when antigen/antibody complexes are deposited in the tissues. Toxins released into the bloodstream can also cause fever of unknown origin and general fatigue. Other symptoms include memory loss, mood swings, shortness of breath, poor exercise tolerance, or hyperactivity. Intestinal symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or bacterial infections in the bowel.

Most of these conditions manifest in the horse as colic, which is often recurrent and unrelated to management. Chronic weight loss and chronic diarrhea may also result from leaky gut syndrome.

Leaky gut syndrome has a devastating effect on the liver which is called upon to clean all this contaminated blood coming from the intestine. As the liver is stressed symptoms of liver dysfunction begin to appear. These include tight sore muscles, poor quality hooves, weak, easily injured tendons and ligaments, eye disorders and irritability. These symptoms precede any elevation in liver enzymes which would show up on routine bloodwork. The increased release of toxins into the blood will also deplete the body’s store of phase I and phase II detoxification enzymes leading to an excess of circulating free radicals. These free radicals contribute to chronic disease such as laminitis.


As with ulcers, prevention of leaky gut syndrome should be considered in the way you manage your horse. Keep stress down as much as possible by providing regular exercise and free choice hay. Keep vaccinations, antibiotics, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to a minimum. Provide a high quality diet with a whole food source vitamin- mineral supplement such as Simplexity Blue Green Algae. Nutrition is especially important if your horse is sick or injured. Once you see symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, treatment includes re-establishing healthy gut bacterial, healing and regenerating the mucosal lining, and support for the liver. I use Simplexity Probiotics, Acidophilus, Bifidus, and/or Spectrabiotic to re-establish healthy gut bacteria. Simplexity Blue Green Algae has been shown to help with leaky gut syndrome and it works well in combination with aloe vera and slippery elm bark. Glutamine is an amino acid which helps the enterocytes regenerate. If your horse has chronic diarrhea, it may indicate more severe damage in the large intestine which prevents the digestion of fiber. These horses need a low fiber, high carbohydrate, and high fat diet to recover. Some horses may require large doses of antioxidants such as MSM or CoQ10 for long periods until the liver has recovered. Treatment for leaky gut syndrome may have to continue for months to years until recovery is complete. Acupuncture, chiropractic, or homeopathy may speed the healing process.

Leaky Gut Syndrome Gas Report Horse:

4-year-old paint mare, “Elle” Primary Complaint: Chronic hives beginning in Nov. of ’98, covering her entire body; becoming lethargic and having no appetite when hives were bad. In Aug ’99, she quit drinking and colicked severely. Her previous treatment included Naquasone, Prednisone, and Hydroxizine. Her owner, Brenda, tried 5 different kinds of hay, 2 kinds of grain, different bedding and different turnout arrangements with no success. Treatment: Dec. ’99, Elle was started on 5 Spectrabiotic twice a day and 1 tsp. Simplexity Super Blue Green Algae twice a day. Jan. ’00, Elle had improved since five days into treatment with Spectrabiotic. She is much happier and hungrier. She is not on any drugs. Treatment continued with Spectrabiotic and Blue Green Algae. Mar. ’00, Brenda notified us that Elle was completely hive free, gaining weight on less grain, free of steroids and antihistamines, and seemed very content. Elle is continuing on a lower maintenance dose of Spectrabiotic and Blue Green Algae.

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy.

Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.

She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.

Madalyn Ward DVM