Your digestive tract is designed to be the ultimate barrier – keeping everything that’s meant to be inside your gut in, and any other unwanted substances out. But what happens when this barrier is compromised and your gut, in a sense, “springs a leak”?
This is essentially what happens in a condition known as protein-losing enteropathy (PLE) – a condition in which proteins meant to stay in your bloodstream begin to leak out into your digestive tract. Today we’re going to dive into exactly what protein-losing enteropathy is, what causes it, and most importantly – how you can begin healing from this condition.
What Is Protein-Losing Enteropathy?
Protein-losing enteropathy, sometimes referred to as protein-wasting enteropathy, occurs when unusually large quantities of proteins leak into your intestinal tract. In protein-losing enteropathy, a number of protein-rich materials make their way into your gut. But in protein-losing enteropathy, a protein of particular importance is albumin.
Albumin is a protein produced by your liver that plays a critical role in:1
- Tissue growth and repair
- Carrying and transporting essential nutrients and hormones
- Retaining fluid in your bloodstream so it doesn’t leak into other tissues
When albumin begins to leak out of the bloodstream, it can cause a number of issues – but more on that in a minute. This seepage of proteins into your gut can be triggered by a number of different conditions – so pinpointing the underlying cause of this protein loss can be tricky. Let’s take a look at exactly what might cause protein-losing enteropathy.
What Causes Protein-Losing Enteropathy?
Protein-losing enteropathy is not necessarily a condition in itself but is rather a consequence of an underlying condition. Protein-losing enteropathy has been linked to over 60 different medical diagnoses. Each of these underlying causes can be broken down into three different categories which are:2,3
Erosive Gastrointestinal Diseases
Erosive gastrointestinal diseases encompass disorders including:
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel disease
- Kaposi's sarcoma
- Infectious disease such as clostridium difficile
In erosive gastrointestinal disease, the lining of the digestive tract is inflamed – resulting in erosion and ulceration. This damage to the integrity of the intestinal lining allows proteins to leak out from your bloodstream into your gut.
Non-Erosive Gastrointestinal Diseases
Non-erosive gastrointestinal diseases include conditions such as :
- Celiac disease
- Whipple’s disease
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
While non-erosive gastrointestinal diseases may not cause erosions and ulcerations quite like erosive gastrointestinal diseases, they still cause significant damage to the integrity of the intestinal lining.
Typically, in non-erosive gastrointestinal disease, you end up with what is known as increased intestinal permeability. With increased intestinal permeability, the tight junctions that hold the cells of your intestinal tract together become compromised – essentially creating “gaps” that allow proteins to leak out.
Diseases With Increased Lymphatic Pressure
Conditions that cause increased lymphatic pressure include:
- Intestinal lymphangiectasia
- Constrictive pericarditis
- The Fontan procedure (surgery to correct congenital heart problems in children)
- Heart conditions (heart failure, cardiomyopathy)
- Portal hypertension
These disorders can disrupt the normal flow of lymphatic fluid, resulting in increased lymphatic pressure. This can interfere with the recirculation of lymph fluid and cause leakage of lymph and proteins into the intestinal tract.
What Are the Symptoms of Protein-Losing Enteropathy?
The symptoms of protein-losing enteropathy can vary greatly depending on the underlying cause. Symptoms may manifest as gastrointestinal issues such as:3
- Steatorrhea (fat in stools)
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Bloating and gas
But often, symptoms of protein-losing enteropathy will show up as issues with fluid balance. Since albumin is responsible for helping maintain fluid balance, when it begins to leak out into your tissues, fluid follows it. This typically shows up in symptoms such as:3
- Peripheral edema or swelling in limbs
- Ascites – an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
- Pleural effusions – a build-up of fluid in the tissues surrounding the lungs and chest
- Pericardial effusions – a build-up of fluid in the tissues surrounding the heart
While you may experience symptoms associated with protein-losing enteropathy, an official diagnosis typically requires additional diagnostic testing and lab work.
Can Protein-Losing Enteropathy Be Cured?
The answer is – it depends. Because protein-losing enteropathy is a manifestation of an underlying cause, whether or not it can be cured depends on what’s causing the protein loss in the first place. Because of this, management of protein-losing enteropathy requires a two-pronged approach:
- Treating the underlying issue
- Healing your gut
Treating the underlying cause will require a big picture approach. I recommend seeking out the guidance of an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner. If you’re new to the functional medicine approach, I recommend checking out my article How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor.
A good Functional Medicine practitioner can work with you on identifying and treating the root cause of your issues. And one of the primary focuses of treatment will typically include healing your digestive tract and optimizing the health of your gut.
So, How Can I Begin Healing My Gut?
The more we learn about our digestive system, the more apparent it becomes that the health of your gut is intricately connected to every other facet of your health. So taking steps to heal your gut not only improves your digestive health – it also helps your body address any other underlying health issues that may be contributing to protein-losing enteropathy. When it comes to keeping your gut healthy and happy, here’s what I recommend:
Minimize Pro-Inflammatory Foods
The food you consume on a regular basis is one of the most powerful tools you have when it comes to your gut health. But this tool can either work for you or against you. You see, certain foods are pro-inflammatory and will further contribute to the breakdown of your gut. You’ll want to limit foods that exacerbate this cycle of inflammation and damage such as:
- Simple and processed carbs
- Packaged and processed foods
- Refined oils
- Artificial sweeteners
- Common irritants like gluten, dairy, soy, and corn
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to swear off all of these foods forever. It simply means incorporating them occasionally and intentionally.
Focus on Nutrient-Dense, Anti-Inflammatory Foods
If you want to use your diet as a powerful tool to help your gut heal, you’ll want to focus on anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense foods that give your gut the building blocks it needs to heal. You’ll want to prioritize:
- High-quality protein: Especially in the case of protein-losing enteropathy, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting plenty of protein from a variety of sources. I always suggest opting for the highest quality animal sources possible by looking for grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught options. I recommend checking out ButcherBox – you’ll get top-notch quality, grass-fed, ethically raised meat delivered straight to your door.
- Healthy fats: Healthy, unprocessed fats are crucial for overall health, proper digestion, and the integrity of your gut. Incorporating beneficial fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and grass-fed butter can go a long way in supporting your gut health.
- A variety of veggies and fruits: Vegetables and fruits are chock-full of minerals, antioxidants, micronutrients, fiber, and other compounds that your body depends on. Try incorporating vegetables and fruit into every meal you eat.
And eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Click here to check out some of my favorite delicious and non-boring healthy recipes.
Take Gut-Healing Supplements
While your diet is certainly an excellent place to start, the truth is, most of us simply can’t get all the nutrients we need through diet alone. Thanks to agricultural practices, modern diets, and an ever-increasing toxic burden, most of us need a little help getting our daily intake of essential nutrients.
Fortunately, we have supplements to help fill that gap. When it comes to healing your gut, I recommend a few potent gut-healing supplements including:
- Gut Shield: Gut shield contains a high concentration of glutamine – an amino acid that serves as nutrition for the lining of your gut. It also contains licorice root extract, glucosamine, zinc, and aloe vera extract. Together this combination of nutrients helps soothe and heal your gut lining – essentially “sealing up the gaps” and preventing any particles from leaking in or out of your gut.
- Gut Immune: Gut Immune is a concentrated dose of pure Immunoglobulin G (IGg). IGg binds to toxins and microbes in the digestive tract – trapping them so they can be removed from the body before activating the immune system. As these potentially harmful invaders are removed, it reduces inflammation, resets a healthy immune response, and builds a stronger barrier between your gut and the external environment.
- Probiotics: Your microbiome consists of the millions of microorganisms that reside in your gut. This unique and delicate ecosystem plays a critical role in your digestion and the integrity of your intestinal lining. In fact, this ecosystem of microbes is so influential, that an imbalance can affect every single facet of your health. So keeping your gut flora properly balanced by regularly re-introducing beneficial bacteria is key.
Supplements like these are one of the simplest and most effective ways to flood your body with the gut-healing, health-boosting nutrients it needs. You can find these supplements and more in my online store. You can even get 10% off your first order by clicking here.
Prioritize Rest and Relaxation
Sleep deprivation and chronic emotional stress are like kryptonite to your health – especially your gut. It creates a vicious cycle that increases inflammation, dampens your immune system, and inhibits your body's ability to heal.
Making a point of logging enough high-quality sleep and relieving stress is crucial. We all know this is often easier said than done, so here’s what I suggest:
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. To ensure that you’re getting quality sleep try keeping your room dark and cool. It can help to use a fan or white noise to drown out any sounds that might disturb you.
- Turn off any electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. The light can stimulate your brain and make it hard to fall asleep.
- If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, you can try a natural sleep aid like LipoCalm.
- Look for ways to minimize stress in your life. Whether that’s better planning, having that tough conversation, or switching up your schedule.
- For the unavoidable stress, find outlets that help you relax and recenter. That might be going for a run, connecting with a loved one, or spending some time meditating.
In our fast-paced world, it can be easy to forget how important it is to rest. But making rest and relaxation a priority will pay off exponentially when it comes to your health.
You Are Your Own Best Advocate
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with protein-losing enteropathy, I strongly encourage you to seek out the guidance of an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner. Functional medicine practitioners specialize in identifying and addressing the root cause rather than simply putting a “band-aid” on the symptoms you’re experiencing.
A good functional medicine practitioner knows that you are your own best advocate and will work as your partner to address your concerns and optimize your health. Because when it comes to your health, you are truly in the driver's seat. That’s why I’m so passionate about empowering my patients and readers with the knowledge and resources they need to make decisions about their health.
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about how you can optimize your own health, head over and check out my blog – it’s chock-full of research-backed articles to help you make well-informed choices about your health. And if you’re ready to take it even deeper, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get my exclusive and very best advice and resources delivered straight to your inbox. All you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn all the different underlying causes of protein-losing enteropathy? What steps are you taking to prioritize the health of your gut? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.