A team of researchers from the Medical University of Warsaw in Poland has proposed a novel, non-invasive test for screening and monitoring gut diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The technique uses a tiny blood and stool sample to determine gut permeability, a key marker of these diseases.

The importance of our gut health is a subject that has received a lot of attention over the last few years, from the gut-brain axis to the composition and health of our gut flora (also known as our gut microbiota). Intestinal permeability – often referred to as leaky gut – is another indicator of our intestinal health and has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an umbrella term for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as celiac disease and food sensitivities.

According to The Lancet, IBD is a global problem, with a prevalence of over 0.3 percent in Western populations (three million plus in the US according to the CDC) and a growing problem in newly industrialized countries as they become more Westernized. This highlights the need for innovative detection, management and prevention of IBD and associated issues, and studies such as this play an essential role towards that goal.

The study offers hope for the early detection of IBD, which is incurable, but controllable. At present, IBD and similar diseases are difficult to diagnose, with a combination of clinical symptoms and colonoscopy the current methodology. But this comes with its own problems. It's invasive, often requires general anesthetic, isn't cheap and can be a little frightening. All of which can be enough to prevent people from proceeding with tests and therefore hindering effective diagnosis and treatment.

The proposed method from the research team, led by Dr. Marcin Ufnal, presents far fewer obstacles to diagnosis. Using a small sample of around 1 milliliter of blood and stool, the technique measures the ratio of short–chain fatty acids created by bacteria in each sample. This ratio is important, as it shows how well the gut-blood barrier is functioning. When this layer of the gut-wall is compromised, unwanted products – including gut bacteria and bacterial products – are able to cross into the bloodstream and cause problems. More gut bacterial byproducts in the blood versus the stool indicates a more damaged – and therefore more permeable – gut-blood barrier.

"This may be a very important tool for diagnosis and treatment of gut and other diseases," says lead author, Marcin Ufnal. "Using the leaky gut as a marker for disease, as well as a potential target for treatment."

Early diagnosis of IBD and similar issues makes it possible for sufferers to take steps to make informed choices, control symptoms and improve their quality of life outlook. The team also hopes this technique might be able to flag other diseases that create gut permeability, such as liver problems and heart failure.

A short video explaining the research can be seen below.

The paper is available via the journal Experimental Physiology.