One area of controversy between traditional and nontraditional medicine is whether a condition known as leaky gut syndrome actually exists.

Most traditional medicine physicians would say that "leaky gut" syndrome is a fantasy and that there is no scientific proof to support its existence.

Many nontraditional practitioners would argue that leaky gut syndrome is real and impacts a number of other medical conditions.

In truth, the concept of a "leaky gut" affecting health as well as the simple urine test diagnosing this condition has been well established in the medical literature for almost 90 years. I even remember the lecture in medical school specifically titled "leaky gut."

I also remember ordering this urine test when I was a medical student, intern, resident, and assistant professor at Rush University. This test was also available when I came to the Alexian Brothers Medical Center.

Then one day everybody stopped doing this test and disavowed that "leaky gut" ever existed.

Over the years there has been significant medical research looking at the association between bowel function ("leaky gut') and chronic illness. Currently there are at least 25 different illnesses that are strongly associated with pathologic changes in bowel bacteria associated with "leaky gut" alone. These include inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma/allergies.

There is also persuasive evidence to indicate that depression and anxiety are impacted, not insignificantly, by bowel function. For migraine headaches the association between prevalence and bowel function is more than compelling.

Migraine headaches are common (three times more common in women than in men) and cost between $13-$17 billion per year in direct medical costs and lost productivity.

Migraine headaches are believed to be the result of inflammatory compounds affecting pain receptors in the 12th cranial nerve, the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve affects the face and many structures of the head and contains numerous pain receptors.

Although many believe that migraine headaches are the result of genetics, our DNA makeup plays a minor role in migraines. There is however a strong correlation between migraine headaches and bowel function.

A recent review article in the medical journal Frontiers in Neurology detailed the strong association of migraines in people with various bowel disorders.

One Norwegian study referenced in this article demonstrated that among 51,000 participants who had gastrointestinal complaints, both migraine and tension headaches were significantly more common.

Interestingly having had colic as a baby increases a person's risk of migraine by two and half to four times the national average.

The strongest association is in inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. These medical conditions significantly increase intestinal permeability or "leaky gut."

Inflammatory compounds associated with migraines are appreciably elevated in people with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. The risk of migraine headaches in these individuals is 20 to 60 times higher than people without bowel issues. Conversely, healing the bowel can reduce the number and intensity of migraines.

"Leaky gut" is supported by decades of medical research and the health of our bowel impacts many chronic illnesses. Fortunately "leaky gut" is not a permanent disease and is reversible.

• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.