What Is Leaky Gut? Causes, Symptoms, and Relief

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on

A person dealing with leaky gut syndrome.A leaky gut is characterized by perforations in the intestinal wall that allow molecules or microorganisms to pass through into the bloodstream. The phenomenon is a profound failure of the intestines’ duty to act as a protective barrier. Leaky gut syndrome is difficult to diagnose; many physicians do not know to look for it when diagnosing patients who are experiencing a complicated array of symptoms.

What Exactly Is the Gut?

The gut encompasses the intestinal mucosa (lining), the microbial community (and its genes) in the intestines, and the immune system and nerves. In addition to being the most important organ in the digestive system, the intestines are the largest immune organ,[1] with roughly 2,700 square feet (or 250 meters) of surface area.[2] Eating or drinking exposes this tennis court-sized area to the outside world. The digested molecules (micro-, macro-, and phytonutrients) in food are supposed to filter through the intestinal mucosa, which is made up of the epithelial cells on the surface of the small intestine. The contents of the intestines are supposed to remain in the intestinal lumen and continue the journey to the colon.[3] But, with a leaky gut, the contents of the intestine can slip, unregulated, between the epithelial cells of the intestine.[4]

The spaces between the intestinal cells, known as tight junctions, are supposed to form a seal between the inside of the intestinal lumen and the rest of the body. When the tight junctions aren’t tight enough, things slip past the intestinal gatekeepers and into the bloodstream. From here pathogens, toxins, and antigens can circulate throughout the body, wreaking havoc and provoking a systemic inflammatory response.[4] The loose gaps between the cells in the intestinal mucosa are associated with a myriad of conditions and syndromes including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)[4]
  • Food allergies
  • Celiac disease[5]
  • Asthma[6]
  • Autism[7]
  • Parkinson’s[8]

What Causes Leaky Gut?

The tight junctions are not a perfect barrier. A number of factors can cause them to relax or contract—diet, medication, hormones, inflammation, and more. When the tight junctions relax or contract, their function may be disrupted.[9]

1. Diet

Few things affect health as much as diet. Several primary offenders appear to contribute to the development of leaky gut:

  • Alcohol: When the human body metabolizes alcohol, the metabolic product acetaldehyde can increase intestinal permeability.[10]
  • Sugar: Sugar and artificial sweeteners cause inflammation that compromises gut health. Additionally, a urine analysis that measures glucose in the urine is a useful indicator of the severity of leaky gut.[11]
  • Dairy: Dairy products are linked to gastrointestinal disorders—–particularly among individuals on the autism spectrum.[12]
  • Gluten: Consumption of gluten contributes to increased intestinal permeability in those with gluten sensitivity.[13]
  • Additives: Industrial food additives such as emulsifiers, solvents, microbial transglutaminase, glucose, and salt contribute to leaky gut syndrome.[14]
  • Pesticides: Glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria, which can contribute to the development of intestinal permeability.[15]

    2. Candida

    Several species of candida are known to disrupt the makeup of the gut microbiota. The resulting imbalance in the microbiota is called dysbiosis.[16] These disturbances can lead to the development of digestive disorders including leaky gut.[17]

    3. Chronic Stress

    It’s no secret that stress negatively affects your health[18, 19] but it’s especially taxing on gut health. Psychological stress increases the presence of inflammatory cytokines, a class of signaling proteins created by the immune system that contribute to the development of leaky gut. Animal studies have shown that both psychological and physical stress compromise the integrity of the intestinal barrier.[20]

    4. Environmental Toxins

    The environment is flooded with harmful chemicals and substances, many of which pose a significant risk to your health. Mercury,[21] BPA,[22] fungicides, and insecticides[23] can all negatively affect intestinal permeability.

    5. Medications

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen have demonstrated a tendency to increase intestinal permeability and provoke inflammation.[24]

    6. Zinc Deficiency

    Zinc is an essential trace mineral that supports the immune system[25] and plays a significant role in irritable bowel diseases. Zinc deficiency can lead to intestinal permeability, while supplementation with zinc supports the function of the tight junctions.[26]

    Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

    You might think the symptoms of leaky gut are all digestive disorders but, because leaky gut allows foreign bodies to enter the bloodstream, it can exert a wide range of effects the body as a whole and produce a varied array of symptoms. Some of the more obvious symptoms include allergies,[27] cardiovascular disturbances,[28] and a multitude of metabolic disruptions.[29, 30, 31] Chronic fatigue syndrome and depression are separate and unique conditions, but both are known to result from compromised integrity of the intestinal mucosa.[31, 32]

    Intestinal permeability allows foreign microbes access directly to the bloodstream. In response, the immune system releases antibodies,[34] which mistakenly attach to normal proteins in the blood, tagging them for immune action. Fortunately, there are ways to ease the burden of living with a leaky gut.

    What’s the Best Solution for Leaky Gut?

    Following a healthy diet is one of the most effective measures to help manage leaky gut. Foods that are a source of probiotics are helpful for mitigating the effects of the disorder.[35] Nutrients like glutamine and curcumin support the intestinal environment by balancing the overstimulated immune response and the oxidative stress that weakens the intestinal wall.[36]

    Monitoring what goes into your body is one of the best natural remedies for managing leaky gut. If you suffer from a digestive disorder, whether it’s leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or any of the many disorders associated with hyperpermeability, try keeping a daily food journal to identify the foods that trigger symptoms. If you experience frequent flare-ups, it’s time to make significant lifestyle changes such as incorporating the best foods for leaky gut into your diet to support your health and quality of life.

    Do you have experience with a leaky gut? What insight can you offer? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

References (36)
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  2. “About the Small & Large Intestines.” Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, 2016. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.
  3. Purves, William K., et al. Life: The Science of Biology. N.p.: Sinauer, 2004. Print. 21 Dec. 2016.
  4. Lee, Sung Hee. “Intestinal Permeability Regulation by Tight Junction: Implication on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.” Intestinal Research 13.1 (2015): 11–18. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.
  5. Groschwitz, Katherine R., and Simon P. Hogan. “Intestinal Barrier Function: Molecular Regulation and Disease Pathogenesis.” J Allergy Clin Immunol 124.1 (2014): 3–22. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.
  6. Walker J, Dieleman L, Mah D, Park K, Meddings J, Vethanayagam D. High prevalence of abnormal gastrointestinal permeability in moderate-severe asthma. Clin Invest Med. 2014 Apr 1;37(2):E53-7.
  7. de Magistris L, Familiari V, Pascotto A, Sapone A, Frolli A, Iardino P, Carteni M, De Rosa M, Francavilla R, Riegler G, Militerni R, Bravaccio C. Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2010 Oct;51(4):418-24. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e3181dcc4a5.
  8. Conlon M, Bird A. The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Nutrients. 2015 Jan; 7(1): 17–44.
  9. Lee S. Intestinal Permeability Regulation by Tight Junction: Implication on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Intest Res. 2015 Jan; 13(1): 11–18.
  10. Purohit V, Bode J, Bode C, Brenner D, Choudhry M, Hamilton F, Kang Y, Keshavarzian A, Rao R, Sartor R, Swanson C, Turner J. Alcohol, Intestinal Bacterial Growth, Intestinal Permeability to Endotoxin, and Medical Consequences. Alcohol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2009 Aug 1.
  11. Rao AS, Camilleri M, Eckert DJ, Busciglio I, Burton DD, Ryks M, Wong BS, Lamsam J, Singh R, Zinsmeister AR. Urine sugars for in vivo gut permeability: validation and comparisons in irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhea and controls. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2011 Nov;301(5):G919-28. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00168.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 11.
  12. Whiteley P, Shattock P, Knivsberg AM, Seim A, Richest K, Todd L, Carr K, Hooper M. Gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for autism spectrum conditions. Front Hum Neurosci. 2012; 6: 344.
  13. de Punder K, Pruimboom L. The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation. Nutrients. 2013 Mar; 5(3): 771–787.
  14. Lerner A, Matthias T. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2015 Jun;14(6):479-89. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2015.01.009. Epub 2015 Feb 9.
  15. Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013 Dec; 6(4): 159–184.
  16. Leclercq S, Matamoros S, Cani P, Neyrinck A, Jamar F, Stärkel P, Windey K, Tremaroli V, Bäckhed F, Verbeke K, de Timary P, Delzenneb N. Intestinal permeability, gut-bacterial dysbiosis, and behavioral markers of alcohol-dependence severity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Oct 21; 111(42): E4485–E4493.
  17. Schulze J, Sonnenborn U. Yeasts in the Gut: From Commensals to Infectious Agents. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2009 Dec; 106(51-52): 837–842.
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  20. Bested A, Logan A, Selhub E. Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances: Part II – contemporary contextual research. Gut Pathog. 2013; 5: 3.
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  23. Cohen M. Environmental toxins and health--the health impact of pesticides. Aust Fam Physician. 2007 Dec;36(12):1002-4.
  24. Sigthorsson G, Tibble J, Hayllar J, Menzies I, Macpherson A, Moots R, Scott D, Gumpel M, Bjarnason I. Intestinal permeability and inflammation in patients on NSAIDs. Gut. 1998 Oct; 43(4): 506–511.
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  28. Sandek A, Rauchhaus M, Anker SD, von Haehling S. The emerging role of the gut in chronic heart failure. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Sep;11(5):632-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32830a4c6e.
  29. Bounous G, McArdle AH, Hodges DM, Hampson LG, Gurd FN. “Biosynthesis of intestinal mucin in shock: relationship to tryptic hemorrhagic enteritis and permeability to curare.” Ann Surg. 1966 Jul; 164(1): 13–22.
  30. Vajro P, Paolella G, Fasano A. MICROBIOTA AND GUT-LIVER AXIS: A MINI-REVIEW ON THEIR INFLUENCES ON OBESITY AND OBESITY RELATED LIVER DISEASE. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 May 1.
  31. Schnabl B. Linking intestinal homeostasis and liver disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 Jul 1.
  32. Maes M, Leunis JC. Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Dec;29(6):902-10.
  33. Maes M, Kubera M, Leunis JC. The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Feb;29(1):117-24.
  34. Ruff W, Vieira S, Kriegel M. The Role of the Gut Microbiota in the Pathogenesis of Antiphospholipid Syndrome. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2015 Jan; 17(1): 472.
  35. Rao R, Samak G. Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications. Curr Nutr Food Sci. 2013 May 1; 9(2): 99–107.
  36. Rapin JR, Wiernsperger N. Possible links between intestinal permeability and food processing: A potential therapeutic niche for glutamine. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2010 Jun;65(6):635-43. doi: 10.1590/S1807-59322010000600012.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Matt

    I’m still having problems with it, can’t heal it at all. I react to probiotics too. The weirdest part is i don’t have candida, confirmed through a stool analysis and other tests 🙁

  • Edward Group

    Matt,
    Thank you for your comment! I have found that when applying oxygen to the colon that it helps with healing, this may also be the case for Leaky Gut, I would suggest the use of Oxy-Powder. It may also be wise to consult with a reputable Naturopath in your area to help you track your progress.
    -Dr. Group

  • acjitsu

    I’ve had major IBS. A few things you need to do:

    1- Get your bowel cleansed using an enema.

    2- Repopulate and heal your intestinal tract using combination of Probiotics(Innate is a good brand), L-Glutamine, and Xymogen Igg DF 2000. 1

    3- Get on a “Paleo/Primal” type of diet. Grass fed meats, organic chicken, fish(wild not farmed) and vegetables at all major meals.

    4-Completely eliminate wheat, oats, sugars, sugar substitutes, alcohol, bread, pasta, corn, HFCS, cheese, milk from your diet.

    Give this time, at least 3- 6 months and you WILL
    feel better !!!

    Good luck !!

  • acjitsu

    ALWAYS stay on the probiotics, Glutamine and Xymogen Igg DF 2000.

  • Walid

    Dr Group,

    What would be the cure for ciprofloxacin toxicity?

    Thanks,
    Walid

  • Page

    I have fatigue when I eat certain food and it lasts for days. I was told I have Leaky gut and food sensitivities due to it. I was given fish supplements, probiotics, etc. Im very sensatives to suppliments. Is there a cure all “magic pill” for leaky gut?

  • Some people find that probiotics help but no, there is no magic pill to make it all go away!

  • Page

    Is there anything else I should be taking?

  • Coconut has good fatty acids that digest a little easier than other fats, that can help. A good source of fiber, like chia seed or flax seed, can help support the probiotics in your gut.

  • nathalie

    Hello, can you please answer my question:
    Can i take cayenne pepper when i have a leaky gut ?

  • Haven’t seen anything to suggest you can’t. Does it give you problems?

  • Paula Seargant

    I used to suffer from leaky for about 10 years so I have tried every treatment & supplement there is. Unfortunately nothing had any positive effect at all on me but thankfully I was actually able to completely cure my leaky gut after my cousin referred. I only had to do 2 things:

    1. Use the herbal remedy ‘DigestAssist’; Pelargonium reniforme ensures a natural approach to trouble-free digestion.

    2. Follow every step in the free video & guide seen at
    curehealthproblem*com/leakygut (obviously change the * for a dot as it won’t let me post links here) This tackle leaky gut in a natural way. This is very important.

    3. Ginger and garlic are natural ingredients. They are nature’s gifts with the power to cure leaky gut syndrome so include them in your lifestyle as much as possible.

    Try those two steps and hopefully you will get as much luck with getting rid of leaky gut as i did. Just remember leaky gut does not have to be a permanent problem, diets & medications may slightly ease symptoms occasionally but you really need to tackle the root cause. Good luck <3
    xox

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  • Kristine Bautista Garcia

    hello, my daughter has been diagnosed with leaky gut but I’m not 100% behind this diagnosis. Her only symptom is chronic nausea and vomiting. Could nausea be a symptom leaky gut

  • Carmen

    Can a leaky gut ever be repaired?

  • GHC Support

    Hi, Carmen. Thank you for contacting us. Although
    Oxy-Powder may help flush out the over-growth of yeast or harmful organisms attributed to Leaky Gut Syndrome, daily probiotic (as mentioned) and enzyme use along with Omega-3 Fatty Acids may also be beneficial. Below, you may view more information:

    http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/remedies-for-leaky-gut/

    In all cases it is suggested to contact your doctor or naturopath for additional guidance; you may find a naturopath near you at the following link: http://www.naturopathic.org/AF_MemberDirectory.asp?version=1.

    Have a happy and healthy day!

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