Leaky Gut​

What is it?

Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that’s thought to affect millions of people, many of whom don’t even know it.

This condition occurs when the gut lining becomes abnormally permeable known as “intestinal hyperpermeability” When tiny gateway openings develop between your intestines and bloodstream, allowing things to pass through that are normally blocked — like toxins, undigested food particles and other harmful substances.

Leaky gut not only impacts digestive health, but in reality it can lead to many other health conditions. For example, according to recent research, the cause of food allergies, thyroid disease and autoimmune conditions may be a leaky gut.

When your gut is healthy, it remains tightly “sealed,” in essence, carefully keeping toxins and waste within the digestive tract where they belong instead of spreading throughout your body.

diagram showing leaky gut progression

What is leaky gut?

Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that affects the integrity of the gut lining, which normally serves as the barrier of the intestines. Also called “intestinal permeability,” it occurs when the gut wall becomes damaged, allowing compounds to enter become absorbed into the bloodstream that normally shouldn’t.


For instance, partially digested proteins and fats may seep through the intestinal lining, making their way into the bloodstream, which causes an allergic response.

What causes leaky gut?

One of the biggest warning signs that you may have leaky gut is that you’re experiencing multiple food sensitivities.


Allergic responses caused by a leaky gut don’t necessarily mean you’ll break out in a rash all over your body, but it can lead to various other symptoms.


Some potential symptoms linked to leaky gut can include:

  • Bloating
  • Food sensitivities
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Skin issues, such as rosacea and acne
  • Digestive problems
  • Weight gain


If not repaired, intestinal permeability can potentially lead to more severe health issues, such as:

  • Inflammatory bowl disease
  • Arthritis
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Migraine headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Chronic fatigue


According to research published in the Journal of Diabetes, there is a strong body of evidence suggesting that leaky gut syndrome is related to certain autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes.

Leaky gut leads to other problems such a malabsorption of vital minerals and nutrients, including zinc, iron and vitamin B12.


This occurs because of damage to the gut’s microvilli. When the microvilli stop working correctly, it is possible for large particles to pass through the gut lining which shouldn’t – like gluten for example. It is also possible for some small molecules which are meant to pass though and provide nutrients, to be blocked.


Some causes of leaky gut can be a poor diet that is high in sugar and low in fibre, smoking, alcohol, genetic predisposition or frequent use of some medications. 

Some potential dietary causes include:

  • Lectins — These are found in many foods, not just grains, and when consumed in smaller amounts, your body normally does just fine with them. But foods that have large amounts of lectins are more problematic. Some of the lectins and foods that cause leaky gut include wheat, rice, spelt and soy.
  • Cows milk — This is another food that can cause leaky gut. The component of dairy that harms your gut is the protein A1 casein. Also, the pasteurisation process destroys vital enzymes, making sugars like lactose very difficult to digest.
  • Gluten containing grains — These may damage your intestinal lining depending on how well you tolerate them. Once your gut is healthy, you can likely add back in grains that have been fermented and sprouted to eat occasionally.
  • Sugar — Added sugar is another substance that can wreak havoc on your digestive system when eaten in large amounts. Sugar can feed the growth of yeast, candida and bad bacteria, which further damages your gut. Bad bacteria actually creates toxins called exotoxins that damage healthy cells and can eat a hole into your intestinal wall.

Testing for leaky gut?

Zonulin or Lactulose test 

Zonulin controls the size of the openings between your gut lining and your bloodstream. Even in healthy people, small openings are needed between the two to transport nutrients back and forth, but abnormally high levels of zonulin can cause these openings to become too large.


What triggers zonulin levels to rise? Most often, gluten, parasites, candida yeast and harmful bacteria do. A leaky gut test can reveal how high zonulin levels are, which gives you a good idea of your gut permeability. It’s important to correct zonulin levels right away because over time, even more damage occurs in the gut’s “microvilli,” the tiny cellular membranes that line the intestines and absorb nutrients from food

IgG Food intolerance test

You need to identify any food sensitivities you have if you think you have leaky gut, since most people who have leaky gut wind up developing sensitivities as a result — and ignoring these can make the condition even worse.


Why does leaky gut cause sensitivities and food allergies? When particles and toxins enter the bloodstream that normally shouldn’t be able to, the immune system basically goes on “overdrive,” working hard to do what it thinks is beneficial for the body by raising immune responses. Intestinal hyperpermeability makes the body produce a high level of antibodies, with the hope of defending the body from dangerous particles.


This means the immune system is extra cautious and reactive, so it tends to negatively respond to foods that it used to tolerate better, especially things like gluten and pasteurized dairy.


While some food sensitivities or reactions are obvious, others are more subtle and can easily go unnoticed, since they produce what’s known as “low-grade systemic inflammation.” This becomes dangerous over time and can cause a range of inflammatory diseases, so removing food sensitivities is critical to getting leaky gut under control.

Organic acid vitamin & mineral deficiencies testing

One of the common warning signs of leaky gut is nutrient malabsorption or vitamin/mineral deficiencies. This occurs because of damage to the gut’s microvilli. When microvilli stop working properly, it’s possible for large particles to pass through the gut lining that shouldn’t (like gluten) and for some small molecules to be blocked that are actually meant to pass through and provide nutrients.


Another downside of blocked or malabsorbed nutrients is that they can’t help with detoxification of antigens that the immune system produces at high levels in response to leaky gut.


An organic acid test looks for vitamin and mineral deficiencies; amino acid (protein) deficiencies; information in regard to protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism; and antioxidant and bacteria levels.


How does it work? Organic acids are produced during central energy production, detoxification, neurotransmitter breakdown or intestinal microbial activity. When they accumulate to high levels, they can be detected in urine and signal a nutrient deficiency, problem producing digestive enzymes, yeast growth or toxic buildup.

Stool testing

A stool test looks at beneficial bacteria levels, the state of intestinal immune function, overall intestinal health and inflammatory markers.


Additionally, fecal matter can reveal probiotic levels along with microbes present in the gut, both the good kind and the bad. It also reveals information about any pathogenic micro-organisms, such as yeast, parasites and bacteria that might contribute to leaky gut, chronic illness and neurological dysfunction such as  mood changes or “brain fog”.

Foods to avoid

Unsprouted grains, especially those containing gluten (wheat, rye, and barley) — note that sprouting and fermenting grains reduces phytates and lectins, making these foods easier to digest

Processed foods made with added sugar

GMOs foods (GMO and hybridized foods tend to be the highest in lectins since they have been modified to fight off bugs)

Refined oils

Processed foods made with synthetic food additives

Conventional dairy products

Heavy alcohol use

Foods to include

Bone Broth Bone broth contains collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that can help heal your damaged cell walls. 

Raw Cultured Dairy  Raw dairy contains beneficial bacteria when fermented and short-chain fatty acids that can help heal the gut. Pastured kefir, and yogurt are a couple of options.

Fermented Foods In addition to fermented dairy products, fermented vegetables are some of the healthiest probiotic foods. They contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH and probiotics to support the gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi and kvass are excellent sources.

Coconut Products  All coconut products are especially good for your gut. The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut are thought to be easier to digest than other fats so they work well for maintaining digestive health. Also, coconut kefir contains healthy microbes that support your digestive system.

Sprouted Seeds  Chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds that have been sprouted are great sources of fibre that can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria. If you have severe leaky gut, you may need to start out getting your fibre from steamed vegetables and fruit.

Healthy Fats  Consuming healthy fats in moderation like egg yolks, avocados, ghee and coconut oil is easy on the gut and promotes nutrient absorption.

Omega-3 Fats Certain protein foods also contain healthy omega-3 fats, such as grass-fed beef, lamb and wild-caught fish like salmon.

Fruit  Consuming one to two servings of fruit daily is a good way to obtain vitamins and minerals. You can steam apples and pears to make homemade apple sauce or fruit sauce. Remember to keep fruit intake in moderation.


Copyright © Samantha Lluisé of Lotus Womens Health 2024


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