What is a “Leaky Gut”?

By Dr. Joan Haynes, ND

“Leaky gut” is also known as “increased intestinal permeability”.  Our intestinal tract is a semipermeable membrane, allowing very small molecules through in order to absorb nutrients.  Inflammation causes more permeability in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and incompletely digested food particles, toxins, and waste get through into the blood stream.  The immune system then has the task of dealing with those invaders and can result in a variety of symptoms.

leaky gut

Causes of Leaky Gut:

  1. Stress and age
  2. Infection or imbalance of the microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract
  3. Irritation from chronic constipation
  4. Overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like asprin and ibuprophen (Advil)
  5. Food intolerances, particularly gluten
  6. Pro-inflammatory foods such as alcohol, sugar, and highly processed foods

Symptoms of Leaky Gut:

  1. Digestive issues that might be labeled as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) such as gas, bloating, discomfort, diarrhea.
  2. Seasonal allergies, chronic sinus congestion, asthma
  3. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, etc
  4. Chronic fatigue syndrome
  5. Chronic achiness, arthritis, fibromyalgia
  6. Chronic headaches
  7. Mood issues such as depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD, mental fogginess
  8. Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis
  9. Food sensitivities and intolerances
  10. Difficulty losing weight

Possible Testing for Leaky Gut:

There is no definitive testing, so often we are using clinic symptoms and history to help diagnosis. Sometimes though we need more information and one or more of these labs can be useful:

  1. Food sensitivity testing can be useful – if more than a couple of foods show up positive on an IgG blood test, leaky gut is strongly suspected.
  2. Stool testing for gastrointestinal infections.
  3. Lactulose and mannitol test. The patient drinks a premeasured amount of these non-metabolized sugars and the degree of permeability is reflected in the levels of the sugars recovered in a urine sample collected over the next 6 hours.

How to Heal a Leaky Gut:

  1. Diet – sometimes a general anti-inflammatory diet is enough, but other times people need to identify and remove specific food intolerances using a formal elimination-rechallenge program or food sensitivity testing through a blood test. See Are Foods Causing Your Symptoms.
  2. Sometimes using digestive enzymes or hydrochloric acid (to be used cautiously) can help breakdown foods into smaller particles.
  3. The amino acid L-glutamine is useful to heal the gut which is often given with other herbs and nutrients. At BNH we often use a Metagenics product called is UltraInflammX, a medical food shake high in glutamine, easy to assimilate protein, carbs and healthy fat, along with nutrients and anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, ginger and rosemary.
  4. Bone broths and green vegetable drinks are useful for easy nutrient assimilation.
  5. Probiotics and fermented foods.
  6. Stress reduction if needed. See What is Adrenal Fatigue.