Is your gut leaky? 10 signs you might have it

Have you ever wondered what a leaky gut is? And if you might have it? We look at what leads to a leaky gut and how you can heal from it.


What is a leaky gut?

There is one layer of epithelial cells that sit at the edge of our bowel, working as a barrier between the digestive lumen and our blood. These cells are supposed to be very close to one another. They use tight junctions to achieve this. However, in the vast majority of people nowadays, these cells start to separate and form little spaces between them. This means that undigested foods and proteins, toxins, harmful ingested bacteria and allergens can leach back into our blood circulation when they are meant to be eliminated through our stool. We call this condition a 'leaky gut', or more scientifically intestinal permeability.

When undigested proteins, toxins and pathogenic organisms enter our blood, our immune system sees them as enemies and starts fighting them by secreting antibodies towards them. When this becomes chronic these antibodies and inflammation lead to autoimmune diseases and allergies or food sensitivities. You are most likely to be suffering from more symptoms (gut and non-gut related) when your gut is leaky.

What leads to a leaky gut?

A leaky gut doesn’t happen from one day to another. Usually, a combination of chronic factors leads to the lining of our gut opening up and being permeable:

  • excessive (or in some cases single) use of antibiotics and other medications (including PPIs, and OCP)
  • environmental toxins or toxin overload (pesticides, heavy metals, plastics and so on)
  • poor diet (sugar, refined carbohydrates, industrial oils, processed foods)
  • proteins found in gluten (like gliadin)
  • alcohol
  • nicotine
  • unfiltered water
  • chronic stress
  • gut dysbiosis (imbalance between pathogenic bacteria and probiotics)

Is there a way to know if I have a leaky gut?

First of all, we go through all the possible signs and symptoms of a leaky gut. Secondly, we can test using comprehensive lab analyses (blood or stool). The most common symptoms of intestinal permeability are:

  1. gut-related symptoms like bloating and change in bowel movements
  2. food allergies and sensitives
  3. atopic conditions (eczema, asthma, allergies, hayfever)
  4. skin conditions such as acne, hives/rashes
  5. chronic fatigue
  6. joint pain
  7. headaches and brain fog
  8. nutritional deficiencies; weight gain
  9. hormonal issues
  10. mood swings

Can you heal a leaky gut?

A leaky gut can certainly be healed, as long as we identify and remove or limit the triggers. A functional medicine or nutritional therapist that specialises in gut health is the right person to work with. After the root causes have been removed, replacing and rebuilding a healthy gut flora is key to sustaining a healthy, impermeable gut lining.

Stage one: Removing

An unhealthy diet is behind almost any case of leaky gut. A personalised elimination diet that limits or eliminates inflammatory foods (refined sugar, conventional dairy, wheat, in some cases gluten, processed soy, modified corn, alcohol, and excessive caffeine) is key to fixing the gut. At the same time, we want to make the diet more varied, by adding lots of new foods.

Eliminating toxins, such as unnecessary or excessive medication use (ΝSAIDs), antacids, and antibiotics. We will look to whether you really need the medications, and what are the alternatives- always working in cooperation with your doctor!

We will also discuss alternatives for environmental toxins coming from foods, cosmetics, water, plastics, contraception, alcohol, and nicotine. Reducing your overall toxic load is key, and is much easier than it seems.

Removing excessive stress is of equal importance. A functional medicine practitioner will help you achieve your goals.

Stage two: Repair

It’s now time to replenish and rebuild the gut. The best way to do this is by incorporating in your diet (and supplement regime) plenty of gut-nourishing foods that feed the microbiome. Some examples are:

  • Fibre. Aim for at least 25 grams of fibre daily from your organic vegetables, legumes, fruit, bran, skin, and chia seeds. Your practitioner will give you extra easy-to-digest fibre if needed.
  • Lots of different, colourful veggies. Eat your rainbow daily! Practice incorporating blue, purple, white, yellow, orange, red, and green vegetables on a daily basis! Aim to fill your plate three-fourths full with non-starchy veggies for every meal. Try to eat organic whenever possible, or follow the EWG’s Clean Fifteen or Dirty Dozen produce list. Or wash non-organic produce in a little soda or vinegar for 20 minutes. When you work with me you get lots of creative ideas on how to easily incorporate more vegetables in your diet (even for kids and fussy eaters).
  • Prebiotics. Prebiotics are fuel/food for probiotic bacteria. They include but are not limited to Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, plantain, rye, dandelion greens, jicama, chicory root, and asparagus.
  • Probiotic foods. These include unpasteurised sauerkraut, kefir, olives in brine, capers, traditional yoghurt (ideally goat/sheep), kimchi, pickles and fermented vegetables, tamari, natto, miso, beet kvass, organic cottage cheese.
  • Resistant starch. These include beans, legumes, cooked and cooled potatoes and grains (oat, rice, bread..), plantain/ green bananas,
  • Bone broth. Include grass-fed bone broth for a gut-healing boost. If you don't have the time to make it, we have lots of alternatives! A vegetarian/vegan alternative is cabbage juice.
  • Grass-fed liver, once per week. You don't like it? No problem. We have lots of alternatives and recipes to hide it.
  • Supplements. You will get a personalised supplement regimen with key nutrients that promote gut integrity and health  (like zinc carnosine, quercetin, fish, oils, vitamin A, turmeric, probiotics, soothing herbs, glutamine and so on depending on your individual case). 

Over 1,500 years ago, Hippocrates said that “all diseases begin in the gut.” He was very ahead of his time and certainly right, as research shows today. Unfortunately, we live in the worst era for gut health. Our gut is being constantly attacked. However, we have more information and resources than we ever had. A leaky gut can be fully repaired in a period of six months. You will most likely start feeling the positive shifts in the first week of your healing journey. A healthy gut is essential for a healthy and happy life. Our mood, energy, concentration, sleep and immunity all strongly depend on the gut. Wishing you health and happiness.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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