What Is Leaky Gut and Why Does it Matter? (2024)

“Leaky gut” has been a trendy term for quite some time now, but what is it really?

Also known as increased intestinal permeability,leaky gut occurs when undigested food, bacteria, or pathogens are able to pass through your normallyselectivelypermeable intestinal wall and on into your bloodstream. As you probably know, your digestive system’s main function is to break down and absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. This is obviously very important, but is not the only job this system has. In fact, the digestive system is also involved in protecting your body from potentially harmful foreign invaders by keeping the junctions of the intestinal lining small and tight. When they’re functioning properly, they allow water, vitamins, and minerals to pass through for transport to organs all the while keeping other unwanted particles blocked. When these junctions become loose or “leaky,” pathogens and undigested food are more easily able to pass into the bloodstream which often leads to increased inflammation and can trigger a response from the immune system.

What causes leaky gut?

There are many factors that researchers currently believe potentially contribute to the development of this condition, although the exact cause of leaky gut is unknown. Some possibilities include:

  • An imbalance between the beneficial and harmful bacteriain the gut microbiome can disrupt proper function and increase your risk for developing leaky gut. This can also increase your risk for a yeast or bacterial imbalance.
  • Long term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),like Ibuprofen, has been shown to increase the likelihood of leaky gut.
  • Nutrient deficienciesincluding zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin A are commonly found in individuals with increased intestinal permeability. Although it is not clear whether it is a cause or an outcome, each of these nutrients is essential for maintaining intestinal health.
  • Chronic stressaffects the whole body including the digestive system. It increases your risk for developing many digestive disorders including Irritable Bowel Disease, leaky gut, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).
  • Excessive intake of highly processed foodsincluding sugar and poor quality fats can damage and weaken the intestinal lining, leading to increased intestinal permeability.
  • For some sensitive individuals,potential dietary triggersincluding gluten, dairy, and improperly prepared grains can increase intestinal permeability.

Great, so now that you know what leaky gut is, how do you know whether you might be experiencing it?

Common symptoms of leaky gut can vary from person to person but often include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, brain fog, or fatigue.

Although this can all sound a bit overwhelming, increased intestinal permeability is not something you need to be stuck with for the rest of your life. With a little support through food and supplement choices you can strengthen your intestinal lining and improve your digestive health.

Choose Foods That Nourish

  • Choosingfibrous foods is a great first step in supporting a healthy digestive system. Soluble fiber has been shown to feed and support the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Fibrous rich foods include cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts and cabbage, beets, leafy greens, potatoes, squash, apples, berries, and pears.
  • Consumingsprouted raw nuts or seeds including chia seeds, ground flax seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds provides your body with healthy sources of essential fats that strengthen the cell lining. Soaking and sprouting nuts or seeds makes the digestion and breakdown of these foods easier.
  • Includingfermented and cultured foods provides your digestive system with a source of beneficial bacteria to help restore microbial balance including kefir, kombucha, plain yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

Foods to Limit

Some foods can increase inflammation in the body for some people and lead to an imbalance of important gut bacteria. These potential triggers may include:

  • Highly processed foods including baked goods, crackers, fast foods, sugary cereals, soda, refined oils, and packaged foods
  • Poorly sourced gluten containing foods
  • Conventional dairy products

Potential Supplements

Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that are indigestible for humans, yet important in that they feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve the integrity of the gut lining, two important outcomes when addressing leaky gut.

Probiotic supplements are a great source of beneficial bacteria that can help to restore balance in your gut microbiome. There are many different types and strains of probiotics, so check out our blog postherefor more information on what might be the best option for your individual needs.

L-Glutamine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the human body, and is essential to maintaining the integrity and normal functioning of the intestinal lining. Supplementation with this superstar nutrient has been shown to decrease inflammation, reduce permeability, and increase cell proliferation within the digestive tract.

Does this all sound familiar? Check out ourDigestive Rescue and Repair Essential Curationdesigned specifically for soothing the digestive system and supporting healthy digestion or take this a step further with individualized nutrition, lifestyle and supplement guidance from one of our experienced practitioners?

Emily Alexander, M.Ed, FNTP—Emily is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with Curated Wellness. She is passionate about supporting others in their journey to improve their relationship with food and their body through gentle nutrition, and is a firm believer that understanding the bio-individual components of nutrition is one of the best ways to do so. Emily completed her Master’s of education in health education and promotion with a concentration in eating disorders, and draws from both her educational background and life experience to help her clients improve their energy, understand their bodies, boost their athletic potential, and break down diet myths one at a time. Read more about Emily.

The information presented on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Statements within this site have not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any specific condition or disease, nor is it medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical expertise. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health conditions or concerns. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle change or new health program. Curated Wellness does not take responsibility for any health consequences of any person or persons following the information in this educational content.

  1. Bischoff, S. C., Barbara, G., Buurman, W., Ockhuizen, T., Schulzke, J. D., Serino, M., Tilg, H., Watson, A., & Wells, J. M. (2014). Intestinal permeability--a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC gastroenterology, 14, 189. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7
  2. Skrovanek, S., DiGuilio, K., Bailey, R., Huntington, W., Urbas, R., Mayilvaganan, B., Mercogliano, G., & Mullin, J. M. (2014). Zinc and gastrointestinal disease. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology, 5(4), 496–513. https://doi.org/10.4291/wjgp.v5.i4.496
  3. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of physiology and pharmacology : an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 62(6), 591–599.
  4. Holscher H. D. (2017). Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut microbes, 8(2), 172–184.https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756
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What Is Leaky Gut and Why Does it Matter? (2024)
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