Symptoms of Leaky Gut - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC

Symptoms of
Leaky Gut

Written by Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC

Medically reviewed by Noora Alakulppi

Support gut health to improve symptoms of leaky gut

Leaky gut can cause a wide variety of symptoms, both in the digestive system and in the rest of the body. But to improve the symptoms of leaky gut, it’s not necessary to try to address all those symptoms individually. Because leaky gut syndrome is more of a side effect of a gut imbalance, working to improve your overall gut health will improve your leaky gut symptoms.

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut, also called “intestinal permeability” or “gut hyperpermeability”, is when the tight junctions between the cells that line your small intestine loosen.

Most of your nutrition is absorbed through the cells of your small intestine. Natural digestive enzymes help prepare the food you eat to be absorbed in the digestive system. But inflammation of the gut lining and gastrointestinal tract from poor diet, [1] stress, [2] NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin, [3, 4, 5] alcohol, [6] or other causes can cause larger gaps to develop. These irritants increase a protein called zonulin, which causes gaps in the intestinal lining to open up.

Undigested food particles, bacteria, or other irritants can then “leak” through the gaps in your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream. This can cause an unwelcome immune response. These food particles and bacteria are thought to contribute to the wide variety of leaky gut symptoms.

Symptoms of Leaky Gut

Because leaky gut is often caused by digestive issues, the most common are gut symptoms. These include:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Heartburn or reflux
  • Symptoms from digestive disorders like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

Many of these symptoms and digestive disorders are associated with an overgrowth of bacteria or other microorganisms, and the gut inflammation that they cause. This irritation of the gut lining can be a main cause of leaky gut symptoms.

However, because leaky gut allows unwelcome undigested food particles and bacterial fragments to enter your bloodstream, symptoms can also occur elsewhere in the body as your immune system tries to get rid of these intruders. As the immune system responds, it releases compounds called inflammatory cytokines, which create inflammation. Depending on where in your body this battle is happening, it can lead to a variety of inflammatory symptoms.

Here are some of the non-gut symptoms that are associated with leaky gut:

Body System Leaky Gut Symptoms Research
Brain/Neurological Brain fog 7
Joints Joint pain 8, 9, 10
Energy Production Fatigue (especially after meals), Chronic Fatigue 11, 12, 13
Immune System Food sensitivities or food allergies 14, 15, 16
Digestive Food cravings, especially for carbs 17
Brain/Neurological Mood symptoms like anxiety and depression 18, 19, 20
Skin Skin irritation or lesions, like acne or rashes 21, 22, 23, 24
Blood Nutritional deficiencies, like anemia 25, 26
Become a Patient

Improve your gut health
Beat brain fog and fatigue
Balance your thyroid hormones

The Link Between Leaky Gut and Diseases

Many digestive and autoimmune disorders are associated with a leaky gut, but it is not yet clear whether leaky gut causes all autoimmune disease, as some claim.

Symptoms of a general digestive disorder—like irritable bowel syndrome, for example—are also symptoms of leaky gut.

There is clear evidence linking celiac disease and Crohn’s disease with increased intestinal permeability. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, there is a very immediate and clear increase in leaky gut along with digestive symptoms. [27] Likewise, when a Crohn’s disease patient is having a flare, their intestinal permeability clearly increases, and appears to decrease as their symptom flare resolves. [28]

There is suggestive evidence linking other forms of inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ankylosing spondylitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome with intestinal permeability. [29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36]

In fact, it’s been suggested that intestinal permeability may be associated with the onset of Type 1 diabetes [37], and that even the arterial inflammation of cardiovascular disease may be caused by leaky gut. [38] Research is still in the early phases, and it is difficult at this stage to make generalizations.

Some in the alternative medical community claim that all autoimmune disease is caused by leaky gut. The research data do not yet support this claim. At this time, it’s not clear whether autoimmune disease is preceded by leaky gut, or if leaky gut is a consequence of the disease. There is an association, but not clear causation.

In any event, if you have a digestive or autoimmune health condition, improving your gut health will likely improve your intestinal permeability and symptoms of leaky gut as well.

Leaky Gut Causes and Risk Factors

A few key risk factors increase your likelihood of having a leaky gut. Research does indicate that the following factors increase your risk of having a leaky gut.

Risk Factor Research
Poor diet high in sugar, carbs, or processed foods. A diet with gluten may increase your risk, especially if you are celiac or have Crohn’s disease 39, 40
Chronic stress 41,42
Frequent use of NSAIDs or alcohol 43,44,45
Lack of quality sleep 46
Over-exercising or overtraining 47
Gut infections, like SIBO or dysbiosis 48,49,50,51

How to Improve Symptoms of Leaky Gut

Even though leaky gut isn’t a recognized diagnosis, anything you do to improve digestive symptoms will indirectly improve symptoms of leaky gut.

There are three main categories of supports:

  1. Diet Changes
  2. Habit Changes
  3. Key Supplements

Diet Changes

With any gut health problem, improving your diet is one of the most important steps. This is because if you continue to eat things you have a food intolerance to, you continue to create gut inflammation and irritation. I like to use this example: If your skin reacts to a deodorant you’re using, you wouldn’t go get a prescription for cortisone cream. You would find a different brand that didn’t cause a reaction!

Three diets that show promise for helping heal a leaky gut are the low FODMAP diet, the Paleo diet, and a gluten-free diet, but no single diet is right for everyone. It’s important to find an anti-inflammatory diet template that works for your body.

Working with a nutritionist or health coach may help you find the right diet plan faster.

Habit Changes

Many people get wooed with fancy supplement protocols and special diets, but some simple changes to your behavior can significantly improve leaky gut. You don’t need to necessarily do ALL these things to experience a benefit. Chances are there are one or two of these options that you know are most out of balance.

Yes, many people have tried probiotics and seen only minimal improvement. This is because:

  • Reduce stress, however best works for you
  • Get regular, moderate exercise
  • Get enough sleep, ideally 7-9 hours per night
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Use alternatives to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

Supplements to Heal Leaky Gut

There are lots of leaky gut supplements that benefit the intestinal barrier function and gut health. The top three I encourage you to start with are probiotics, l-glutamine, and vitamin D.

Supplement Benefit
Prebiotics Good gut flora that encourages a healthy gut microbiome, which helps maintain a healthy intestinal barrier. [52, 53, 54, 55]
L-Glutamine Amino acid that has a significant body of research showing its restorative properties for the gut lining, especially during stress. [56, 57]
Vitamin D Helps maintain immune system balance in the gut and prevent gut health problems. I recommend safe sun exposure for increasing your vitamin D levels.

Conclusion

Leaky gut can cause symptoms both in the digestive tract and beyond. But this doesn’t mean that improving symptoms of leaky gut is difficult.

It’s not necessary to try to work separately on all the symptoms of leaky gut. Rather, a general approach to improve overall gut health, by focusing on eating an anti-inflammatory diet, adopting good self-care habits, and using a few key support supplements should improve your leaky gut symptoms.

References(click to expand)
  1. J Nutr Biochem. 2009 Sep;20(9):657-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2009.05.006.
  2. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9.
  3. World J Gastroenterol.2017 Jun 14;23(22):3954-3963. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v23.i22.3954.
  4. Gastroenterology.1993 Jun;104(6):1832-47.
  5. Am J Pathol. 2006 Apr;168(4):1148-54.
  6. PLoS One.011;6(12):e28330. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028330. Epub 2011 Dec 2.
  7. Baillieres Clin Rheumatol.1989 Aug;3(2):271-84.
  8. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Dec 17;17(12). pii: E2126. doi: 10.3390/ijms17122126.
  9. Lancet. 1984 Nov 24;2(8413):1171-4.
  10. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Dec;29(6):902-10.
  11. Neuro Endocrinol Lett.2007 Dec;28(6):739-44.
  12. Dig Liver Dis. 2006 Oct;38(10):732-6. Epub 2006 Jul 31.
  13. West Indian Med J. 1994 Sep;43(3):87-8.
  14. J Allergy Clin Immunol.2009 Jul;124(1):3-20; quiz 21-2. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2009.05.038.
  15. Nutrients.2019 Jul 20;11(7). pii: E1662. doi: 10.3390/nu11071662.
  16. Nutr J. 2019 Aug 31;18(1):50. doi: 10.1186/s12937-019-0475-x.
  17. J Affect Disord.2012 Dec 1;141(1):55-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.02.023. Epub 2012 Mar 11.
  18. Neuro Endocrinol Lett.2008 Feb;29(1):117-24.
  19. Benef Microbes. 2014 Jun 1;5(2):185-99. doi: 10.3920/BM2012.0060.
  20. Lancet. 1981 Jun 13;1(8233):1285-6.
  21. J Invest Dermatol. 1986 Feb;86(2):101-4.
  22. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2005 Apr;3(4):335-41.
  23. Eur Ann Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007 Jan;39(1):20-2.
  24. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1992 Jan;14(1):17-20.
  25. Tissue Barriers. 2016 Oct 21;4(4):e1251384. doi: 10.1080/21688370.2016.1251384. eCollection 2016.
  26. Mediators Inflamm. 2015;2015:628157. doi: 10.1155/2015/628157. Epub 2015 Oct 25.
  27. Mediators Inflamm. 2015;2015:628157. doi: 10.1155/2015/628157. Epub 2015 Oct 25.
  28. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Dec 17;17(12). pii: E2126. doi: 10.3390/ijms17122126.
  29. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 29;106(39):16799-804. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0906773106. Epub 2009 Sep 15.
  30. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(40):6058-6075.
  31. Lancet. 1984 Nov 24;2(8413):1171-4.
  32. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008 Aug;47(8):1223-7. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ken140. Epub 2008 Jun 7.
  33. Tissue Barriers.2016 Oct 21;4(4):e1251384. doi: 10.1080/21688370.2016.1251384. eCollection 2016.
  34. J Clin Res Pediatr Endocrinol.2020 Jan 28. doi: 10.4274/jcrpe.galenos.2020.2019.0186. [Epub ahead of print]
  35. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2006 Apr;41(4):408-19.
  36. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(40):6058-6075.
  37. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2020 Jan 2. doi: 10.1111/1440-1681.13250. [Epub ahead of print]
  38. Nutr Rev. 2017 Dec 1;75(12):1046-1058. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nux054.
  39. PLoS One. 2019 Feb 20;14(2):e0211436. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211436. eCollection 2019.
  40. Gut. 2014 Aug;63(8):1293-9. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2013-305690. Epub 2013 Oct 23.
  41. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2017 Aug;46(3):246-265. doi: 10.1111/apt.14157. Epub 2017 Jun 7.
  42. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2017 Aug;46(3):246-265. doi: 10.1111/apt.14157. Epub 2017 Jun 7.
  43. World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Jun 14;23(22):3954-3963. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v23.i22.3954.
  44. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol.2005 Jan;3(1):55-9.
  45. Gastroenterology. 1993 Jun;104(6):1832-47.
  46. Gastroenterol Clin North Am.2017 Dec;46(4):881-893. doi: 10.1016/j.gtc.2017.08.014.
  47. Aliment Pharmacol Ther.2017 Aug;46(3):246-265. doi: 10.1111/apt.14157. Epub 2017 Jun 7.
  48. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes.2020 Feb;27(1):28-35. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000523.
  49. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 29;106(39):16799-804. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0906773106. Epub 2009 Sep 15.
  50. Gastroenterology.2002 Nov;123(5):1607-15.
  51. Ann Rheum Dis.2017 Jun;76(6):1123-1132. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2016-210000. Epub 2017 Jan 9.
  52. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Sep 20;9(1):45. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-45.
  53. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Sep 20;9(1):45. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-45.
  54. BMC Gastroenterol.2009 Feb 16;9:15. doi: 10.1186/1471-230X-9-15.
  55. Eur J Pediatr.2013 Oct;172(10):1321-6. doi: 10.1007/s00431-013-2041-4. Epub 2013 May 24.
  56. Microorganisms. 2018 Apr 25;6(2). pii: E35. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms6020035.
  57. Br J Surg. 1996 Mar;83(3):305-12.
  58. J Epithel Biol Pharmacol. 2012 Jan;5(Suppl 1-M7):47-54.

Transform your health

Work with our qualified team and start feeling better today.

Become a Patient

Improving your gut health naturally requires considering a variety of lifestyle factors. These include diet and nutrition, the amount of sleep you are getting on a consistent basis, the status of relationships in your life (with friends, family, and community), exercise, stress, mental health, and many other key elements.

Beyond diet and lifestyle factors, there are many natural treatments that can help to support a healthy gut. The key is knowing where to start, and how and when to use these treatments.

Dr. Ruscio and his team will listen to your concerns and create a customized plan that is proven and effective to help restore your gut health naturally.

On the surface, gut health refers to the health of your digestive system, including the balance of bacteria living in your gut microbiome, the integrity of your intestinal lining, the presence of inflammation, and more.

But gut health also plays a crucial role in your overall health. Research points to several important connections between the gut and virtually all other organs and systems, from the brain to the heart to the thyroid to the immune system. That’s why an imbalance, infection, or other issues in your gut can (and often do) lead to seemingly unrelated symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, anxiety, hypothyroidism, and more.

Focusing on your gut health can help you to resolve these and other symptoms naturally, and get you back to living your healthiest, happiest life. At the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, our experienced gut doctors can help you start feeling better. Speak with a gut health specialist today.

At the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, we focus on minimally invasive, scientifically validated, predominantly natural solutions for gut health. We improve your gut health through diet and lifestyle changes and other natural treatments, all introduced at the right time, and personalized to you.

Our recommendations come from a combination of real-life experiences with patients and a dedication to scientific research. Our holistic gut health doctors and care team look beyond symptoms and treat the root cause so you can restore your gut health and feel better, faster. Get competent care today.

We’ve found that a surprising number of symptoms and problems resolve when the gut is healed. This includes symptoms of brain fog, anxiety, food digestive issues, female hormone imbalances, and many more uncomfortable symptoms patients report experiencing. Research shows that your gut has the power to influence your cognitive function, mood, energy levels, heart health, thyroid function, hormonal balance, and more. In other words, having a healthy gut means you can have a healthy life.

There are many simple steps you can take to improve your gut health, including determining your ideal diet, reducing stress levels, optimizing sleep, and supporting your microbiome with tools like probiotics or antimicrobials as needed.

Although these steps are not necessarily complicated, getting your gut health where you want it to be on your own can be a challenge. Our team of gut health experts can support you in figuring out exactly what needs to be done to improve your symptoms. Our patients typically experience the following:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Clearer thinking
  • Balanced hormones
  • Reduced digestive symptoms

The best doctor to see for improving gut health is one who takes a whole-person, holistic approach to addressing your concerns and improving your health. Our team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine has spent years interviewing experts, analyzing scientific data, and organizing the most effective treatments that consistently help our patients. Ready to see a doctor for gut health? Work with our qualified team today.

In order to truly heal your gut and improve your symptoms, it’s important to work with a doctor who looks beyond just your lab results, and identifies practical solutions for you, specifically.

The team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine are motivated and determined to help you feel better and get your gut to a healthy state. Focusing on simple, cost-effective, minimally invasive strategies first, we take pride in being able to treat even the most challenging cases by looking at the big picture, finding areas or treatments that may have been overlooked, and helping you implement them.

Our goal is to provide you with the tools you need to maintain your health and get back to the life you enjoy.