Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
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
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,  stress,  NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin, [3, 4, 5] alcohol,  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
The immune response
that results from leaky gut can lead to
a wide variety of digestive and non-digestive symptoms.
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,
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
Here are some of the non-gut symptoms that are associated
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.  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. 
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 , and that even the arterial inflammation of cardiovascular disease may be caused by leaky gut.  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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
Good gut flora that encourages a healthy gut microbiome, which helps maintain a healthy intestinal barrier. [52, 53, 54, 55]
I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!
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Every product is science-based, validated by real-world use, and personally vetted by Dr. Ruscio, DC.