Dr. Doni explains how leaky gut is extensively researched yet under-diagnosed—and could be the underlying cause of any number of chronic health problems.
Considering that chronic diseases such as diabetes, autoimmunity, and liver failure, as well as common symptoms, like eczema, anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, and muscle/joint pain, can all be caused by leaky gut syndrome (otherwise known as LGS or intestinal permeability), it is imperative that you determine whether it may be occurring in your body.
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Leaky gut is not well recognized by most practitioners, and is not found with the usual tests, not even with an endoscopy or colonoscopy. Still, there are close to 11,000 research studies about intestinal permeability from the past sixty years that clearly indicate that this is real health issue, including 35 studies released in just the past month.
For many, identifying leaky gut can be life changing because it is a condition that can be addressed with diet changes, nutrients, herbs, enzymes, and probiotics that help the intestinal lining to heal. In a medical system where people often find themselves reliant on medications, it is empowering to discover that there are natural solutions to address not only leaky gut, but challenging health concerns throughout their body.
5 Reasons to Think You Might Have Leaky Gut
I want to help you to know whether leaky gut could be an issue for you, so I’ve sorted through the research and pulled out five reasons to think that you might have leaky gut.
Tired, Achy, Bloated, and/or Anxious
While leaky gut can cause digestive troubles such as IBS, diarrhea, bloating, heartburn and stomach pain, it is quite possible that you won’t experience any digestive distress at all. Instead, it is more more common to feel worn out, in pain (anywhere in your body), and/or full of worry. That’s because when the gut is leaky, it is like having tiny holes in your intestinal lining. Undigested food travels through these holes and into the underlying space where it triggers the immune system to try and protect you by launching an attack on the pieces of food that shouldn’t be there.
This process results in the release of many inflammatory messengers (cytokines and antibodies) that lead to fatigue (even chronic fatigue syndrome), achiness (such as migraines, fibromyalgia and arthritis), allergies (on the skin like eczema, and in the sinuses and lungs, like asthma), and anxiety (which is known to be caused by inflammation in the nervous system), amongst other issues (see below).
Leaky gut also stresses the adrenal glands, making adrenal burnout more likely. It disrupts other hormones in the body as well, leading to PMS, menstrual irregularities, and breast and uterine issues.
Over or under weight, as well as high or low cholesterol, and blood sugar issues
That’s right, leaky gut can cause you to gain weight—for a few possible reasons. It is well cited in recent research that leaky gut increases the likelihood of insulin resistance (when insulin is not able to move sugar into your cells and leaves you with elevated blood sugar levels) and diabetes.
This occurs especially in combination with an imbalance in the healthy bacteria that should be living in our intestines. It appears that having too few healthy bacteria, along with permeability in the intestinal lining—and the inflammation that results—makes it more likely that your carbohydrate metabolism will be overwhelmed due to decreased insulin function, leading to weight gain. Any time carbohydrates are not able to make it into your cells (due to low insulin function), the body puts the excess carbs/sugar into storage as fat in your liver (which can lead to liver failure) or as cholesterol in your blood instead. I’ll be covering this subject in more detail next week, but for now you can read more about it here.
At the same time, an increasing number of fat cells release more of a hormone called leptin, which can lead to a disruption in the signals that you make you feel hungry and full. Before long, it can cause you to feel hungry even when you just ate, leading you to consume more calories than your body can possibly use.
For others, leaky gut results in difficulty gaining weight. That often occurs when there are digestive issues such as nausea, heartburn, and/or diarrhea that lead to a struggle to find foods you can consume without feeling worse. It also occurs because nutrients are not well absorbed when the gut is leaky. It is the job of the cells lining the intestine to digest and absorb nutrients. When these cells are damaged, they are not able to complete this function and nutrient depletion results. For more about how leaky gut is related to weight gain, see Part 7 of my series on Leaky Gut.
If you have been diagnosed with any type of autoimmunity, that is a reason to think that you have may leaky gut. Research has confirmed that leaky gut is involved in the development of autoimmunity. The current theory is that when the spaces between the intestinal cells (called tight junctions) are open—which is the case with leaky gut—then the immune system begins to react to substances that it usually would not attack, including food and healthy cells.
In the case of celiac disease, the immune system begins attacking an enzyme that helps to repair the tight junctions. Other types of autoimmune conditions could result instead, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, MS, and/or rheumatoid arthritis. Genetic research is helping us understand that, while the type of autoimmune condition that develops is genetically determined, it is leaky gut that gets the process started. For more about how leaky gut is related to autoimmune diseases, see Part 9 of my series on Leaky Gut.
Use of antacids, anti-inflammatory drugs and/or antibiotics
Sometimes they are necessary, for a period of time, but overuse or extended use of antacids (for reflux or heartburn), anti-inflammatory drugs (for pain) and/or antibiotics (for infections) is known to cause leaky gut.
Antacids cause leaky gut by suppressing digestion of your food, making it more likely that your immune system will be triggered by the food you eat. Once the immune system starts to react, leaky gut is aggravated each time you eat, even if it is a food that you would think is good for you. The best way to get ahead is to figure out which foods are making things worse, so you can avoid them. How? Start by doing an IgG and IgA food sensitivity panel before you even begin treating the leaky gut itself. Gluten, found in bread, pasta, and pastries, is known to cause leaky gut, and so even if you don’t yet have a food sensitivity panel, you can start by eliminating gluten from your diet.
Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS, Aleve, Advil, and Motrin) directly inflame the intestinal lining which also causes leaky gut. Antibiotics destroy the balance of healthy bacteria, which itself causes leaky gut, but also predispose you to the overgrowth of candida/yeast and unhealthy bacteria, that also lead to leaky gut. Healthy bacteria are important for making nutrients and processing toxins, but in their absence nutrient deficiency and toxicity results, making it more difficult for your colon and liver to stay healthy. Read more about the importance of healthy bacteria here.
All of this leads to a vicious cycle. The more you take these medications, the more leaky gut increases and the more pain, infections, and digestive upset you experience. It can seem like the only solution is to take medication. The real solution is to heal the leaky gut, decrease the pain and inflammation, and help your body fight off infections naturally—preventing the need for the medications that create the vicious cycle.
Stress, in all its forms, has been shown to cause leaky gut. Stress also disrupts the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, which further promotes leaky gut. Toxins in our food, water and environment (such as from pesticides in food, carpets in your home and exhaust fumes on the highway) also put stress on our systems that results in leaky gut. Gluten, as mentioned above, causes leaky gut by increasing levels of a protein called zonulin, which opens up the spaces between the intestinal cells, even if you don’t have gluten sensitivity.
If you have been emotionally stressed on top of being exposed to gluten, pesticides, and/or heavy metals (in water and dental fillings), it is quite likely that you have at least some degree of leaky gut.
How to Find Out For Sure If You Have Leaky Gut
There are several tests that have been developed, and more on the way, that can tell you if you have some degree of leaky gut.
1. There is a urine test that involves first swallowing a carbohydrate that will only make it across your intestinal lining and into your blood and urine if your gut is leaky.
2. It is also possible to identify leaky gut by checking for IgG and IgA antibodies to food in a blood test – and this test is often preferable because it gives us two pieces of information:
- Whether or not there is leaky gut; and
- Which foods you can avoid to help heal the leaky gut (if it’s there).
You can order a food sensitivity test here and complete it at home.
3. A blood test that measures zonulin as well as a substance called actomyosin which is released when intestinal cells are damaged.
4. A breath test which, like the lactulose-mannitol test, involves first swallowing sugar mixed in water, and then breathing into tubes which will identify a gas (carbon dioxide) that is only produced if your gut is healthy.
I can help you with determining which test is best for you: please make an appointment! But if you want more information about how testing for leaky gut, please see Part 2 of my Leaky Gut series.
Note: Leaky gut cannot be found with an endoscopy or colonoscopy, and does not show on standard bloodwork, so it is missed by most practitioners.
What to Do Once You Know You Have Leaky Gut
Avoid the foods most likely to perpetuate leaky gut—gluten and your food sensitivities—while also decreasing your exposure to toxins, as well as to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Instead you’ll choose foods that help your body heal and maybe even add supplements* that have been shown to heal leaky gut.
The top three supplements to consider are pancreatic enzymes to support digestion of food, L-glutamine, an amino acid that is imperative to the health of your small intestinal cells, and a high quality probiotic*, to start optimizing your gut flora. You may find that you’d like to add in herbs such as slippery elm and marshmallow root, as well as quercetin and MSM, all of which have been shown to assist with healing leaky gut.
My book, The Stress Remedy, is a great resource that has a comprehensive plan for helping you heal leaky gut, including supplement recommendations and a diet plan.
You could also choose to start with The Stress Remedy Programs, which are designed to support the healing of leaky gut. When you are on The Stress Remedy Programs, you will avoid the foods most likely to perpetuate leaky gut—gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy—while also decreasing your exposure to toxins such as sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Instead you’ll choose foods that help your body heal and maybe even add supplements that have been shown to heal leaky gut.
Find out more about the leaky gut healing products here. You can also buy them in an all-in-one package here.
It takes time and consistency to heal leaky gut, especially if you have more than one of the five situations described in this article. Be patient, and if you feel overwhelmed, please reach out for support. It is possible to heal leaky gut – to see an article about one of my patients who worked diligently and is now celebrating health, click here.
In Summary, Leaky Gut Is the Root of Many Health Issues
Now that you are familiar with all the health issues associated with leaky gut, including common syndromes like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, and multiple food and chemical sensitivities, as well as asthma, anxiety, autoimmunity, diabetes, and arthritis, you can probably see why I have included it as one of the three problem networks that affect our health and wellbeing.
Once we understand these problem networks and the wide-ranging effects they can have on our health it means that, instead of feeling stuck by a diagnosis, you can actually take action that can help your body heal.
Because this is such an important issue, I devoted an entire series to Leaky Gut. I cover everything from how to test for it, how to treat it, and how it relates to other common conditions such as IBS, heartburn, depression, weight gain, acid reflux, and autoimmune diseases. You can find the entire series here:
Dr. Doni’s Series on Leaky Gut: http://bit.ly/Leaky-Gut-Series.
Please share your thoughts and questions below or on my social media pages. I love to hear from you and how this information benefits your health. And if you’d like to receive my weekly Wellness Wisdom newsletter, with more articles like this, feel free to sign up below.
12th August 2014
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
Hi Dr Doni
I’m from India, and facing increasing levels of idiopathic neuropathy, that I’m unable to cure.
Do you take appointments from India?
Yes, I am available for appointments via Skype or FaceTime! You can schedule via this page: https://doctordoni.com/appointment.
Hi! My name is Laura and I have been experiencing chronic pain every day for the past 8 months. Could I email you and ask you some questions about my stool test results? I already see an ND but am still confused about my diet plan
Yes, we can set up a consultation time for me to review your results and answer your questions. I’ll ask my assistant to reach out to you, or feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Dr. Doni,
My teenage son developed Tourette syndrome when he was eleven. He has forceful vocal and physical tics. His condition makes him look different from other kids and is often target of sarcastic remarks and ridicule.
He is taking klonopin, resperidone and Prozac, but of no help. We live in NJ.
I read your article and wanted to reach out to see if there was anything you could do. Have you ever treated a patient with similar issues?
Hello, yes, I have helped with similar issues, and yes, there is much we can do by determining which foods are best for his body (and which may be aggravating his system), as well as nutrients that can support his nervous system. Happy to help you.
Hi! I have recently in the past month been experiencing slight (not severe) vertigo and strange sensations in isolated spots on my legs (mainly my thighs) such as a cold sensation, a warming sensation, tingling, and a feeling of numbness but the spot is not really numb. I have had pretty bad anxiety for almost 2 years now and think I have had some anxiety my whole life (well most of it). I worry and stress over health issues and worry I am going to get some terrible disease. So these new symptoms are not helping with that! I have seen a neurologist and he has ordered an MRI which he thinks will come back normal but is doing it to rule out MS.
About 2 days before these symptoms started I had a colonoscopy (that came back normal). I do not eat as healthy as I should (but don’t eat terrible either) and have always been a sugar addict. I need some help and am not sure how to go about getting any help and who to ask. What should I do to feel better and get my life back on track?
I’d be happy to help. Please consider scheduling a comprehensive initial consultation with me so that I can meet with you about your case and provide specific support.
Hi, I know I have leaky gut issues that I’m in need of help healing, but my problems a lot more complex than just treating leaky gut. I have damaged nerves in my bowel so the only way I could actually have bowel movements was to do colonics everyday, but my doctor currently has me on a drug to help eliminate but even then it only works somewhat. There’s lactose in it. Also I was found to have the parsite diaentamoeba fragilis which is really hard to get rid of, and needs a lot of strong antibiotics (the herbal parasites just keep some of the symptoms down but they come right back up). I also know that psyllium is not supposed to be good for leaky gut, but it is the only fiber supplement that works enough with the drugs to help my bowels move. I have had chronic fatigue for the last 5/6 years, but the last few, it has been so bad I haven’t even been able to work. I also have been getting a lot of burning feeling in my back and in my kidneys. I also have fibromyalgia. I’m looking around for a doctor who really specializes a lot in leaky gut and testing for food allergies and different things and that can set up a plan with me but there’s so much history to this it would take hours to explain it thoroughly. I was wondering, how long are your consultations/expense. I’m really worried about seeing a doctor that I’m charged a lot to see but still being stuck in the same place I’ve been for so many years. I want someone that I can ask about the drug interactions, if it’s possible to heal leaky gut while having to take prucalopride and the psyllium. With the damaged nerves in my gut it’s necessary for me to take the prucalopride otherwise they will barely move at all, and I need the high fiber on top of that to get things moving. If I set up an appointment with you would you be able to go into al these factors?
Yes, I definitely go into all of those factors with patients and would want to help you get exactly the best support for you and your body. You can find all the fees and information about consultations with me here: https://doctordoni.com/together.
Hi Dr. Doni,
I am suffering from Leaky gut for few years. I was recognized it very lately. Due to this, my stomach and my skin some what damages by coming white scales also my blood is impurities and coming skin itching and food allergy. Your information is very good. And I appreciate your efforts in helping people. I consulted a few doctors even I taken endoscopy and colonoscopy, but doctors did not find out anything. So, if there are any particular products to cure this health issue permanently. If so, please mail me!!
Looking forward for your valuable suggestions!!
I’m so glad this information was helpful for you. Here is an article I wrote just recently all about healing leaky gut: https://doctordoni.com/2015/06/healing-leaky-gut.html.
If you would like additional support, please check out the consultation package I created to help in cases like yours: https://doctordoni.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Dr-Donis-Leaky-Gut-and-Digestive-Solutions-Package1.pdf.
My mother and I are sick with this nasty issue. We are taking a great product called Probioic 5 and had great results. The journey has just begun.
That’s great to know, thank you for sharing. You might find this article helpful as well: https://doctordoni.com/2015/06/healing-leaky-gut.html.
HI, I’ve have chronic cystic acne since I hit puberty and nothing helped. Five years ago I went on a low carb diet and my skin finally cleared up, for about a year and a half. Then I gained ten pounds in a week and my acne became worse and I steadily gained weight on the low carb diet. For the last five years I haven’t been able to get the weight off, except for a few weeks at a time, but each time I gain the weight back. In December of 2013 I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and finally lost a lil weight. Now I’m constipated and gaining it back. Exercise nor diet help, I;ve been on your suggested diet for five years. I too probiotics and the enzyme supplements. Each worked but only for a few weeks. I’m bloated, constipated, gaining weight, tired, mentally out of it. The worst part is the weight gain. I’m a bigger size three going to a four and feel so bad about having no control over my weight. I’m taking Humira, but it takes a while for my condition to go into remission.
Have you worked with a naturopathic doctor? I’m thinking that there are quite possibly some tests that would help us understand what is needed to support your digestion, and decrease the inflammation in your body overall. That is likely when you will find more stability with your weight. You might consider this package: https://doctordoni.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Dr-Donis-Leaky-Gut-and-Digestive-Solutions-Package1.pdf.
Hearing about leaky gut is all new to me. I have had many health issues recently. Also, was told by a holistic doctor that I was bleeding internally. His comment was just by looking at me and using the meridian stress test (a machine that puts a probe on finger tips to measure energy?). My stools have been darker than normal. Can leaky gut cause internal bleeding?
Rectal or intestinal bleeding can be from hemorrhoids, polyps, ulcers, or other intestinal inflammation. It is important to find out the cause. Yes, leaky gut often goes along with the cause of the bleeding. Leaky gut itself is more on a microscopic level and is not directly associated with bleeding.
I asked my doctor about this, and he just blows me off. I feel like something is wrong with me, & I bet it’s that. How can I make appointment to speak or come into an office about it? I want to be tested, I need to be sure, cause something’s just not right with me, thanks please respond back with information, thanks.
I’d be happy to help. You can reach my office at 855.316.2114 or if you’d like, you can schedule right through my website at DoctorDoni.com/schedule. You might also want to check out this consultation package as an option: https://doctordoni.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Dr-Donis-Leaky-Gut-and-Digestive-Solutions-Package1.pdf.
Can you tell me if the leaky gut is addressed and healed, will a person’s reactions to foods which were tested to have IgG and IgA reactions go away? Or, will a person who has antibodies to certain foods always have antibodies and always refrain from eating those foods?
For the most part, yes, as leaky gut heals the IgG and IgA reactions decrease, however also keep in mind that there are other variables and that in some cases the immune system will “remember” a food even when leaky gut is healed.
Greetings Dr. Doni …. !
I am from India, positive for Rheumatoid Arthritis from last 20 yrs. My RA flares up in summer and continue up to end of wet Monsoon. I am in remission during winter. Initially for one and half year I was on NSAID’s and there after stopped and tried to heal myself naturally by exercises only as I was unaware of Leaky gut and diet restrictions. It was recently that is a year back I learnt about Leaky gut and started following dietary chart that heals leaky gut from last 3 months aggressively. No sugar, Diary, Carbohydrate free vegetables, No egg or Non veg food, limited fruits, gluten free (I have 3-4 wheat rotis in a week). Now I don’t experience bloating or heart burn, feeling better but I still have joints pain, mild pain in all joints and severe pain in ankle that affects my routine. I am a CEO of an institution and job is quite stressful. Can I hope that in few years following the same diet, yoga, and exercise I can cure myself and get rid of RA. Any specific test for LGS…?
Thanks and Regards
I do think you will experience continued improvement with what you are doing. To see more progress, avoid gluten completely and add in supplements to speed the healing of leaky gut. Read more in this article about healing leaky gut: http://bit.ly/healing-leaky-gut.
Hi, about 3 yrs ago I took rounds of antibiotic with no probiotic and since then I have not been right. I had stinging on my face and was diagnosed with rosacea. It is mild but my skin has become super sensitive to light and its not just my face, it has become my arms, neck, upper back and scalp. The sensitivity levels come and go, but when I get into a flare mode, its very bad. I knew this wasn’t a result of the rosacea, I felt it was systemic. I saw a kinesiologist/nutritionist and she had me on silver, b6 and probiotic. After giving up every food for 13 months, my overall skin felt better, but I still wasn’t eating nuts, gluten or dairy. I questioned why I wasn’t on fatty acids or digestive enzymes. About a year ago I started with joint pain in one foot, then eventually my hands. I saw a podiatrist who confirmed Im slowly losing range of motion in my big toes on both feet and thinks its quite odd for a healthy girl to have this. I have been for many tests which all come up clean, except one positive ANA test. I’m waiting for a few more results to come back. I notice when i keep my diet really clean I feel great, when I cheat, my joints ache and skin suffers. I get acne and yeast type skin rashes on my body. I’m pretty definite I have candida with leaky gut and am motivated to get aggressive on the right diet and supplements this time. Get it before this thing fukky geys me. Do you treat this and where are u located? And does it sound like I’m on point?
It does sound like your digestion needs more healing and that working with a well-trained practitioner would help you get there. I’m located in the NY-CT area and do offer appointments by phone. Find out more on my contact page: https://doctordoni.com/contact-dr-wilson.
I’ve done a food sensitivity test… it clearly shows what I’m sensitive to, but how can it show me whether I have leaky gut?
It can take a trained eye – after reviewing thousands of these reports – to see the patterns associated with leaky gut. One thing you can look for is whether you have at least 3 food reactions… and the more reactions, the more severe the leaky gut, in general.
For the last 2 years I’ve been dealing with muscle aches, dizziness, and just feeling terrible. I’ve had test after test but everything has come back normal. I decided to change my diet to see if it would help. I cut out gluten, dairy, processed sugar, and any other foods that I had a reaction to (I had a blood test for food sensitivities). I’ve also been taking a good probiotic. It’s been 3 months on the diet with no cheating but haven’t noticed much of a difference in my symptoms. How long does it usually take? I just don’t know if I should keep going or go back for more doctors and more tests. Thanks!
I would definitely expect that you should see at least some improvement by now. It seems to me that there may be another factor, in addition to food sensitivities, that may need to be addressed. I’d be happy to review your case and see what I can find – I often find that there are underlying issues that are not being addressed. If you’d like to schedule, please go to DoctorDoni.com/schedule.
Are there studies to determine if IC of the bladder could be a result of leaky gut? Also, what is the name of the urine test for leaky gut?
Hi Stacie, There are not studies on that connection, that I could find. Here is one study that looks as permeability in the bladder: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25463988.
The urine test for Leaky Gut is called the Lactulose/Mannitol test. Find more info here: https://www.gdx.net/product/intestinal-permeability-assessment-urine.
hello. does Leaky gut cause tics and involuntary muscle movements in kids? My son just got his stool test back and it shows yeast in his body.
Yes, the root cause of neurological symptoms, such as tics, is often in the digestive tract. Dysbiosis (overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria) coupled with leaky gut and food sensitivities (such as to gluten) lead to inflammatory signals to the nervous system. You may want to read this article for more info: https://doctordoni.com/2015/08/how-leaky-gut-can-lead-to-depression-anxiety-and-migraine-headaches/