Unexplained Weight Gain – Could It Be Leaky Gut?

Cheryl had chronic weight problems that stemmed from Leaky Gut and Insulin Resistance. Dr. Doni explains how she helped her get healthy and lose weight.

Part 7 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Leaky Gut

Leaky Gut, weight gain, gaining weight, chronic weight problems, insulin, insulin resistance, intestinal permeability, digestive system, inflammation, natural healthIn the first three parts of this series we have taken a broad look at Leaky Gut: what it is, how to test for it and how to treat it. Here are the links if you would like to catch up:

In parts 4 and 5, we explored the top 10 underlying causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (also known as IBS), how they relate to Leaky Gut, how to test for them and possible treatment options:

Then we talked about the Gut-Brain Axis and how Leaky Gut can cause anxiety, depression, and migraines:

Today I’d like to share the story of a patient who came to me for help with constant pain and weight gain. I’ll call her Cheryl (not her real name). I will explain how I helped figure out what the problem was, the treatment I recommended, and the outcome of that treatment. Finally, I will explain how Leaky Gut was the cause of her problems and why she is not alone.

Case Study: Cheryl’s Story

Cheryl came to see me two years ago because she had constant joint pain and had been steadily gaining weight for the past ten years.

Ten years earlier, she had an acute bout of pancreatitis due to gall stones and, as a result, her gall bladder had been removed. Following the surgery, she initially lost weight, but then the pounds started creeping on. Little by little her weight increased week after week, month after month until, after a number of years she had gained close to 100 pounds. She felt frustrated and hopeless—she doubted she would ever feel good again.

Over these 10 years, she had seen more than 25 other practitioners in the hopes that they could help her but nothing had worked. By the time she came to see me she was desperate. Cheryl’s is a common story. I wanted to help her get back to feeling good. To do that, we had to get to the root cause of the issue.

Testing to Find the Root Cause

First of all, we reviewed all her prior blood work for clues and then tested a few things that either had not been checked in a while or had never been tested. We tested:

  • Her blood count (a CBC) to see if she had anemia or a nutrient deficiency;
  • Her metabolism to see how well her body was using nutrients for energy;
  • Her thyroid function (TSH, free T4 and free T3) including testing for thyroid auto-antibodies to see if a low functioning thyroid was contributing to the weight gain and pain;
  • Her nutrient levels to see whether she was lacking in anything important such as iron (ferritin), vitamin D, magnesium, folate, vitamin B12 (homocysteine and methylmalonic acid), zinc, copper, or manganese;
  • Indicators of her blood sugar levels and her ability to use carbohydrates (glucose and HgbA1c);
  • For inflammation (C-reactive protein) to see if an inflamed immune system was involved in the weight gain and pain;
  • Her immune responses to common viruses (EBV, CMV, HSV) and to tick-related diseases to see if she had been exposed to any of these infections;
  • For signs of oxidative stress from exposure to toxins (8OHdG);
  • For IgG and IgA food sensitivities, both as a way to find out which foods were currently triggering an inflammatory response in her body, but also as a way to estimate the degree of Leaky Gut;
  • Her salivary cortisol levels throughout the day (and into the night) as well as her urinary adrenaline and neurotransmitter levels (serotonin, GABA, glutamate, dopamine, etc), to see how well her body was coping with stress;
  • Her stool, to understand how well she was digesting her food and the balance of healthy versus unhealthy bacteria in her colon.

The tests showed that she had Leaky Gut and was insulin resistant—both of which were responsible for her chronic health problems, her pain, and her weight gain. Cheryl did not yet have diabetes, but if she had not made the changes she made when she did, she would have developed diabetes and all the health consequences associated with it.

Designing a Treatment Plan

As a naturopathic doctor, my entire focus is on understanding what is preventing a person’s body from functioning optimally, and then using natural approaches—diet, lifestyle, nutrients, and herbs—to reset it by giving it what it needs to heal. Ultimately, I believe (and this is borne out by what I see with my patients) that the human body will respond differently when its environment changes, and that environment includes the nutrients, foods, sleep, and stress remedies it is exposed to on a daily basis.

Fortunately, with the information the tests gave us, we were able to design a treatment plan for Cheryl to reset her body and put her back on the path to optimal health.

This is what she did:

  • She eliminated gluten, dairy, and eggs from her diet, because those were the foods that showed the highest reactivity on the IgG/A panel.
  • She starting eating smaller, more frequent meals—balancing protein, carbs (mostly from fruit and veggies) and fats, based on the structure I outline in my book, The Stress Remedy.
  • She switched to eating only organic produce, antibiotic-free meats, wild fish (instead of farmed), and drinking filtered water.
  • She took supplements* to help with digesting food, healing the cells lining her intestines, and optimizing the healthy bacteria in her intestines.1
  • She took further supplements to help re-establish healthy cortisol levels throughout the day, which further supported her digestion, hormones, and immune system.

Within six months she felt much better, and by twelve months, she was really better. She lost 100 pounds during that time and her weight is now healthy and stable!

Leaky Gut and Weight Gain Explained

Cheryl had been unwell for a long time. She had tried everything and nothing worked. It took us thinking holistically about her health and doing some thorough testing to establish exactly what was causing the problem before we were able to find a solution that worked for her. In the end, as is so often the case, the problem was Leaky Gut caused by stress and poor diet.

So, how many other cases of unexplained and uncontrollable weight gain are linked to Leaky Gut?  I’d hazard a guess that, for at least 70% of my patients, excess weight has eventually turned out to be related to Leaky Gut issues. In my own opinion (an opinion that is shared by a lot of my naturopathic colleagues) Leaky Gut causes weight gain for a number of inter-connected reasons.

Leaky Gut is caused by inflammation which is created by reactions to foods and imbalanced bacteria in the digestive tract. This inflammation travels throughout your body, decreasing your insulin function and increasing cortisol levels.2, 3 As insulin’s job is to burn off calories from carbohydrates to create energy, decreased insulin function means your body will store calories as fat instead. This is known as insulin resistance.

At the same time, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol will further decrease insulin function, and cause more Leaky Gut, perpetuating the problem. Elevated cortisol will also disrupt hormones, neurotransmitters, and the immune system.

The more inflammation and Leaky Gut you have, the more likely that the healthy bacteria in your intestines will not be able to protect and stabilize the environment in your gut, and the more likely that yeast and abnormal bacteria will overgrow, causing bloating and weight gain.

Finally, while undigested proteins are leaking through the intestinal lining, nutrients are not well absorbed which can lead to nutrient deficiencies that can further disrupt healthy metabolism which can also contribute to weight gain. Nutrient deficiencies also have the potential to affect mood, sleep, and energy levels potentially leading to depression, ill-health, and inactivity.

Some doctors don’t talk about Leaky Gut and many don’t even think it exists, but research indicates otherwise. In fact, if the 70% of my patients who have excess weight and Leaky Gut is representative of the general population, it could even be said that Leaky Gut is an epidemic.

Food additives, gluten, lack of sleep, toxins, overuse of antibiotics and antacids are all associated with both Leaky Gut and weight gain and this is why Leaky Gut is so prevalent—our (stressful) lifestyle and environment make it so. We are all so busy and stressed that we end up eating anything we can lay our hands on that can be eaten on the run. We go to bed late, we sleep poorly, and we rely on antibiotics to get us well—fast—when we are sick. Instead, we need to make time to eat the nutrient-rich, toxin-free foods our bodies need, we need to eat slowly, and get back to a sensible, regular bedtime, and make time for movement and mindfulness. When we manage to do all that, we might manage to stem the tide of Leaky Gut. And not only that; when we prevent Leaky Gut, we will also be preventing the health conditions that have the greatest likelihood of decreasing our quality of life—diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (all of which are associated with weight gain and inflammation).

Next time, I will talk about the relationship between medications and Leaky Gut, but for now I want to leave you with information about how you, too, can find answers to your seemingly unending list of health issues, including weight gain.

You may want to start by reading my book, The Stress Remedy. You could also try the Hamptons Cleanse that I developed to help eliminate stresses from food and the environment and help your body come back to balance. As your body resets, you’ll lose the extra weight.

For additional support from me with the process, you could choose my Leaky Gut consultation package which includes one-on-one consultations with me, tests to understand your body and what it needs, and support along the way.

You can also sign up here for my newsletter so you receive my blog articles right to your inbox.

–Dr. Doni
14th August 2015

*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.


  1. Teixeira TF1, Collado MC, Ferreira CL, Bressan J, Peluzio Mdo C. Potential mechanisms for the emerging link between obesity and increased intestinal permeability. Nutr Res. 2012 Sep;32(9):637-47
  2. de Kort S1, Keszthelyi D, Masclee AA. Leaky gut and diabetes mellitus: what is the link? Obes Rev. 2011 Jun;12(6):449-58
  3. Luck H1, Tsai S2, Chung J2, Clemente-Casares X2, Ghazarian M1, Revelo XS2, Lei H2, Luk CT2, Shi SY2, Surendra A3, Copeland JK3, Ahn J4, Prescott D4, Rasmussen BA2, Chng MH5, Engleman EG5, Girardin SE6, Lam TK2, Croitoru K7, Dunn S4, Philpott DJ4, Guttman DS3, Woo M8, Winer S9, Winer DA10. Regulation of obesity-related insulin resistance with gut anti-inflammatory agents. Cell Metab. 2015 Apr 7;21(4):527-42


  1. Great summary and love the detail, most still view weight loss as an issue of “calories in vs. calories out”, but it does not pay attention to things like metabolic rate (protein mass, sleep, exercise intensity), and it doesn’t look at the role of dysbiosis in the gut (often triggered by the wheat, dairy, soy, corn…). The stealth infections of HSV, CMV, EBV are also a lot more common than people think and can add to the vicious cycle, not to mention your energy level and mental clarity to take on many of these changes in the first place. Glad I came across your article and best of luck to you and your practice.

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it and that you’ve found the information helpful.

  2. Excellent article, in fact your whole series on leaky gut is so informative. Integrative and functional medicine is leading the way in finding the root cause of disease. Quick question in testing for the root cause…..
    How do you test one’s metabolism to see how well the body is using nutrients for energy (point #2)? What test may look for such markers? Also, are you practicing in CT? Thank you for your articles and your concise, thorough understanding of so many common medical issues.

    • You’re welcome – glad you’ve enjoyed the series. Great question – I’m referring to tests that indicate mitochondrial function, such as a urine organic acids panel. Yes, I practice in Stamford, CT.

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