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Signs You Have a "Leaky Gut," Say Experts

Eight signs you have a leaky gut and what to do about it

A leaky gut doesn't sound like something anyone wants to have, yet according to Harvard Health, "we all have some degree of leaky gut." It's a term that's been getting a lot of buzz on social media and blogs, but don't be "surprised if your doctor does not recognize this term. Leaky gut, also called increased intestinal permeability, is somewhat new and most of the research occurs in basic sciences. However, there is growing interest to develop medications that may be used in patients to combat the effects of this problem," Harvard Health says. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who explain what a leaky gut is and signs you have one. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is a Leaky Gut?

Healthcare worker at home visit

The term leaky gut is used a lot, but what does it mean? Andrea Benford, a Nurse Practitioner, Functional Medicine Health Coach explains that a "leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability) is a condition where the tight junctions lining your small intestine become damaged and start to loosen causing toxins, partially digested food particles and opportunistic bacteria to penetrate the lining and get through to your blood stream causing inflammation. This inflammation is a precursor to many chronic and autoimmune disorders. Once your lining is damaged, important enzymes needed for adequate digestion are not produced and this can lead to malabsorption of essential nutrients."


Diarrhea, Constipation, Bloating

Middle aged woman suffering from abdominal pain while sitting on bed at home

According to Benford, diarrhea, constipation and bloating are signs you have a leaky gut. "Most of the time these symptoms come from a diet high in processed foods (refined carbs and sugars) and/or the person is experiencing food intolerances or sensitivities."

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Impaired Immune Response

vitamin d

Benford says, "With decreased absorption of nutrients your body will be lacking important vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D and Zinc which are important for a robust immune system." 


Autoimmune Disorder

Young upset stressed woman suffering from abdominal and stomach pain during menstruation, PMS in room at home. Inflammation and infection. Food poisoning

"Leaky gut can cause a massive amount of inflammation in the body which in turn can lead to a hypervigilant immune system, the immune system goes into overdrive and starts to attack itself leading to a myriad of autoimmune conditions," Benford states.

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Extreme Fatigue

Annoyed brunette woman sitting in pajamas in bed and looking up

Benford explains, "Inflammation from leaky gut can cause a rise in cortisol levels and the person may experience a continued activation of the Sympathetic nervous system leading to poor sleep which in turn leads to extreme fatigue and possible adrenal dysfunction."


Skin Rashes

Woman Scratching an itch

A skin rash could mean stomach troubles, says Benford. "Leaky gut causes maldigestion and a lack of nutrients. One nutrient being Omega-3 fatty acids which is important to brain and skin health. Processed foods are high in Omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory. We often do not have enough Omega 3s v Omega-6s. This increase in Omega-6s causes inflammation in the skin leading to skin conditions such as eczema."

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Joint Pain

woman suffering from pain in wrist at home.

When you experience joint pain, that could also be a sign of a leaky gut, according to Benford. "Toxic particles getting through to the bloodstream can cause inflammation in the joints."


Mood Disorders: Depression, Anxiety, Brain Fog

Shot of a young woman suffering from depression in her bedroom

"90 % of serotonin (your happy hormone) is made in your gut," Benford states. "Decreased levels of serotonin because of a damaged intestinal lining can in turn have a direct affect on your mood."

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Nutritional Deficiencies

Mature athletic man getting out of breath while feeling pain during morning run in nature.

Benford explains, "Leaky gut causes a malabsorption of nutrients. The most common deficiencies being magnesium, vitamin B12, Folate. A decrease in these nutrients can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, impaired digestion and anemia. Other nutrients that could be lacking include zinc, selenium, vitamin D and Omega-3s."


Why is it Important to Have a Healthy Gut?

Young happy woman woke up in the morning in the bedroom by the window with her back

Having a healthy stomach is important for overall good health. Benford says, "With 70% of the immune system residing in the gut and an unhealthy gut being the precursor for most all disease it is critical to maintain a happy and balanced gut. Having a healthy gut improves sleep, mood, digestion, heart, brain and skin health which will dramatically improve your overall well-being."

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How the Gut and Brain are Connected

Brain impulses, thinking process
Havard Health states, "The gut-brain connection is no joke; it can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. …The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines."

Katie Ziskind, LMFT, RYT500 Owner, Wisdom Within Counseling Holistic Marriage and Family Therapist PTSD and Trauma Specialist Yoga Therapist adds, "Leaky gut is when the cells of the gut begin to separate and food particles begin leaking throughout the body and into the brain. Some people believe that the gut is the true brain. Leaky gut is also connected to trauma and survivors of trauma may have more occurrences of leaky gut. By learning about the gut brain connection, eating more whole grains, eating more local foods, fresh fruits and veggies, and grass fed meat, you can start to repair your gut lining. Overtime, by changing what you eat, by educating yourself on the food industry and what goes into mainstream food products, you can search for a reverse leaky gut. Bone broth is great for leaky gut. With leaky gut, people might have brain fog, sluggishness, joint pain, overall inflammation, tiredness, trouble sleeping, mood problems, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, problems with digestion, gas, pain after eating, and more. People with leaky gut can benefit from working with a holistic counselor, Registered Dietitian, Naturopath, and learning overall about their gut and brain connection in natural ways."


How to Have a Healthy Gut

Woman holding a slice of cucumber

Dr. Chris Damman, MD MA Clinical Associate Professor of Gastroenterology at the University of Washington Chief Medical Officer & Scientific Officer at UR Labs/Muniq says, "a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is also high in healthy fibers and polyphenols. These molecules help balance the bacteria in your gut, and decrease inflammation and regulate your metabolism. They are also the molecules that give foods their texture and vibrant colors of reds, blues, and purples! They can be found in supplemental form, but the quality of these supplements and the types of molecules present in these supplements can vary considerably from vendor to vendor, so it is important to choose reputable vendors that have rigorously evaluated their products. Eating plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables is a sure-fire way to get the right fibers and polyphenols in the right combination and it's fun to do when you focus on eating the full spectrum of the rainbow!"

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Meal Timing Is Important


"The GI tract is not meant to be constantly digesting food. There should be about 4 hours between meals and around 12-14 hours between dinner and breakfast," Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor, and Consultant on the Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories reminds us. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather