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Signs Your Gut is "Leaky," Say Physicians

Here’s why you shouldn’t trust your (leaky) gut.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

"Leaky gut" is unfortunately just what it sounds like—the digestive lining of the gut becomes compromised, allowing things like bacteria and toxic waste to leak through intestines into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and a host of negative health conditions. "When you think of leaky gut not so much as a disease, but as a mechanism by which a number of different conditions can develop, it starts to make sense," says Robynne K. Chutkan, MD, FASGE Assistant Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University Hospital Founder and Medical Director, Digestive Center for Women. "A leaky gut is the pathway for how toxins enter the body through the GI tract and create all kinds of mayhem once they're in, sort of like party crashers who slip through security and proceed to make a mess of the venue." Here are five warning signs of a leaky gut. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Autoimmunity and Leaky Gut

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There is a growing body of evidence that leaky gut and autoimmune issues are strongly correlated. "When your gut remains leaky, more and more particles are able to escape into your bloodstream," says Amy Myers, MD. "Your immune system reacts by sending out wave after wave of inflammation to attack the foreign invaders. This state of high alert causes your immune system to become overstressed and fire less accurately. This can lead your own tissues to get caught in the crosshairs and cause a flood of symptoms. Eventually, this will develop into full-blown autoimmunity if your leaky gut syndrome is not addressed."


Poor Diet

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"A poor diet is one of the leading factors of leaky gut syndrome," says Dr. Myers. "Processed foods contain many ingredients that can lead to leaky gut. In fact, gluten is the number one cause. Gluten causes the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal lining. Other inflammatory foods (such as dairy) or toxic foods (such as sugar and alcohol) are causes as well."

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Digestive Issues

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Chronic digestive issues could be a sign of leaky gut. "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," says Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC. "This irritation of the gut lining can be a main cause of leaky gut symptoms."

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Eczema and Other Skin Conditions

Man with sick hands

Itchy, problematic skin could be a sign of leaky gut, experts say. "First described over 70 years ago, the 'gut-skin connection theory' describes how increased intestinal hyperpermeability can cause a slew of skin conditions, particularly acne and psoriasis," says Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN. "Creams and drugs with endless lists of (sometimes dangerous) side effects are often prescribed for these skin disorders, yet there has been evidence for several decades that part of the root cause might exist in the gut."

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Nutritional Deficiencies

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"Leaky gut may contribute to a long list of mineral deficiencies because of the ongoing inflammation and damage to carrier proteins," says Jill Carnahan, MD. "The most common are iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, magnesium deficiency which can lead to fatigue, neuropathies or muscle pain. Zinc deficiency due to malabsorption can result in hair loss or baldness as occurs in alopecia areata. Copper deficiency can occur in an identical way leading to high blood cholesterol levels and osteoarthritis. Further, bone problems develop as a result of the malabsorption of calcium, boron, silicon and manganese."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan