leaky gut syndrome fruit in bowl

GUT HEALTH IS THE GATEWAY to next-level wellness. Donna Gates M.Ed., ABAAHP is the best-selling author of The Body Ecology Diet and has helped millions of people get their health in order with this philosophy in mind. A pioneer in the natural foods industry and proven expert on how to best care for our “inner ecosystem”, we trust Donna and the holistic lifestyle she stands for.

One modern health issue that’s key to address for so many is ‘leaky gut syndrome’. So, what is it, do you have it, and how should you address it? Donna is unpacking everything you need to know below…

How to Tell if You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome:
Signs, Symptoms + Treatment

The term ‘leaky gut syndrome’ is often used to describe a condition that occurs when the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed (or “wounded”) and porous – some even say, permeable.

If you were to rub poison ivy on your arm, your external skin would soon become inflamed and irritated. The internal skin of your intestines can indeed become quite inflamed and irritated as well. 

While adults who have an inflamed or wounded gut may experience discomfort and health issues, a “leaky,” permeable gut is a good thing early in life. All babies are born with a permeable gut lining so that they can fully benefit from the nourishment of their mother’s colostrum.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

The inner ecosystem of your digestive tract is a rich community. It is bustling with bacteria and yeast. These bacteria and yeast do more than help digest food and manufacture nutrients. The bugs in your gut also interact with your immune system, the chemicals in your brain, and your hormones.

When functioning properly, the gut mucosal layer protects the interior of the body from large food particles, other large molecules, and opportunistic microorganisms like bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

This activates the immune system. Messenger chemicals, called cytokines, tell the rest of the body to respond. In the same way that motorists respond to an ambulance rushing down a street, sirens sounding and lights flashing, the immune system sends out biochemical “sirens”, and this alerts the rest of the body.

Usually, the response involves inflammation, which dilates vessels and creates blood flow while also recruiting white blood cells to fight off the foreign invaders.

So when your gut lining is permeable and inflamed, bacteria, toxins and food can leak through your gut wall into the blood causing a systemic issue. Your body must then deal with these foreign invaders, and react to them by creating antibodies against the food, leading to food allergies, fatigue, aching and other symptoms of ill health.

Signs + Symptoms of Leaky Gut

It’s important to note that if you have a few of these symptoms, or even have alot of them, that doesn’t necessarily mean YOU have leaky gut.  I am a big proponent of being informed, not scaring those into running to their nearest functional medicine doctor to get tested ASAP.  There are some people that aren’t affected by symptoms as much (goes back to the Principle of Uniqueness and/or our genetic makeup) so wouldn’t even think they had it.  Yet, you should be particularly aware of these signs in the event you have an autoimmune disease, candida, unexplained symptoms or chronic illness.    


Poor memory

Feeling “spacey” or “unreal”

Inability to concentrate or make decisions

Numbness, burning or tingling

Insomnia/trouble sleeping

Muscle aches, weakness or paralysis

Pain and/or swelling in joints

Abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea

Bloating, belching or gas

Anxiety/panic attacks 

Irritability or jitteriness


Frequent mood swings


Dizziness/loss of balance

Food sensitivity or intolerance

Carrying extra weight 

Weakened immune system

What Factors Contribute to Leaky Gut?

A permeable gut is not caused by one single factor. There are many reasons why you might be suffering from an inflamed and leaking gut. Perhaps you were not “inoculated” with a vibrant inner ecosystem at birth to protect you throughout your life.

Or maybe you weren’t breastfed as a child and the beneficial microflora weren’t fed the sugars found in breast milk that allowed them to grow and form a civilization of beneficial microflora inside you to protect your gut lining. Even if you did develop a healthy inner ecosystem at birth, years of stress and the Standard American Diet could have depleted your microflora.

Stress alone kills microflora and is a major cause of inflammation in your gut. Alcohol, wine and coffee contribute to gut inflammation.  Contributing factors can also include:

Mental, emotional, or physical stress

Stress hormones, hormone imbalance

Continued use of NSAIDs, antibiotics or steroids

Exposure to chemical toxins

Candida overgrowth

Gut infection

Foods that irritate the lining of the digestive tract (ex. gluten)

Environmental triggers 

Genetics (the FUT2 gene)  

How Do You Get Rid of Leaky Gut?

Because gut bacteria have such a close relationship with your immune system and intestinal cells, the inner ecosystem is your target when healing a leaky gut. Your gut wall is more than a barrier. It’s the pathway that your gut bacteria and immune system use to hold conversation. 

Often, several variables need to be considered while going through the process of healing a leaky gut in the event you have several issues going on at once.  Regardless of where you are, here are two of my most highly suggested ways to try to strengthen your gut wall and soothe your immune system by supporting healthy communities of good gut bacteria:

Eat Probiotic Foods.Probiotic foods are foods that have been inoculated with good bacteria and then allowed to ferment. During the fermentation process, good bacteria consume the sugars in food and form robust communities.

When you eat probiotic foods like cultured vegetables and kefir, you escort these robust communities of probiotics into your colon, where they do the most good.

For those with SIBO, if cultured vegetables don’t work for you initially, try young coconut kefir instead – it provides a wonderful source of easily assimilated nutrients and is full of beneficial bacteria that aid digestion and build immunity. Usually cultured vegetables are a good first probiotic to add back in to a diet if made with a culture starter.  

Bifidobacteria is one of the best probiotic bacteria to use to target leaky gut (and candida), which has been shown to help balance the immune system and control the expression of pro-inflammatory messages (repairing leaky gut and protecting against Candida overgrowth).

As babies, most of us have an inner ecosystem teaming with bifidobacteria—especially if we are breastfed. But as we age, the numbers of bifidobacteria decline. 

Studies show that bifidobacteria produce special fats that feed intestinal cells. These fats, called short-chain fatty acids, also team up with the immune system and get rid of inflammation. 

And here’s where genetics can come in to play too.  The FUT2 gene controls how much bifidobacteria you carry in your digestive tract.  It decides whether or not the body will show blood type tags in bodily secretions (like saliva, gastric juice, and breast milk) and in the lining of the gut. Everyone has a blood type, but not all of us communicate our blood type in saliva and in the mucus lining the gut.

These secretions (and whether or not they contain tags for our blood type) influence the kind of bacteria that grow in the gut.

Roughly 20% of people carry a variation of the FUT2 gene that does not allow the body to reveal its blood type in secretions and in the lining of the gut. This 20%, called non-secretors, is also unable to house a robust community of bifidobacteria.  This may leave those vulnerable to autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, Candidiasis, or even B12 deficiency. 

Eat Prebiotic Foods. Prebiotic foods nourish healthy communities of gut bacteria. These are high-fiber foods that aren’t readily broken down by enzymes—but they are broken down in the colon by your gut bacteria and can survive the harsh environment of your intestine. 

As healthy gut bacteria consume fiber-rich foods, they produce short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids promote a healthy intestinal lining and give the right amount of stimulation to the immune system. Overall, their impact is anti-inflammatory.

Examples of prebiotic foods include:

Dandelion greens, asparagus

Onions, garlic

Green tea 

Grain-like seeds, such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and millet

Prebiotic dietary fiber in powder form with chicory root also acts as food for the good bacteria, and is great for when you’re on the go and want to throw into an anti-inflammatory smoothie or drink.

Digestive Enzymes.  Many times, leaky gut and candida go hand in hand.  One usually isn’t there without the other.   And depending on how long the candida overgrowth has been around for, it may need a powerful force to get rid of it since it’s so resistant.  Full spectrum enzymes that contain cellulase and hemicellulase are key enzymes that may break down the cell wall of Candida and destroy its protective biofilm, thus preventing digestive overload and Candida overgrowth in the gut.

Always remember, when healing leaky gut, do your best to avoid gluten, dairy, sugar (incl. carb like flours) and processed and refined foods.  Think about calming the inflammation.  Also, steer clear of conventionally raised animal products that contain traces of antibiotics.

Remember, ratios matter too. You can optimize your digestion (and avoid bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine) by following certain principles of food combining.

The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.

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