Do you suffer frequent gastrointestinal problems like gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, constipation, or diarrhea? Or maybe you’re plagued by more baffling symptoms like unexplained fatigue, rashes, or brain fog. If any of these issues ring a bell, you might have leaky gut—a condition that some experts believe affects at least 80 percent of all American adults.1
How Your Gut Becomes Leaky
At its core, leaky gut—technically known as gut enteropathy—arises when the intestinal barrier becomes permeable and allows bacteria, toxins, and microscopic bits of undigested food to “leak” out of your gut and into your bloodstream, where they can wreak havoc throughout your body. These contaminants may also be the culprit behind your mysterious symptoms.2
How does this even happen? To answer that question, it’s important to understand how the intestinal barrier is designed to work. Surprisingly, the intestinal barrier that lines your gut is made up of a single layer of cells. Within these cells are microscopic gates call ‘tight junctions’ that effectively screen what is allowed to enter the blood stream and what is kept out. When these tight junctions are working as they should, nutrients pass freely into the bloodstream while bacteria, toxins, and other bad actors are kept out. But when these tight junctions become damaged or permeable, these unhealthy substances can enter the blood stream and travel throughout your body. 2
Tough to Diagnose
Although leaky gut hasn’t been officially recognized as a medical condition, a growing number of researchers and physicians agree that it’s a real thing. But because there’s no comprehensive test for leaky gut, it is hard to diagnose. Plus, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause since the condition can be caused or worsened by a wide variety of factors. Topping the list is a diet filled with gluten, dairy, or emulsifiers like carrageenan or maltodextrin.3, 4 Other triggers can include excess alcohol consumption, past bouts of food poisoning or intestinal infections, psychological stress, the routine use of acid blocking drugs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).5, 2, 6,7,8
5 Natural Ways to Plug the Leak
As confusing and potentially frustrating as leaky gut can be, there are steps you can take to prevent intestinal permeability. These lifestyle changes can also improve symptoms if you’re plagued by frequent digestive problems.
- Choose your food wisely. Instead of ultra-processed food packed with emulsifiers, gluten, and sketchy food additives, opt for a minimally-processed diet that includes plenty of polyphenol-rich fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, and inflammation-fighting fish like salmon.9,10,11
- Go gluten free. Studies show that a diet low in gluten improves the intestinal microbiota.12 But before you stock up on “gluten-free” versions of your favorite foods, be aware that choosing minimally processed whole foods is a better strategy for reducing intestinal permeability. This is because many gluten-free foods are highly processed and may actually contain less fiber and other essential nutrients than the foods they are mimicking.
- Get regular exercise. Regular workouts help limit inflammation in the gut while beneficially modifying gut flora. Aerobic activities like biking, jogging, or playing pickleball are particularly good for the gut because they increase blood flow to the digestive organs.13
- Keep a lid on chronic stress. There is compelling evidence that chronic stress impacts digestion and the bacterial balance in your gut. That, in turn, can also affect the health of your intestinal barrier. What to do? One Swedish study found that digestive symptoms improved by 42 percent when participants practiced mindfulness meditation on a regular basis.14 Other techniques that may help restore a sense of calm to your gastrointestinal tract include hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, mental imaging, biofeedback, deep breathing, and even simply listening to some soothing music.
- Add a synbiotic. Synbiotics, like Kyo-Dophilus Pro+ Synbiotic, combine probiotics and prebiotics in one convenient dietary supplement. Recent studies show that, when paired with a healthful diet, synbiotics can improve the microbiome and fortify the intestinal barrier.15 But choose wisely. Look for a synbiotic that not only contains a variety of well-researched probiotic strains like Kyo-Dophius’ proprietary “Friendly Trio” of beneficial strains, but also prebiotic fibers that foster bacterial diversity. Pro+ Synbiotic contains 2 grams of BioEcolians, a proprietary a-gluco-oligosaccharide prebiotic designed to support bacterial diversity for a healthier gut. Preliminary research suggests that this particular prebiotic not only feeds the beneficial bacteria in your microbiome, it may also lead to decreased intestinal permeability and an increase in protective mucus production.16
Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” And that may very well start with your tight junctions. Applying these five strategies can help guard against leaky gut and its adverse consequences. The result is likely better health from head to toe!
- Gut and disease. The Gut Detective. https://gutdetective.com.au/gut-disease/
- Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019;68(8):1516-1526.
- Naimi S.Direct impact of commonly used dietary emulsifiers on human gut microbiota. 2021;9:66.
- Al Dera H. Leaky gut biomarkers in casein- and gluten-rich diet fed rat model of autism.Translational Neuroscience. 2021; 12(1):601-610.
- Bishehsari F. Alcohol and gut-derived inflammation. Alcohol Research. 2017;38(2):163-171.
- Takashima S. Proton pump inhibitors enhance intestinal permeability via dysbiosis of gut microbiota under stressed conditions in mice. Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2020;32(7):e13841.
- Bjarnason I. Intestinal permeability in the pathogenesis of NSAID-induced enteropathy. Journal of Gastroenterology. 2009; 44 Suppl 19: 23-29.
- Park JH. The relationship between small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth and intestinal permeability in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gut & Liver. 2009;3(3):174-179.
- Yang G. Regulation of the intestinal tight junction by natural polyphenols: A mechanistic Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017;57(18):3830-3839.
- Galena AE. The effects of fermented vegetable consumption on the composition of the intestinal microbiota and levels of inflammatory markers in women: A pilot and feasibility study. PLoS One. 2022;17(10):e0275275.
- Durkin LA. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the intestinal epithelium—a review. 2021;10(1):199.
- Hansen LBS.A low-gluten diet induces changes in the intestinal microbiome of healthy Danish adults. Nature Communications. 2018;9:
- Li J. Aerobic exercise improves intestinal mucosal barrier dysfunction through TLR4/MyD88/NF-κB signaling pathway in diabetic rats. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 2022;634:75-82.
- Ljótsson B. Internet-delivered exposure and mindfulness based therapy for irritable bowel syndrome—a randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2010;48(6):531-539.
- Janczy A. Impact of diet and synbiotics on selected gut bacteria and intestinal permeability in individuals with excess body weight – a prospective, randomized study. Acta Biochim Pol. 2020;67(4):571-578.
- Arnold JW.The pleiotropic effects of prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides on the aging gut. 2021;9:31.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.