Leaky Gut Concerns? Avoid These 9 Common Causes

Written by Tim Skwiat

Leaky Gut Causes

Over the last several years, we’ve come to appreciate that the gut is a LOT more complex than just the organ that digests food and absorbs nutrients. It’s kind of embarrassing that it’s taken this long considering Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine,” was dropping not-so-subtle hints about the role the gut plays in overall health thousands of years ago.

Be that as it may, we’re learning more about gut health and the microbiome—the community of microbes that lives inside us—daily. Without question, one of the most prevalent topics in this area is leaky gut, which has gained enormous attention in recent years.

What Is Leaky Gut?

In addition to being responsible for digestion and absorption, the digestive tract also serves a crucial protective role. The gut lining (called the epithelium) makes up the largest and most important barrier against our external environment.

Under normal circumstances, the cells that make up the intestinal epithelium form “tight junctions,” selectively allowing the absorption of nutrients, electrolytes, and water, while blocking potentially harmful substances. When these tight junctions are “loosened,” the result is increased intestinal permeability. More commonly called, “leaky gut.” The once highly discriminatory gut barrier becomes less selective, allowing harmful bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles into the bloodstream.

Leaky gut may lead to:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Poor digestion and malabsorption
  • Food sensitivities
  • Skin issues
  • Allergies
  • Joint discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog

What Causes Leaky Gut?

Many factors are believed to contribute to leaky gut, and guess what? They’re pretty much all under your control. Here are some of the top factors:

  • Gluten: Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the world’s leading researchers in the area, has shown that gluten triggers a compound called zonulin, which is known as the “permeability regulator.” Sounds pretty sinister, doesn’t it? Zonulin loosens those normally tight junctions of the intestinal barrier, making it more permeable. Gluten is found in grains like wheat, spelt, kamut, farro, bulgar, barley, rye, and triticale.

  • Dysbiosis: An unhealthy bacterial imbalance can also contribute to leaky gut. Bad bacteria secrete a toxin called lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which increases intestinal permeability. Besides gluten, small intestinal exposure to bacteria is another potent trigger of zonulin. On the other hand, probiotics have been shown to reduce LPS and help promote healthy intestinal permeability.
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  • Fructose: Recent research suggests that fructose can increase intestinal permeability as well as increase LPS. You’re best off limiting your intake of added sugar, but don’t worry about fruit. It also contains fiber and antioxidants, which help support normal gut barrier function.
  • Lectins: Lectins are found in a variety of plant-based foods where they serve as natural defenders against insects and mold. Lectins, which are considered anti-nutrients, can cause increased intestinal permeability. Lectins can be found in wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, rice, and soy.
  • Standard American Diet: The typical calorie-dense Western-style diet, which is characterized by processed foods high in fat (pro-inflammatory refined vegetable oils) and carbs (refined grains and added sugars), has been shown to lead to dysbiosis, elevated levels of LPS, and increased intestinal permeability.
  • Excessive Alcohol: When is the last time you heard something good come out of binge drinking? As with most things alcohol-related, excessive consumption contributes to negative consequences like dysbiosis, high levels of LPS, and leaky gut.
  • NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to increase intestinal permeability.
  • Stress: Your intestinal barrier can also come under attack and be destroyed by your body’s own immune response and pro-inflammatory chemicals. Have you ever noticed your digestion is worse when you’re stressed? There are several factors in play, but both psychological and physiological stress can increase intestinal permeability.
  • Exercise: Heavy exercise can cause loosening of tight junctions, leading to increased intestinal permeability. Research has shown that up to 93% of athletes report digestive-related issues that may trace back to leaky gut.

End Leaky Gut Concerns

There are many potential factors that could underlie a leaky gut, and this list is just a starting point. If you believe you’ve been struggling with leaky gut, then take an honest inventory of the above areas and let us know what you find!

5 Odd Foods for a Better Belly:

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  • Harry Marget

    and the impact of sourdough bread on gut bacteria , and the added impact of these bugs on bad breath

  • Lorraine Seely

    These are the exact same symptoms I’m experiencing…thank you for sharing this valuable info.!

    • Hi Lorraine,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your feedback; I’m glad that you found this to be helpful. Having said that, I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing all these issues that may trace back to gut health. Along these lines, you might find the following article that we recently published to be helpful in getting your digestive, gut, and overall health back on track:

      A Comprehensive Guide to Improving Digestion and Gut Health

      I’d love to hear your feedback, Lorraine. Please keep us posted. Thank you!

  • Hi Lorraine,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share the additional information; it’s a pleasure to get to know you better. I’m very sorry to hear about your health issues, yet I applaud you and admire you for leaving no stone unturned in your quest to improve your health.

    I’m not sure if you had the opportunity to review the article I shared in my previous reply, but I do think that’s a good starting point for anyone who’s experiencing digestive-related issues. I acknowledge that it’s not all-encompassing, however, it should be a useful springboard to getting things on track.

    As far as the two supplements you mentioned, IC-5 and Pro-X10 do have very unique purposes. However, as I mentioned in the article I linked above, Berberine (an ingredient in IC-5) is often helpful when digestive-related issues are present. Having said that, a high-quality probiotic may be a better place to start if you could only choose one of the two and/or you’ve been using IC-5 for an extended period of time and haven’t seen improvements (in this specific domain).

    With that being said, there are many factors to consider, but as I mentioned, I do think going through the checklists that I provided in the other article (i.e., how to improve digestive health, how to improve gut flora, easy-digesting foods) is a great place to start. As far as learning more about fermented foods, here’s one article that you might consider checking out. What’s awesome is that you don’t even need to know how to cook to enjoy them. 🙂

    Keep up the good work, Lorraine. Keep taking one day at a time. Keep making the next best decision.

  • Hi Lorraine,

    You are so welcome! We’re very grateful for the opportunity to help, and we greatly appreciate you coming to us.

    That is wonderful to hear that you’ve been able to reverse/manage your diabetes. Congratulations! I’m sure that you made some tremendous lifestyle changes, and I applaud you for doing so. To your point, there are many factors that can contribute to poor glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Obviously, a sedentary lifestyle, overeating refined carbohydrates and added sugars, too much stress, and too little sleep are a handful of factors that come to mind. But there are other factors that may be a little less conspicuous, such as artificial sweeteners and gut health (e.g., the gut microbiome), which is thought to be a major player in how our bodies handle carbs.

    Be that as it may, it sounds like you’re on the right track, and what I love most is that you’re taking action. That’s huge. Keep taking one step at a time and be mindful and aware of how your body responds to new additions/subtractions from your lifestyle. Keep up the good work, Lorraine, and keep us posted. Thanks!