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10 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut—and How to Heal It

10 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut—and How to Heal It

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by Samantha Parent Walravens

My body never completely bounced back after I had my first child—15 years ago. I've told myself that my symptoms were part of being a busy mom: fatigue, digestive problems, joint pain, insomnia, low libido, even mild-grade depression. Many moms I know suffer the same ailments, or worse. They'll subside at some point, I told myself.
My health care provider tested me over the years for various medical conditions—from anemia and thyroid disorders to mononucleosis and Lyme disease. The tests always came out negative. "You just need to sleep more and manage your stress better," he told me.

I found an answer four months ago when I went to see Willie Victor, a nutritionist in Mill Valley, California, whose practice is based on the healing properties of food. She asked me to keep a food diary and take a blood test for food allergies and sensitivities.

The results were shocking. It turns out I was "highly sensitive" (not quite allergic, but almost) to a number of foods that had been a regular part of my daily diet—dairy, soy, sugar, caffeine and gluten.

She told me that I had "leaky gut syndrome," a condition that is not typically diagnosed but could be affecting the health of many people. Dr. Robynne Chutkan, assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, says leaky gut "is likely to emerge as one of the most significant medical concepts of our time."

What is leaky gut?

Leaky gut, or "intestinal permeability," as Victor explained, is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria to "leak" through the intestines and flood the blood stream. The foreign substances entering the blood can cause an autoimmune response in the body including inflammatory and allergic reactions such as migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

With leaky gut, damaged cells in your intestines don't produce the enzymes needed for proper digestion. As a result, your body cannot absorb essential nutrients, which can lead to hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system. 

What causes leaky gut?

In many cases, leaky gut is caused by your diet. For me, certain foods that I was consuming every day, including gluten, soy and dairy, were being treated by my body as foreign invaders that had to be fought off. When I ate these foods, my body went to war, producing antibodies, which triggered an immune response that included diarrhea, headaches, fatigue and joint pain.

Leaky gut can also be caused by medications including antibiotics, steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and acetaminophen, which can irritate the intestinal lining and damage protective mucus layers. This irritation can start or continue the inflammation cycle that leads to intestinal permeability.

10 signs you have a leaky gut:

According to Dr. Leo Galland, director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, the following symptoms might be signs of leaky gut:

  1. Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
  2. Nutritional deficiencies
  3. Poor immune system
  4. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
  5. Excessive fatigue
  6. Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
  7. Cravings for sugar or carbs
  8. Arthritis or joint pain
  9. Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
  10. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn's

How to heal a leaky gut

The key to healing a leaky gut is changing your diet and eliminating the foods that your body treats as toxic. On the advice of my nutritionist, I eliminated gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Within six weeks, I was feeling like a new person. My energy levels were way up, the diarrhea and bloating had subsided, and I was sleeping like a baby at night.

In addition to eliminating certain foods, I added a few things to help repair my leaky gut. These included healthy fats such as fish, coconut and olive oils; avocados and flax; probiotics to restore the healthy bacteria in my gastrointestinal tract; and L-glutamine, an amino acid that rejuvenates the lining of the intestinal wall.

Within three months, I had controlled my leaky gut. I have to adhere to my new dietary changes or I suffer the consequences—diarrhea, bloating and fatigue. But it's a small price to pay for feeling so alive and healthy again!

If you have any of the symptoms I mentioned, get checked by your health care provider. I had sensitivities to certain foods, but your symptoms could be caused by other issues. It's important to design a treatment plan that fits your issues.

Samantha Parent Walravens is a journalist, mother of four, and author of the New York Times–acclaimed book, TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. You can follow Samantha Parent Walravens on Twitter: @nosuperwoman.


My girlfriend has had issues that were misdiagnosed for sometime now with food and skin allergies. Her main symptoms include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and severe eczema on face/neck and hands that also burns/itches. After the last few yrs we believe her new Dr thinks it is leaky gut. We are in the process of removing gluten and dairy, and having her take supplements for intestine repair and probiotics. Has anyone else experience severe eczema, redness/burning and tightening of the skin/limps and around the eyes? This is the worst symptom she has and keeps her up (more recently) at night. Any feedback would help from the community. Thanks for any feedback.

Yes, I have horrible hives and rashes and very sensitive to all scents touch and food. My Chiro was the one who finally suggested taking enzymes for leaky gut. I have not yet removed dairy or gluten from my diet, but the issue began last year, after I ended a ketogenic diet. I've had severe skin rashes since then.

I found that Leaky Gut made my histamine levels run amok, giving me new allergic reactions (at one point to the sun!) and enhancing the effects of my known allergies. I took a daily over-the-counter antihistamine to help control it.

Thank you for this article. I have most of these symtoms, and now I know I need to make an appointment for a dermentologist.

Thanks for the article , very helpful .

I have a question. How much L-Glutamine do you take a day? I have been told to take 1 teaspoon (3 grams) 30 minutes before a meal 3 times a day by a Nutritionist. Have also read that one should take 1 gram only 3 times a day. For Leaky Gut. Thanks so ,much!

My 11 year old daughter has morphea and has spots coming up all on parts of her body she also was diagonased with celiac disease last year and concerned they are both auto ammuine diseases they maybe from leaky gut been to specialists locally but just adived to put creams on spots ..I feel it is to do with the gut anyone know how to help or reccommend someone thanks Tracenta

I was speaking to a naturopath about my daughter, who suffers from eczema and allergies. He mentioned that she was more than likely suffering from leaky gut syndrome. This prompted me to do some research on the subject and I soon realised that I too had many of the symptoms. I was extremely fatigued and extremely anxious. I had joint pain and suffered from poor immunity. I decided to take drastic action and cut out all sugar and wheat products and although I didn’t give up dairy, I went lactose free. (I generally only have a small amount of milk in my morning coffee). The first thing I noticed was that the joint pain disappeared. The fatigue improved over time and the anxiety is dissipating daily. I take coconut oil daily, hydrolysed gelatin (which provides collagen to heal the leaky gut), moringa powder (provides amino acids) and cinnamon powder (to reduce insulin resistance). I add them all to a smoothie consisting of mainly baby spinach leaves and I add 1/2 kiwi, ginger, lemon juice, cucumber and berries. I find that this kick starts my day and gives me energy. I make my own gluten free bread for lunch and I eat relatively normal meals for dinner (like meat, fish or chicken and vegetables or salad). I don’t eat grains and I use gluten free pasta for bolognaise, lasagne etc. I do eat oats because they have a probiotic effect on the bowel. I have 1 coffee a day, I drink greet tea and lemon between meals and I only drink filtered water. I take a good probiotic daily and an immune support supplement. Since I started these changes, I’ve lost weight regardless of whether I exercise or not and my current weight loss is 15kg. (This has been over a 12 month period, but I’ve kept the weight off and I’m continuing to lose weight). I wouldn’t say that I am completely healed, but I am certainly heading in the right direction. My daughters eczema has also improved as have her other symptoms related to leaky gut syndrome. I am so grateful to the naturopath that brought leaky gut to may attention and helped me to make positive changes to the health and wellbeing of myself and my family.

Most of what was discussed here also matches the symptoms of pyroluria. Among the symptoms listed here for leaky gut also are found inthe very prolific ailment named Pyroluria. I have been wrestling with : Lupus, Celiac Sprue, had three heart attacks, Coronary artery disease, Epilepsy, Congestive heart failure and been misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the list goes on -- but somehow I have not died -- and even experienced a hearth reversal for the past several years. My best friend, a registered nurse with lupus says I am "youthing." I think she coined the term but she is doing most of what I have done with alternative practioners like: examined food allergies, gotten acupuncture, taken vitamins for Pyroluria added L-glutamine to her diet for depression. So I am saying don't give up when your body is sending out a cry for help but try options that are recommended by your health conscious friends who are thriving. I am writing a detailed book about my own health journey spelling out how I reversed the trend towards an early death -- often instigated by drug pushers with MD after their name. Well the title of my book will be "A Lifetime of Healing" which explores healing from trauma, genetic issues,and misguided advice from under-informed, well-meaning doctors. I suggest that your own survival is worth some time at a medical or nutritional library. Explore nutritional options just in case they can help without all the side effects. By the way, I no longer have relentless joint pain or heart pain but I used to consume Ibuprofen like a food group. For me, that is an unexpected miracle.

Interesting, I did not know this is a major cause of weight gain

I have been dealing with all if the symptoms listed for around 16 years. I have gotten horribly worse over the last 2 1/2 years. I was recently told that I have severe vitamin deficiencies. My doctor just says take vitamins and I will feel better. My theory is I need to find out why or what is causing this. Could leaky gut cause this problem.

This post clearly depicts how leaky gut can be treated with appropriate diet. Yes, many foods such as gluten and lentils will trigger the symptoms of leaky gut. One must understand the exact triggering foods and avoid them. Certain foods like fermented foods (probiotics) will help in treating the leaky gut syndrome. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Simple and informative.

Thanks for the article, I believe I may have some of the same issues. One question though, if going back and consuming these foods causes flare ups then have you really even healed anything or are you just treating the symptoms rather than the cause? If your gut lining is healed then consuming these foods on occasion shouldn't cause any issues right?

Hi, I have all the symptoms that come with Leaky Gut. At first thought it was SIBO but treatment was ineffective. I do not include gluten, sugars, dairy, soy or anything processed or artificial in my diet. I do not drink alcohol and have had this lifestyle for about 8 years. I have been on the low Fodmap for 4-5 year also and I am suffering so much with severe gas that it prevents me from sleeping and most days I am too uncomfortable to walk. I am having large amounts of hair lost which seems to coincide with the stress of this, I have been stuck like this for 9 months now. I see a Herbal practitioner who has started to do home visits to me and have been taking various Herbal Medicines for the symptoms which has done nothing to help. I have had relevant blood tests, stool tests and Colonoscopy which has detected nothing. Any advice is welcomed as I do not know what else to do and can not stay like this.

Hello, I've had really bad anxiety/panic attacks for the last 2 years, mainly when I'm in a car......do you think that this could be caused by leaky gut? thanks! Ashleigh

How can Intermittent Fasting helps cure leaky gut?

You said that in 3 months you has controlled your leaky gut. I'm into my second month and still deal with fatigue. Is that normal? I haven't started reintroducing gluten, dairy and sugar yet.

I have been experiencing for the past two months the WORST stomach issues. It came out of no where, but one day I woke up and anything I ate my stomach swelled to the size of a pregnant woman. I had severe constipation, and had no idea why. Oddly though, no pain unless my stomach was distended. Then it was more an uncomfortable feeling as opposed to pain. After a GI doctor who had no idea what was wrong, he tried me on Neomycin for SIBO. All this did was cause my stomach to swell again, and did not fix my issue. I started researching myself and picked up I might have candida overgrowth so started on CandiSmart from Whole Foods. Boom, I could go to the bathroom again and all constipation was gone. I've started taking oregano oil, garlic extract, CandiElim, Gastric Acid digestive enzyme support, and GlutoAloeMine. I am seeing some results, but still bloating with food. After seeing holistic doctor they are pretty sure I have leaky gut (can't do breath test for Sibo because you have to be off antibiotics for 3-4 weeks). I am only 25 and struggling to cut foods I love out of my diet but I am attempting to do 2 days of just bone broth to start healing the gut, and then move into just meat and vegetables. Any other advice?

I notice when I eat I get pain under my breasts. Every day diarrhea belching weight gain where I can't lose. I have a hard time sleeping, is this related? I quit having dairy due to stomach issues got tested not allergic.

Thanks for sharing all this helpful information.I have found it extremely helpful.

Hi I have been dealing with stomach issues since i was 17 i am 26 now . Terrible stomach pain , acid reflux, bowel movements pretty much do as they please 1 day i can be pooping all day and the next im constapated for 2 days or just stop pooping without the urge to go.  As a teenager i would go to my PCP and complain of my bones hurting I came back so much she did a sed rate test and it was 34. Now I have constant joint pain, muscle weakness, memory loss, on top of all my stomach issues. recently i have been having food allergies to beef,ground beef, sausage, and dairy milk. everytime i eat these foods I feel so tired, and sick to my stomach sometimes i will vomit but thats rare. I want to know whats wrong with me I am sick of being "sick and tired". I have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome

I have been sick 3 months. Dizzy, light headed, horse throat, fatigue, constant hissing, burping, constipation  trouble swallowing, taste is creamy, stiff sore neck, face and eyes twitch. Had an EGD after normal blood work, mri's, CT scan, etc. Finally a doctor diagnosed H Pyloria infection in small intestine. He ordered two antibiotics for 14 days. 

I have same problem from few years and tried some of the products. I was looking for the information about this and came across your article, and I thank you for talking about Leaky Gut Syndrome. Keep posting!


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