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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

Created: 11/26/2013
Last Updated: 03/29/2018

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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.


I came across your article, and I thank you for talking about Leaky Gut Syndrome. I have often wondered if I have the same thing.

I believe I have a problem with casein that is in dairy so I've been avoiding it. Well, this past Sunday, I had something that had cheese on it, and the next day, I could barely walk. I was so miserable. The whole side of my body was inflamed and putting one foot in front of the other was extremely painful. I'm only 51, but I felt like I was 99 years old.

I have never been tested to see if I have a problem with dairy, but I'm seeing a functional medicine doctor in San Mateo in December, and I'm going to ask her about this. I don't have any digestive issues, but what I've noticed mostly is the extreme joint pain and overall achiness I get. Also, the depression that accompanies it.

I'm curious how you are doing now since you wrote this a year ago? After doing all the right steps to heal your gut, have you ever been able to add these problem foods back into your diet?

Firstly, I think, as most clinicians do, that it is foolish and often dangereous to self-diagnose.  I won't do it and relate only to symptoms and positive or negative responses.  Secondly,  there is no actual clinical disorder as Leaky Gut Syndrome.  It is a name based upon two falllacies:  a:  The gut leaks and produces symptoms and  b:  The gut, by irritiation, absorbs impurities and even poisons from the body.  Right now the medical community is leaning toward seeing such disorders as irritative disorders and that treating the symptoms of these disorders may improve nutrient absorption, reduction of fermentation gases, introduction or increase in pre and probiotics, increase in water intake, reduction in use of irritant medications, spices and such and reduction in certain kinds of proteins and types of fibers which do not contribute to fermenation and gas production.  Some studies, such as in Australian and Canadian research into Low FODMAP diets, have awakened Gastrointestinal Medicine Nutritional Science to many of these factors, especially the thoughts that certain diets work for "everyone";  The old "Sippy" diets long used for patients with gastric and duodenal ulcers is long gone because it did not only "not" work, it made the disedase worse.  The real cuprit was the H. Pylactor organism irritating the stomach wall.  The treatment was, and is, antibiotics.  So, research goes on and so does self diagnoses and treatment.  I hope soon we may have some clearer picture, better answers and the end of the "snake oil" remedies for bowel disorders.  Thank you.

It’s quite interesting that you cite “antibiotics” as the cure! Ha. Antibiotics are well known for causing imbalances in the gut. It sure sounds like you are guilty of self-diagnosing. You’re also very archaic in your thinking. With so many chemicals, gmo’s, fake sugars additives “Sucralose” these days, how is it not conceivable that all of these things haven’t caused these issues. Time to wake up and get with the times. Chemicals and antibiotics are not the answer! 

She did not say antibiotics were the answer, she said it was part of the cause... and it triggers antibodies in your own body to fight, causing inflammation.  


It certainly isn’t snake oil.  Patients are improving following these dietary changes.  Antibiotics are the last thing your body needs, killing all your healthy microbiome! 

Hi there,I am soo confused now, I was tested positive for h.pylori, my symptoms are just like the ones of leaky gut,they all have similar symptoms(h.pylori,candida,leaky gut)..what worries me is my food sensitivities,I have removed gluten,soy,wheat and cows milk and still don't feel any better,I just don't get rashes anymore..soo is it because the h.pylori is still active?? I am just soo scared if I start with my meds my immune system will start attacking my body....

Best Regards


I was also diagnosed with helicobacter pylori (H.Pylori) I went thru 2 massive rounds of antibiotics because the 1dt round didn't kill it and suffer severly. Every time I was in the doctors office I felt like I was banging my head against the wall! They just wanted to write me prescriptions and not look further into the problem! I have to come to the leaky gut diagnosis (YES I have self diagnosed because of my getting no where doctor visits! I have every systom of thyroid and they r trying to tell me I have fibrmyalgia! I put my finger up and said "NO" because they want to give me another "pill") as well and I have been taking big steps in changing my gut flora. enzymes to clean the gut and massive doses of probiotics to get my good bacteria back. I have changed my diet as well with lots of fermented foods, bone broths, clean non-GMO/organics, as well as taking out the gluten, dairy (not that I ate much to begin with), refined sugars and the caffine. It is a big lifestyle change! Especially when I have to pack a lunch everyday for work and have no refrigeration for my lunch that I do not eat for 6 hrs (close til the end of my shift), in a hot warehouse! Do your own research!!! I like to watch Dr.Axe and not just for gut health! When searching for him it will bring you to other doctors, nutritionist, dieticians and researchers! God Bless your journey! <3 

There are plenty of reserch documents available which show that leaky gut (a modern epidemic) is primarily caused by medical anti-biotics and Glyphosate (active ingredient of Roundup). Glyphosate was patented by Monsanto not as a weed killer, but as an anti-biotic! Anyone consuming non-organic wheat, barley, oats, or rye is getting big doses of Glyphosate each time, since all those crops are commercially sprayed with Glyphosate JUST BEFORE HARVEST, for its "drying effect". Look at youtube videos of Zach Bush (triple board certified MD) and Stephanie Seneff (scientist at MIT). Glyphosate not only kills the beneficial organisms in the gut microbiome, but opens the intestinal cell wall (among other negative effects to human physiology). Spore form probiotics combined withhumic and fulvic acids go a long way to healing the gut, but a change to an organic diet devoid of any form of wheat is also extremely important.

Ppis, antiacids, antibiotics, are what sets the stomach and intestines up for HP.  Two bottles of mastic gum which is a resin from pistachio trees, kills HP with no exacerbating repercussions like antibiotics which kill off good bacteria as well as the bad.  I had a batch of eggs that when I peeled the boiled eggs, my upstairs neighbirs called the gas company because tbe sulfur was so strong they though there was a gas leak.  So don't tell me there aren't residual antibiotics in our foods, not to mention glyphosate, fungicides et al, to cause death of our microbiomes!  Stomach needs acid, and good balance of bacterias for many functions in the body.

Firstly, the "organism" you refer to as H. Pylactor is in fact H.Pylori and it is NOT an organism. It is in fact a bacterial infection.  It is not the same as Leaky gut, although it can be a culprit in many digestive disorders. The remedy for digestive disorders is DIET. There is no magic pill. Check your facts!

I read with great interest the article and many of the comments submitted  by readers. I too suffer with many of the symptoms described in the article, including neck and shoulder pain, brain fog, memory impairment and bloating, to name a few.

Like many of you who sought help from a doctor,  I too ran into the same roadblocks. The bottom line is that western medicine (allopathic medicine), as it is practiced here in the U.S., is founded on prescription drugs and surgery. This is in stark contrast to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and Ayurveda which are based on holistic healing that has been practiced thousands of years. Allopathic medicine here in the U.S. is barely a 100 years old.

What I have found useful in my case is a team approach in working with doctors.  They have access to lab tests and radiographic equipment to help diagnose any problems I might be experiencing. I then use this information to find the right practitioner or self treatment protocol for me.

One fallacy that I refuse to accept is the notion of spontaneous disease.  The idea that I might one day discover that I have cancer for no other reason accept that I am in a high risk group or that it is hereditary. That is what I was told when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. I was treated with surgery and radiation and today I am asymptomatic for prostate cancer despite having a PSA of over 500. 

What is the take away here? Use care in selecting a healthcare practitioner.  You know your body and what it is telling you. If you eat certain foods and find that you develop pain symptoms, then clearly you are experiencing a problem in your GI track. That being the case, your best option might be seeing a GI tract specialist,  a nutritionist or a doctor who practices integrated medicine.  These are doctors who incorporate nutrition, lifestyle recommendations and other forms of natural healing practices,  i.e., reflexology, acupressure, TCM, etc., in developing a treatment plan for you particular condition. If your doctor keeps telling you that the symptoms you are describing are unrelated to the problem you are experiencing, it may be time to find another doctor who is a better listener.

Also, forums like this are an excellent way to exchange ideas, and remedies that have yielded real results. With this thought  in mind,  Dr Eric Bakker has published numerous videos on candida overgrowth and leaky gut at yeastinfection.org, as well Dr. Steven Gundry at gundrymd.com. Let's keep the dialogue going.


HI Samantha,

Thanks for posting your article, I have had years of digestive problems mainly constipation and IBS, I have just been diagnosed with Leaky Gut Syndrome this week after doing the lab test. With your diet did you 100% eliminate everything for 6 weeks over this time did you have any alcohol or sugars? I have been told to avoid alcohol and sugar as much as possible. Have you been able to introduce any of these foods back into your diet?



In your comments you referenced a lab test but you didn't specify which one. could you elaborate more? Thank you.

Any lab test would work.

Can tell us what is the name of this lab test ? to identify the leaky gut

is it done via blood test / urine / stool test ?

or is it done via endoscopy / colonscopy ?

Hello I was diagnosed with IBS in 2014 and a few things I noticed is changing my eating habits. With that being said, I used to drink a lot of beer and hard alcohol aka spirits and my whole GI tract would hate me the next day. I have discovered wine on the other hand didnt effect me in the same way as the other two did. Maybe it was just me but i thought it was worthy to share. I hope you find your answer.

Many people believe that glutamine is consumed exclusively to gain muscle mass and it is not true. As discussed in this article, glutamine is also important for improving health.

Thanks for the post, very good

I have almost all the symptoms you describe, feeling tired and not motivated, bloated, also headaches. It found that sugary foods make it worse, so I have tried to eliminate sugar from my diet. I didn't know about Leaky Gut Syndrome until about a month ago....Thanks for the suggestions, these will definitely help me control my leaky gut. I also found Elizabeth Lipski's book "Leaky Gut Syndrome" helpful. It is available on Amazon if anyone is interested at http://www.amazon.com/Leaky-Gut-Syndrome-Elizabeth-Lipski/dp/0879838248

I am so glad to have found a clue to help solve my seemingly endless "health problem dominos" I have always had skin problems. Up all night itching, hands covered in rashes, spots of dry skin that never go away. Years of waking up with stabbing stomach aches. I also had a long line of ear-nose-throat diagnoses. Surgery after surgery for chronic ear infections. Practically 15 years of non-stop antibiotics Not a single doctor told my parents to cut back on dairy or wheat, in fact, they encouraged them to increase dairy and fortified cereal to help with my iron deficiency. I grew a tolerance for these symptoms thinking that it would always be that way and, since no doctors were ever able to help, I just learned to deal with it. Well, becoming a parent made me determined to make sure that my children never had to suffer like I did and still do. My first child had chronic skin problems and excessive mucus. After talking to a few wise moms, I decided to remove dairy from her diet. I didn't eat or drink much dairy so it was super easy to make the transition. Within one week- I repeat 1 week- her skin was completely clear. We have made significant dietary changes since then. We have removed ALL dairy, gluten, and caffeine from our diets. I would like to continue on to remove most processed food but mainly sugar. I think that the healing portion of leaky gut is going to be the most challenging because I feel like I am on my own as far as professional help. I've had such a bad experience with mainstream medical a doctors that I am extremely hesitant to venture in their direction for advice. I plan to impliment the GAPS diet because I believe it will bring me somewhere close to "square one" as far as building proper gut health and functional immune system. Please, everyone, continue to talk to others about leaky gut! I am convinced that it plays a huge roll in preventing so-called life-long chronic suffering. Please, please talk to parents about this so they can realize that what they are feeding their children can cripple them in the future, literally!!! What we put in our body has a direct effect on how we feel systemically not just digestively.

You need a nutritional therapy practitioner and seem like your problems can be corrected by making the gut healed and detoxing then start as a new person. Its embracing holistic approach compared to specific disease of the body.

Try "The Plant Paradox - the hidden dangers in healthy foods" by Dr Gundry.

In addition to the book, Dr. Gundry has a supplement that gets rid of lectins in your gut. I have had all these symptoms for the last few years. Doesnt matter what I eat, I get gas, bloating, diarrhea. Fatigue...I sleep well but I could always sleep more. Joint pain, brain fog. I had no idea that all the symptoms were related. My mother had all these symptoms too and passed away a couple of years ago because she became septic from colon exploding. I'm excited to finally find out I'm not alone. Thank you all for your posts. 

I have same problem from few years and tried some of the products not completely cured. Your article is very helpful, and i would like to ask you, is there any particular products to cure this issue permanently? if so please let me know. Thanks

I have many of the symtoms listed above and have been to many doctors with no success. This has been going on for over 4 years. I am at my wits end. I suffer a lot from nausea. Can this be a symtoms of leaky gut?

although this does not list nausea as a symptom, I often have nausea associated with diarrhea from eating gluten. I am trying the Paleo diet this summer to see if it helps with my digestive and joint issues. Good luck to you, also.

although this does not list nausea as a symptom, I often have nausea associated with diarrhea from eating gluten. I am trying the Paleo diet this summer to see if it helps with my digestive and joint issues. Good luck to you, also.

i think i have ay leaking gut but would like to know if anyone has had the same as me where when you burb it smells and hurts the stomace

Oh my goodness!! My granddaughter says, " you have stinky burps grandma!"

Does Gerd is a factor for having a leaky gut?

I have been sick for 5 straight months. They have run tests and so far nothing has shown. I have lost 34 lbs. within this time period. I am currently waiting on colonscopy, scope results and having a Cat Scan this Thursday. All ultrasound results are good. All blood tests are good. I am not celiac.

I constantly belch for 8 hrs at a time. Every time I put water, or any liquid in my stomach, or put in any food in my stomach I belch. I have gone to a naturopathic doctor three weeks ago and they have taken me off all dairy, all gluten, all soy,all beef, all pork, all processed meats. Most of which I already went off the beginning of aug. For two months I ate no raw vegetables or fruits, no beef. I ate only chicken and pork chops and rice or half potato and cooked vegetables. I have had constipation all my life and now in the past three months have had periods of diarrehea.
I get only three to four hours of sleep for months now. I am back into depression. I have no energy. I am light headed and dizzy. My blood pressure is very low. Extreme weight loss since I can hardly eat.
I am taking a digestive enzyme, probiotics, L-Glutamine, Liquid acid reflux drops, Vit. B12, Omega 3,Vit D3-5000 IU.
Do you think I have a leaky gut.
Who does the blood test? I need help! I am desperate. I am 65 yrs. old. I have lost all my muscle as well.
Is this leaky gut syndrome?

I can't diagnose that but it seems you need a nutritional therapy practitioner who can manage your symptoms and can order blood test for leaky gut.

I knew fatty acids are required, meats that are organic is part of the diet but fist size only, detoxing is done after leaky gut is fixed by juicing, as our body has the ability to heal itself. I have known a lot of successful stories of this nutritional boot camp even medicine doctors were participants

If you drink bottled water.....STOP! I had constant belching for no reason..one day I thought..I think it's the bottled water. Low and behold it WAS! Not ever drinking bottled water again.

Stop gulping

I agree with another reply you got. Ditch the bottled water!

I was diagnosed with IBS while in college, but suffered with pain, gas, bloating, and frequent respiratory infections from a small child until I turned 40. I learned at that time that I was intolerant to gluten. Eliminating that allowed some small improvement, but it was only 6 months ago that I learned how damaging reverse osmosis water can be when used for a prolonged period of time. I can no longer remember the name of the test, but there is a test your Gastroenterologist can order that detects leaky gut. It won't tell you the cause (and there are many possibilities) but it can confirm if you are afflicted with the condition.

I found out that drinking reverse osmosis water for a prolonged period of time is often associated with leaky gut syndrome. It isn't necessarily a cause, but it might be negatively affecting your gut lining. I switched to drinking "electrolyzed reduced water" (yes I chose to purchase an expensive Kangen machine) and I am SO MUCH better. I also have had to eliminate all dairy, but the healing of my gut didn't take off until I switched my water.

I no longer have loose stools, I sleep better, and my recent bloodwork was amazing!.

I can't explain why it makes such a difference, but my close friend who introduced me to Kangen water has a very informative youtube video about how the water changed his life called "Dr. Michael explains the water" (there are two, the first is rough, then he polished it up when it got looked at so much - I like the revised presentation better.)

Good luck - I hope you find comfort!

Kegan water machine......it is sold via multilevel marketing right? never a good sign.

Hi! Have you found relief from your symptoms?

Have you been tested for SIBO? your symptoms sound very in line with Sibo and Candida in your whole system. Ask your doctor to give you breath test and stool test for Candida. I had all the same symptoms and attacking these two cured me completely.

Happy Belly, How did you "attack" the Candida and the Sibo? Please share. Thx

Happy belly I would also like to know how you got rid of it as I believe I have the same problem as well

It sounds to me like you have Adrenal Fatigue. I URGE you to get Dr. Wilson's book called Adrenal Fatigue ASAP! You can order it from Amazon.com . There are quizes in there that will help you figure out if you have Adrenal Fatigue and how severe it is. I am just getting over a lot of the same symptoms you have by using supplements mentioned in the book. I am going on 64! You CAN recover from this. This book is fantastic!

I have been diagnosed with hashimotos, leaky gut, SIBO and Candida overgrowth. I have most of the symptoms you listed, and many more. I recommend seeing a naturapathic doc and have them test your food sensitivities, test you for SIBO, and candida overgrowth. I also found that Mg supplements perscribed for menstrual crams actually helped with my brain fog.

Hi, I would highly recommend seeing a functional medicine doctor as they specialize in systemic health and are the bridge between conventional and more holistic approaches to medicine and healing. They seek to treat the whole person and have tests that are more accurate than those used in conventional medicine settings. I was wondering if it could be a parasite. Or something called an NETs (not well-defined condition) that can affect the intestines and eventually the whole body. Also look into energy healers and practitioners, One in particular is Ria Swift in PA. Google her website and see her work - she can be of profound help.

Your symptoms sound just like my Mum. She was undiagnosed for 7 years, saw a specialist for years, kept food diaries, ate well, lost weight and suffered terrible pain. This woman had 9 children and 6 miscarriages, she knows pain. Eventually she was diagnosed with NETS and after surgery on her bowel, no more pain. Monthly injections has Kept the remaining NETS at bay. Good luck, find a great specialist, it’s quite hard to detect. 

Have you looked into your gallbladder functionality? The belching and stomach pain, as well as fatigue could be indicators?

id like to know if you tried anything else for your condition or determined if it was leaky gut or something else? I have the same symptoms except with the extreme fatigue I do fall asleep way earlier than I used to. The depression is pretty bad and is actually the most concerning to me. I don’t link it to anything but maybe my gut. I have always been a skeptic of water bottles but didn’t know why. I still drink them though but just read the response below and wondering what that means... I feel the emptiness in my stomach but can’t eat at times... and if I force myself to eat even a small bite I usually go to the restroom within an hour to empty it out. I’ve lost about 10 lbs in about a month. I’m 32 and I had my gallbladder removed at 16 and have had acne since then. The real digestive issues didn’t start until about 5 years ago. Mostly bloating and constipation and fatigue with anxiety. Then I cut gluten 2 yrs ago and was no longer bloated or constipated but just last month started feeling mild anxiety and now depression that comes and goes accompanied by no appetite and constant bathroom visits. I also get pressure headaches. I’m so tired of researching and sometimes feeling hopeless. I have two kids and they are worrying now. I was given prozac at low dose and took for 5 days but on day 5 felt worse than other past days. Started taking a probiotic at the same time but also not sure if working. Please help!

Read about low stomach acid, this can cause leaky gut and all The problems you mentioned.


Check for auto immune diseases. It comes from leaky gut or plays a huge factor As well. I just learned I have Lupus and my diet stress and other things like leaky gut plays a role.

The symptoms you described could be from a variety of disorders including cortisol insufficiency. I hope you went to an endocrinologist and get some testing done, have a diagnosis, and are doing well now.

This is my for sept ever post on anything like this. I'm 32 and have been experiencing extreme fatigue, Brian fog, constipation, acne and low moods for years. My skin problems became worse at 24 and I have had constipation and gut issues for as long as I can remember. I struggle to concentrate as well.

I have tried everything........I take zinc, b12, super greens nutribullet always with organic produce, colonics, probiotics, fish oils etc........ Been for blood test and stool test with negative results.......yet still I struggle......

Does anyone have any idea if this is leaky gut? Or any advice?

Much appreciated......

Cherry xx

Find a nutritional therapy practitioner. Our gut must be healthy and this professional therapist can help your problems. I can provide you one if you really are interested. I knew some of the clients were even GI doctors.


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