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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 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!

I would like to know what foods and supplements are good for this?

I just found The Food Paradox Cookbook by Dr. Gundry and have been able to get started quickly. He also explains about foods you should not eat, along with foods you can eat that are lectin-free. You should check it out. It's already making a big difference in my bloating and inflammation.

My stomach ususally is upset. I hope these tips will be beneficial for me.

hi there my name is Sandra from Ghana, i am 26 years old now but as a child i developed a rash which later turned into a severe rash, it was very itchy , very dark and thick.i had it for almost 5 years after some time the whole thing went away not knowing what happened to it. now in the year 2017 after university i discovered the rash was coming back this time it spreaded very fast and more darker with inflamations, some small pores filled up with creamish fluid.i have tried everything possible but to no avail.i recently saw an article that leaky guts can lead to such skin disorder and also i have been attacked with candida since that time till now, i really need help and advice on foods and conditions to undertake. it is really stressing me as i have totally moved from my normal life and always indoors ,i dont have any form of social life.

I have been having many stomach issues for years.  My gut swells until it feels like it is going to explode.  Nausea frequents me as well as belching almost all the time.  Stomach pain, headaches, earache, and much more.  The doctor did an endoscopy & colonoscopy to rule out chrohn's and celiac.  Telling me nothing was wrong except some diverticulosis.  I hurt a lot everywhere.  I can't lose weight no matter what I do.  I appre3ciate the article on leaky gut.  Everything sounds like me.

GMO'S and pesticides are the underlying cause of leaky gut syndrome. We never had these problems until they started messing with our food supply. Wake up people!

Thank you for this helpful and useful tip. We should really take care of our gut, it's like our second brain.

Samantha, I had the exact same issues and mine were exascerbated by a low-dose antibiotic perscribed by my dertmatologist for eczema. After about two months on the antibiotic, my already existing problems grew far worse. I was leveled. No energy at all, and I felt ill, like I had the flu. I visited an integrative medicine MD, and he gave me the same information as your nutritionist provided.

FYI - the addition of antibiotics can lead to the overgrowth of intestinal yeast that completely wipes out your energy. He recommended the same supplements as you indicated in the article as well as an RX for intestinal yeast (gross!). I've been on a gluten-free diet for years, but I now adhere to it much more strictly. Great article. Explains the issue well!

Leaky gut gained attention lately, but now it is also known as "Increased Intestinal Permeability". I found something new about the leaky gut in this article https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-leaky-gut-real. Hope this article will help you understand more about this problem.

Totally with you on the plethora of symptoms leaky gut causes except for ADHD/ADD. As an adult that has battled adhd her entire life I can tell you that ADHD/ADD is not a symptom that is triggered by any outside environmental causes. ADHD/ADD is a neurological brain disorder one is born with. We are missing connections in our neuropathways and some pathways are permanently switch on where they shouldnt be. I do believe outside environmental factors can worsen our symptoms of ADHD but they cannot cause one to get ADHD. Also a symptom of ADHD/ADD is the craving of carbs and sugars due to the dopamine release our brains are seeking and that we are severely lacking. Other then that wonderful eye opening informative article.

Did you have an issue with emitting a foul odor? Breathing wise? 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder mostly caused by genetic factors and it is definitely not a consequence of a leaky gut, so please do your research and cross sit off your list of symptoms. You can totally feel brain fog and lack focus due to a poor gastrointestinal health or hormonal imbalances, but that is not ADHD. Things like that makes me extremely weary about anything an article might say due to its obvious lack of scientifical validation

A lot of leaky gut symptons are  the same as too much oxalates in the body caused from super foods like spinach almond meal. These oxalates attach themselves to iron molecules and form crystals and can be found in every cell and organ in the body and can accumulate making you feel very unwell, so either cut down on high oxalate foods or elimate them from your diet and you will feel much better. Eat more fats like liver and dairy if you can which makes them innert and they can ge of the body either by bowel or the uninary tract. These oxalates can also cause kidney stones which are very painful. Good luck hope it helps, and dont take my word for it there is becoming a lot of talk about it with well informed nutritionalists.

Hi All

This is the first time I truly engage with reading all posts on the leaky gut syndrome.

My main symptoms are low moods, oesophagus and abdominal pain, as well as fatigue and joints pains.

From my experience, simple, clean and possibly organic foods are always good. So, fresh fish, seafood, organic eggs, organic or free-range chicken, plenty of fresh herbs with every sandwich and salad, all veg (raw whenever possible) and low sugar fruits, like apples and all berries. A Scottish style porridge (water and salt only) can be wonderful too; I use whole large organic Irish oats mixed with flax seeds, a pinch of salt and water. An absolute gut friend feeling. Green(ish) bananas are wonderful as a gut-lining friends, too.

I wholeheartedly recommend any organic plant milk (NOT a soya!), especially a fresh chilled, in most large supermarkets. A litre lasts me a week. Almond, oat, cashew, coconut, hemp, tigernut. 

Here in the UK tap water is awfully highly chlorinated, so I avoid it like nothing else. I filter my water for literally everything, even for soaking my lettuce and fresh herbs to clean them). Not just for a taste in tea etc., but chlorine kills all bacteria, bad and good. It simply cannot be good for a sensitive gut, come on...!

I take probiotic (3 bln count) every day and a very high dose of vitamin D3 (it is ever so underrated, especially amongst menopausal women and people suffering from various mental illnesses; it is essential for everyone living in the U.K. for that matter, due to a chronic lack of a sufficient daily sun exposure or even a proper strength of a daylight during long winter months).

I avoid sweets (apart from 70-80% chocolate), any prossessed foods, deep-fried and artificial staff. Gluten-free bread is sadly too often high in sugars, so I treat it as a daily luxury, but for breakfast only.

With my leaky gut, I am very seriously intolerant to MSG (monosodium glutamate) and any artificial sweeteners, as well as Citric Acid (ever present in most drinks) - the first two give me the most awful, unbearable pains for long hours. Therefore I always carry with me two antidota: herbal tablets made with 100% Thistle (also known as milk thistle, Scotch thistle, Silymarin = Silybum marianum) and anti-histamine pills. 

Good luck to everyone. Do not give up and keep pestering your doctor for relevant tests, as well as those for blood levels of your vitamins and mighty micro elements. 







I really believe that there is a connection between leaky gut and mental well being as well.


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