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What is a Leaky Gut and How to Avoid It

Image of a woman with upset digestion

How does a leaky gut affect my health? 

The gut separates our internal milieu from the outside environment and protects us from absorbing harmful substances into the bloodstream. The intestinal wall is constantly exposed to food and microorganisms, some harmful and others beneficial. Imbalances in the gut flora change gut barrier health, which affects many aspects of our health, including the skin. Let's look at the gut barrier in a bit more detail.

What is the gut barrier?

The gut barrier consists of a layer of mucus and intestinal cells. The mucus layer acts as a coat covering the cells in the intestinal wall and removes bacteria and toxins into the intestinal flow. The intestinal mucus layer controls the transfer of water and nutrients to the deeper intestinal cell layer and acts as a first line of defense against harmful compounds.

The role of the mucous layer 

Gut microbiota are essential to maintaining a healthy mucus layer. The thickness and the formation of a protective mucus layer in the small and large intestines depends on the balance of mucus forming and mucous degrading bacteria.

When the gut microbiome is out of balance, an increase in mucus-degrading bacteria uses mucus as an energy source, making the gut barrier more vulnerable to harmful microorganisms reaching the intestinal epithelium, leading to increased susceptibility to infection and inflammation.

The cell layer

A single-cell layer separates the intestine content from our interior. The intestinal epithelium supports mucin production, which renews every 3–5 days, a protective mechanism to remove infected or damaged cells. The tight junctions between the cells control the permeability of the intestine.  Inflammatory messengers break down these tight junctions and increase the permeability of the intestinal wall.[1]

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome? 

Leaky gut syndrome describes a breakdown of healthy gut barrier function where cells can not maintain these tight junctions, allowing microorganisms and their toxins to “leak” into the bloodstream. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora, which leads to problems within the digestive tract and affects overall health. Studies show that modifications in the intestinal bacteria and inflammation may play a role in developing several common chronic diseases.[2]

Healthy Gut vs Leaky Gut

Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome:

  • Chronic digestive distress, including diarrhea, constipation, and bloating

  • Nutritional deficiencies, food Allergies

  • Seasonal Allergies and Asthma

  • Hormonal Imbalances, including premenstrual syndrome and menopause

  • Fatigue and fibromyalgia

  • Headaches

  • Difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder

  • Skin problems, such as acne, rashes, eczema, psoriasis

  • Joint pain

  • Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease

Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

What causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Food Choices, Diet

Diet plays an important role in the maintenance of a healthy gut barrier. The Western-style diet with high sugar and fat and processed foods changes the gut microbiota composition and impairs the colonic mucus layer. Food additives in processed foods change gut microbiota composition, reduce mucus layer thickness, and promote intestinal inflammation. [3]

Chronic Stress
Continued high cortisol levels increase gut permeability,  promote dysbiosis, and the translocation of bacterial toxins into the bloodstream making us more susceptible to infection and slow recovery from illness. Research published in Cell and Tissues 2011 showed that increased levels of stress hormones increased gut dysbiosis.[4]

An imbalance in the gut microbiome includes an increase in bacteria that produce lipopolysaccharides, toxins that move into the bloodstream and are inflammatory. What may not seem obvious, pollution also damages the integrity of the gut lining and contributes to autoimmune disease. [5,6,7]

Antibiotics change the composition of the gut microbiome. Antibiotic exposure has been linked to diseases such as obesity and diabetes.[8]

How can I test for leaky gut syndrome?

The following tests you can work with your naturopathic or integrative physician. Most of these tests can be performed at home and are readily available on the Web. For more detailed analysis and management of your gut health. The following tests you can work with a Naturopathic or Integrative Physician. 

Gut Microbiome Analysis: A microbiome test examines the gut flora in a sample of an individual's stool. The test identifies the different kinds of bacteria in their GI tract and can serve as a guide to the health of your gut microbiome.

Lactulose/mannose Test: This assay measures the ability of two non-metabolized sugar molecules—lactulose and mannitol—to permeate the intestinal mucosa.

Zonulin Test: Evaluates dysbiosis and intestinal permeability. Zonulin increases intestinal permeability in the jejunum and ileum and is considered a biomarker for barrier permeability.Elevated zonulin levels are associated with Leaky Gut SYndrome, and have been linked to a number of conditions such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Calprotectin Test: A stool test that is used to detect inflammation in the intestines.Some bacterial infections, and in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it is associated with disease activity and severity.

Short Chain Fatty Acids Test:  Includes butyric Acid, Acetic acid , propionic acid which serve as fuel for all cells that play a vital role in gut barrier function and immune regulation.

How can I take care of my gut?

It is clear that gut health is central to your health and making sure it does a good job digestion and absorption of nutrients takes a holistic approach addressing several lifestyle adjustments. You can start  supporting your gut health by taking inventory of your daily food intake, your physical activity and your mental emotional state.

What foods do I avoid with leaky gut syndrome?

  • Sugar, dairy and alcohol
  • Bread, pasta, wheat, gluten
  • Processed meats, cold cuts
  • Baked cookies, pastries, cakes 
  • Junk Food and fast food
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Refined Oils
Remove these things from your diet and lifestyle to improve gut health

What to eat with leaky gut syndrome?


Adopting a Mediterranean diet rich in anti- inflammatory foods with less meat and more fruits, vegetables and fish has been shown to reduce leaky gut syndrome and improve gut health.


Prebiotic fiber a soluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables in various amounts and is food for the good bacteria in your gut to help give them an edge in the fight. They are usually plant fibers that are found in fruits and vegetables in various amounts. Some plants contain more prebiotic fiber, such as Baobab fruit, an ingredient that may be new to you and has been enjoyed as part of the diet throughout Africa for centuries and used traditionally to alleviate digestive complaints.


Probiotics help restore gut microbiome health and the integrity of your gut lining. Increasingly we are learning that adding specific probiotics to our diet can benefit athletic performance, mood and immune function by promoting gut health.


An amino acid that plays a crucial role in the human body, including in the gut. 
This amino acid helps protect and repair the gut lining, reducing the risk of leaky gut syndrome, which can lead to various health issues. L-glutamine supplements are used in the management of certain gastrointestinal conditions, such as IBD, to help with tissue repair and reduce symptoms.


3 in 1 gut support. Rich in vitamin C, Prebiotic Fiber and Polyphenols. With Leaky gut there is a gradual deterioration of the lining of the gut , a degeneration of connective tissue and collagen. Vitamin C is an important nutrient that supports collagen health.  In addition to being rich in prebiotic fiber. Baobab contains 6 times more Vitamin C than citrus and an abundance of flavonoids, polyphenols that reduce inflammation and improve gut microbiome health.

KAIBAE Prebiotic Baobab fruit powder

Learn More about the Gut Boosting Benefits of Baobab Fruit

The Takeaway

Leaky gut describes a gut barrier that has lost its integrity and ability to keep bacteria and toxins, which trigger chronic inflammation. When left unaddressed, a Leaky Gut can lead to serious chronic diseases. Making better dietary choices, regular physical activity, and reducing stress greatly benefit gut health your gut microbiome balance and overall well-being!

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1.Paone P, Cani PD. Mucus barrier, mucins and gut microbiota: the expected slimy partners? Gut. 2020 Dec;69(12):2232-2243. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2020-322260. Epub 2020 Sep 11. PMID: 32917747; PMCID: PMC7677487. 
2.Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019 Aug;68(8):1516-1526. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318427. Epub 2019 May 10. PMID: 31076401; PMCID: PMC6790068.
3.Martel J, Chang SH, Ko YF, Hwang TL, Young JD, Ojcius DM. Gut barrier disruption and chronic disease. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2022 Apr;33(4):247-265. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2022.01.002. Epub 2022 Feb 9. PMID: 35151560.
4.Lyte M, Vulchanova L, Brown DR. Stress at the intestinal surface: catecholamines and mucosa-bacteria interactions. Cell Tissue Res. 2011 Jan;343(1):23-32. doi: 10.1007/s00441-010-1050-0. Epub 2010 Oct 13. PMID: 20941511.

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