what are the symptoms of a leaky gut

What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut?

Last modified on December 26th, 2023

A leaky gut is something that we’re just now starting to understand the ramifications of. When you struggle with this issue, it could be associated with so many other conditions.

Fixing your gut health could ultimately prove to be the underlying cause that helps benefit your health in many other ways.

Many people don’t even realize that it’s their gut creating their health problems and chronic diseases, and by recognizing the signs and symptoms, you can start to take definitive steps to feel better.

Symptoms that can help you recognize leaky gut syndrome include:

  • Autoimmune reactions and an overactive immune response
  • Allergic reactions, including asthma, swelling, and rashes
  • Food sensitivities
  • Joint and muscle problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Memory problems
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Infections such as recurring bladder or vaginal infections or frequent respiratory infections

Leaky gut is one of the most problematic and pervasive chronic health concerns.

When you have problems with your gut and digestive system, they tend to spill over to every other part of your health.

Your gut has a wall that lines it. The wall is like a net, and it has small holes. The small holes are filters.

These filters or tight junctions are supposed to allow only certain substances to pass through.

The filters of your gut lining should then prevent bigger, toxic, or harmful substances from passing through and entering your body.

When your gut is leaky, your lining or these intestinal barriers is damaged.

A leaky gut means your gut isn’t properly serving as a barrier.

Bad bacteria, undigested food particles, and gluten can pass through your system when you have a gut that’s leaky, contributing to various health problems, from abdominal pain to more serious systemic issues. 

Below, we’ll discuss the underlying causes and the symptoms of intestinal barrier dysfunction.

You may find that if you can deal with the root causes of your health issues, you can alleviate them.

Healing your gut is so critical to your overall health and well-being.

Despite our growing understanding of the wide range of gut health effects, it’s still very much overlooked in mainstream medicine and the medical community. 

What is Leaky Gut?

This is a digestive condition affecting the lining of your intestines.

If you have leaky gut syndrome, gaps in your intestinal walls can allow toxins and bacteria to pass freely into your bloodstream.

Your gastrointestinal tract comprises your esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines.

When you have food and drink, enzymes in your stomach and small intestine break down the nutrients into smaller molecules. Your body can use those molecules for growth, repair, and energy.

Your intestines also protect your body from toxins and harmful bacteria.

Your intestinal walls have tight openings.

These openings allow nutrients and water to pass into your bloodstream but keep harmful substances within.

When you have a leaky gut syndrome or LGS, your intestines openings widen.

Your intestines have a range of bacteria. These are called gut microbiota. The bacteria help with digestion and support your immune system’s function.

The gut microbiota is also responsible for protecting the intestinal wall.

LGS may relate to imbalances in gut microbiota.

When your gut microbiota isn’t balanced, it can trigger your immune response.

That immune response can lead to gut inflammation and increased intestinal permeability.

Intestinal permeability describes how easily substances can leak from your intestines, reaching your bloodstream.

Everyone has some level of leakiness in their gut because it’s not supposed to be entirely impenetrable. Some people may have a genetic predisposition that makes them more sensitive to digestive changes. Our modern life may also drive changes that lead to gut inflammation.

The standard American diet, low in fiber and high in sugar, may create problems that eventually lead to a leaky gut. Stress and alcohol use can also contribute to gut problems.

Intestinal permeability is thought to play a role in gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s, irritable bowel, and celiac.

While researchers know with certainty that intestinal permeability can be a gut problem, what we’re learning more about is how leaky gut can then cause problems in other areas throughout the body.

Some studies show gut issues are associated with various autoimmune disorders, obesity, and mental illness.

What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut To Watch For?

The symptoms can be much broader and more far-reaching than many initially think.

Allergic and Autoimmune Reactions

Asthma is a common respiratory illness, with symptoms including airway inflammation and hyperactivity of the airways.

The prevalence of asthma and allergic symptoms has increased significantly over the past few decades.

One reason that some researchers theorize this uptick could be happening is because of leaky gut syndrome.

A healthy immune response is normal. However, when toxins in the gut invade your body, your immune system will aggressively go after them.

If your gut constantly leaks toxins, it can keep your immune system constantly aroused, leading to allergic and asthma symptoms.

Autoimmune symptoms may also be symptomatic of a leaky gut.

Potentially by healing the gut, it’s possible you could also reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases and alter their course.

The intestinal epithelium is the largest mucosal surface in our body. It interacts broadly with the external environment.

When the integrity of the gut barrier is compromised, there might be an immune response, contributing to a cascade of autoimmune symptoms and diseases.

Food allergies may be a sign you have gut issues. Your body is always in a heightened state of alert, producing large amounts of antibodies.

These antibodies can make you susceptible to antigens in food, so you could have allergic reactions after eating. These reactions may be the worst when you have gluten or dairy.

People with a leaky gut may experience problems with their immune function because they get sick easily or stay sick for a long time.

Again, since the gut and digestive issues are so linked to the immune system, many problems can occur. 

Arthritis and Joint Pain

Some people may increase inflammation and autoimmune responses, but it could also contribute to symptoms of arthritis and joint pain.

Researchers have recently started reviewing studies that uncover the relationship between microbes in your gut and diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

For example, in one study, researchers found people with psoriatic arthritis had significantly lower levels of certain types of bacteria than people without this inflammatory disorder.

Since a permeable gut causes inflammation, you will see joint pain if you’re predisposed to inflammation in the joints.

Some theorize that rheumatoid arthritis and other issues related to joint pain might be avoidable if you can identify the signs early on and begin to restore your gut health.

Acne, Psoriasis, and Skin Problems

If you struggle with skin problems, including acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dry skin, or excessive wrinkles, these all may be caused by underlying gut health issues.

A recent study found that people with rosacea were ten times more likely to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) than those without the condition. In the same study, eradicating SIBO nearly eliminated the skin disorder.

Around 15-20% of people with ulcerative colitis and 25-30% of people with Crohn’s also have skin conditions.

A study in 20212 helped shed more light on the connection.

A drug used to treat the skin disease psoriasis led to less disease activity in Crohn’s patients.

When you have intestinal inflammation, the digestive tract nerves signal to let your body know there’s a war being declared on your gut.

In creating autoimmune responses, leaky gut can lead to skin rashes and breakouts.

Mood and Mental Health Symptoms

There is a term that we’re continuing to learn more about, which is the gut-brain axis. There is bidirectional communication between our central nervous system and gut microbiota, leading to possible symptoms of mental health conditions stemming from intestinal barrier dysfunction.

This is the gut-brain axis.

There’s growing evidence that inflammation in the gut may cause or worsen mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety.

Probiotics are one way that you might be able to regain normal balance in your gut and improve your mental health.

Cognitive and memory problems are also symptoms.

According to a study published in the Neuroendocrinology Letters, leaky gut symptoms are linked to mood imbalances because the inflammation response your body is sending out leads to neurocognitive disorders.

Your brain releases pro-inflammatory cytokines and other chemicals. When these inflammatory chemicals flood the brain, it contributes to depression and other mental health symptoms.

There’s also some evidence that autism could be associated with an imbalance in the gut microbiome, especially if the imbalance starts in the first year of life.

Brain fog is another common symptom.

Hormonal Imbalance

If you have toxins and waste that enters your blood, it can cause a hormonal imbalance.

This imbalance is especially common in women.

The gut microbiome plays a role in estrogen production, keeping levels in check.

When you have low estrogen levels, you may experience pre-menopausal symptoms like infertility and brain fog.

You might even develop endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) if you have very low levels of estrogen, and your body then begins to produce higher levels of testosterone.

Studies show poor gut health could increase the risk of estrogen-related diseases and PCOS, including endometriosis and breast cancer.

Nutritional Deficiencies

When you have nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B12 deficiency, magnesium deficiency, and iron deficiency, it may be due to inflammation and damage to carrier proteins related to the gut.

Zinc deficiency can also occur, and it’s associated with hair loss.

Copper deficiency can similarly occur, and that can then lead to high cholesterol levels in the blood and osteoarthritis.

Digestive Problems

Of course, when you have leaky gut, it will be apparent in gut-related symptoms.

For example, you may experience bloating and gas as part of a gastrointestinal condition and diarrhea or constipation.

Often, someone will have alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation.

Heartburn, reflux, and symptoms of digestive disorders and similar medical conditions, including IBS, colitis, and Crohn’s, can occur when your gut creates an immune response. Crohn’s is one type of inflammatory bowel disease that differs from irritable bowel syndrome, which is more functional. 

Food sensitivity and food intolerances are other symptoms related to leaky gut syndrome. 


Your endocrine system, which includes your thyroid gland, is related to your digestive system.

Your thyroid is a small gland shaped like a butterfly at the base of your neck. Your thyroid produces hormones that your body’s energy systems use.

Since your thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, it makes and stores hormones that regulate your metabolism and play a role in heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.

When the production of thyroid hormone drops, your body’s processes slow down, which is hypothyroidism.

Most cases of hypothyroidism among adults are due to an autoimmune condition, Hashimoto’s disease.

Around 70% of your immune system is found in your gut, so as we’ve discussed if you’re experiencing an autoimmune disease, the root cause might lie there.

Leaked gluten in your bloodstream resembles the thyroid hormone.

According to science, that could be part of why there’s an autoimmune attack of the thyroid gland when someone has Hashimoto’s.

Since leaky gut can be one thing that predisposes you to an autoimmune condition, there’s some evidence that if you reduce intestinal permeability, you might be able to prevent autoimmune disease, including restoring thyroid health and optimal function.

Weight Gain

If you’re experiencing weight gain or having a hard time with weight loss, restoring your gut health could help.

There are a lot of reasons leaky gut syndrome can contribute to weight gain.

For example, it can affect your thyroid function, as we mentioned above. When you have hypothyroidism, it slows down your metabolism, making it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

Another way gut issues can lead to issues with your weight is because of the hormonal imbalances they can create.

Chronic Fatigue

In clinical research, chronic fatigue, or CFS, improves when gut health is normalized.

Researchers have also found that intestinal colonies of gut bacteria differ in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which shows that the disorder is likely physical rather than a psychological problem.

Researchers at Cornell University found patients with CFS have a different profile of bacterial species in their gut microbiome compared to healthy people.

Along with less healthy bacteria diversity, researchers found people with CFS had more bacteria species that promote inflammation and fewer bacteria that reduce it.

Even if you don’t have chronic fatigue syndrome, fatigue, and low energy levels are symptoms of a leaky gut, especially if you get very tired after you eat.


We talked about a lack of nutrient and vitamin absorption when you have a leaky gut.

Talking about anemia on its own is also important in this conversation, and anemia can have many other effects on your health, energy levels, and well-being.

Certain bacteria in your gut can produce metabolites that block transcription factor  HIF-2 in the intestine. When this inhibitory response occurs, your gut bacteria can block the absorption of iron by your body.

Researchers theorize that potentially, in patients with anemia, they might be able to restore the gut’s health to help with absorption.

How to Deal With These Symptoms

Understanding the symptoms of leaky gut is a good first step to restoring your mental and physical health, but there are other steps you need to take.

While there are a lot of steps you may need to take to improve the symptoms, to start, remember the following:

  • Figure out the underlying causes, from dietary factors to environmental factors. A poor diet high in sugar, alcohol, and processed foods can increase inflammation and intestinal damage. Gluten is one of the biggest culprits of intestinal permeability, even if you don’t have Celiac disease.
  • Reduce stress. Chronic stress increases hormones like cortisol, contributing to gut issues. It will be difficult to eliminate your symptoms if you aren’t coping with your stress.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Prioritize sleep as a target for disease prevention. 
  • Be careful about using antibiotic treatment too often, which can wreak havoc on the beneficial bacteria in your gut populations.
  • Reduce your use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications, which seem to increase the permeability of the intestinal lining and affect intestinal barrier functions. 
  • Eat foods that support a healthy gut and avoid inflammatory foods. Healthy gut foods include fish, bone broth, fiber, and foods with prebiotics. Fermented foods can also promote diversity in the presence of good bacteria in your gut. You might also think about studying the FODMAP diet to eliminate potential triggers for inflammation and inflammatory diseases. 
  • Avoid dairy, artificial and processed foods, and gluten. A gluten-free diet helps tremendously when dealing with leaky gut syndrome and chronic inflammation. There are other ways to follow a leaky gut diet plan to find what works for you.

Supplements That Can Help Heal Leaky Gut

The following are some of the supplements that can help your symptoms.

Vitamin D

There’s evidence that taking a vitamin D supplement can support the optimal health of your gut microbiome, and vitamin D supplements can also reduce inflammation and autoimmune symptoms.

A vitamin D supplement can help balance the body's immune response and benefit GI symptoms.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics can help promote good bacteria that restore the layer of gut mucous. Probiotics can also help with gut dysbiosis. Prebiotics also help promote good gut flora by feeding your healthy gut bacteria and helping keep things in balance.

Intestinal permability and the symptoms of leaky gut can wreak havoc on your health and wellness. Supplements like prebiotics and probiotics can help.


L-glutamine is an excellent supplement to treat leaky gut and can help with other conditions like inflammatory bowel diseases and other gastrointestinal diseases. L-glutamine helps rebuild and repair your gut lining. It’s an amino acid with excellent benefits to improve gut health and the health of your GI tract.

L glutamine powder is one of the best supplements for intestinal permability and gut barrier function.


A zinc deficiency has been linked to an unhealthy gut, and it can allow bacteria and toxins to escape into your system. For a healthier gut, consider taking a zinc supplement.

Zinc is one of the supplements that can help promote the health of the GI tract and it may also benefit chronic disease as a result.

Final Thoughts

What are the symptoms of a leaky gut? There can be many ranging from skin issues like acne and eczema to joint pain and chronic fatigue.

Many of us have symptoms because of our modern diet and lifestyle.

If you can begin to pinpoint the underlying root causes and risk factors of your health issues, it’s possible to start reversing them and healing the lining of your gut.

While conventional medicine for a long time hasn’t recognized leaky gut as a source of many health problems, in alternative medicine, the gut is the foundation of health. Traditional doctors are starting to see that problems with the gut are linked to many chronic conditions. 



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Ashley Sutphin Watkins
Ashley Sutphin Watkins is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's a medical content writer, journalist and an avid researcher of all things related to health and wellness. Ashley lives near the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee with her family.
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