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what are the symptoms of a leaky gut

What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut?

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(Last Updated On: January 28, 2022)

What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut-
Key Takeaways

What are the symptoms of a leaky gut? 

Symptoms can be far-reaching and may include:

  • Autoimmune symptoms or immune deficiency
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Digestive issues such as IBS and IBD
  • Skin problems including rashes, acne and eczema

Having a leaky gut can stem from lifestyle factors, diet, genetics or a host of other things. When you identify the symptoms of leaky gut in yourself, you can start to fix them and heal your body. 

What are the symptoms of leaky gut, and how can you recognize whether or not you’re struggling with this condition?

Symptoms of a leaky gut may include:

  • Autoimmune reactions
  • Allergic reactions including asthma, swelling, and rashes
  • 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

In my opinion, leaky gut is one of the most problematic and pervasive chronic health concerns we see. 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.

Leaky gut essentially 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 leaky gut, contributing to a host of health problems, from abdominal pain to more serious systemic issues. 

Below, we’re going to talk more about the underlying causes and the symptoms of leaky gut and intestinal barrier dysfunction. You may find that if you’re able to deal with the root causes of your health issues, you can actually alleviate them. Healing your gut is so critical to your overall health and well-being, and despite our growing understanding of the wide range of effects of gut health, it’s still very much overlooked in mainstream medicine and in the medical community. 

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut 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 is made up of 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 then 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 are supposed to allow nutrients and water to pass into your bloodstream but keep harmful substances within.

When you have a leaky gut syndrome or LGS, these openings of your intestines become wider.

Your intestines have a range of bacteria. These are called the gut microbiota. The bacteria help with digestion, and they support the function of your immune system. 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 is a description of 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 that when you have a leaky gut, it can be associated with a variety of autoimmune disorders, obesity, and mental illness.

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

The symptoms of a leaky gut can be much more broad and far-reaching than many people initially think. Below, we cover some of the symptoms of a potentially leaky gut.

what are the symptoms of a leaky gut
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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 have gone up 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 is constantly leaking toxins, it can keep your immune system in a constantly aroused state, leading to allergic and allergic asthma symptoms.

Autoimmune symptoms may also be symptomatic of a leaky gut.

Potentially by healing the gut, it’s possible that 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, again, there might be an immune response, contributing to a cascade of autoimmune symptoms and diseases.

Food allergies may be a sign you have a leaky gut.

Your body is always in a heightened state of alert, so it’s 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.

Someone with a leaky gut may experience problems with their immune function in that they get sick very easily or stay sick for a long time.

Again, since the gut and digestive issues are so linked to the immune system, there are a wide variety of problems that can occur. 

Arthritis and Joint Pain

Since leaky gut may increase inflammation and autoimmune responses, it could also contribute to symptoms of arthritis and joint pain.

Fairly recently, researchers have started to review 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 leaky gut causes inflammation, if you’re predisposed to inflammation in the joints, you’re going to see joint pain as a result.

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 people with rosacea were ten times more likely to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) than people without the condition.

In the same study, eradicating the SIBO led to nearly a complete elimination of the skin disorder.

Around 15-20% of people with ulcerative colitis and 25-30% of people with Crohn’s also have skin conditions. In fact, 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 nerves of the digestive tract are signaling to let your body know there’s a war being declared on your gut.

Leaky gut, in creating autoimmune responses, can lead to skin rashes and breakouts.

Mood and Mental Health Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome 

There is a term that we’re continuing to learn more about, which is the gut-brain axis. There is bidirectional communication happening between our central nervous system and our 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 of leaky gut.

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 of a leaky gut.

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 the production of estrogen, keeping levels in check. When you have low levels of estrogen, 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 along with 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’s going to be apparent to you in gut-related symptoms. For example, you may experience bloating and gas as part of a gastrointestinal condition and diarrhea or constipation. Often, someone with leaky gut will have alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation.

Heartburn and reflux, and symptoms of digestive disorders and similar medical conditions, including IBS, colitis, and Crohn’s, can occur when your gut is creating an immune response.

Crohn’s is one type of inflammatory bowel disease. It’s different from irritable bowel syndrome, which is more functional. 

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

Hypothyroidism

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

Your thyroid is a small gland shaped like a butterfly located 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.

Almost all of the 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 talked about if you’re experiencing an autoimmune disease, the root cause might lie there.

Leaked gluten in your bloodstream actually resembles the thyroid hormone.

According to science, that could be part of the reason 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 you’re 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 leaky gut can lead to issues with your weight is because of the hormonal imbalances it can create.

Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue or CFS in clinical research improves when a leaky gut is normalized.

Researchers have also found that intestinal colonies of gut bacteria are different in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which shows that the disorder is likely physical rather than being 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, in general, fatigue and low energy levels are symptoms of a leaky gut, especially if you get very tired after you eat.

Anemia

We talked about a lack of nutrient and vitamin absorption when you have leaky gut. Talking about anemia on its own is also important in this conversation. Anemia can have so 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 health of the gut to help with absorption.

Along with Understanding What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut, How Can You Deal with Them?

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 as well.

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

  • Figure out the underlying causes from dietary factors to environmental factors. Having 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 leaky gut. If you aren’t coping with your stress, it’s going to be difficult to eliminate the symptoms of your leaky gut.
  • 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 populations of the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
  • 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 think about studying the FODMAP diet as well, so you can eliminate potential triggers for inflammation and inflammatory diseases. 
  • Avoid dairy, artificial and processed foods, and gluten. Following a gluten-free diet often helps people tremendously when they’re dealing with leaky gut syndrome and also chronic inflammation. 
  • Think about taking a vitamin D supplement that can support an optimal gut microbiome.
  • Probiotics help promote good bacteria that restore the layer of gut mucous and help with dysbiosis.
  • Prebiotics can also help promote good gut flora.
  • L-glutamine can be a good supplement to take if you’re experiencing symptoms of a leaky gut. L-glutamine helps rebuild and repair the lining of the gut as an amino acid.
  • Fish oil and zinc can also be beneficial to restore the gut lining and promote digestive health.

Final Thoughts—What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Gut?

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 of a leaky gut 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 then start reversing them and heal 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. 

Peer-Reviewed Studies and References

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871166/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/

https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/ai-rise-autoimmune-disease-linked-intestinal-permeability/

https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/ai-connection-leaky-gut-arthritis/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19112401/

https://www.webmd.com/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/news/20160715/gut-bacteria-may-hold-clues-to-chronic-fatigue-syndrome

https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/lab-report/gut-microbiome-puts-brakes-on-iron-absorption

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