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What is Leaky Gut?

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

A leaky silver bucket.
ID: A silver bucket full of holes with water spurting out.

Leaky gut is a layman term for intestinal permeability. The intestinal barrier is typically selectively permeable to allow various molecules entry into circulation. However, in specific conditions (e.g. dysbiosis, intestinal inflammation and alcohol, gluten or emulsifier consumption) this permeability is excessive and/or prolonged. This can result in contact between gut contents and the immune tissue surrounding the intestines provoking a dysfunctional immune response (e.g. specific food sensitivities). Translocation of molecules from the intestines into the blood stream can even occur. A molecule which frequently enters circulation from the gut is lipopolysaccharide (LPS) also known as endotoxin. In excess this molecule can wreak havoc throughout the body by promoting an inflammatory immune response (it's even observed to increase the deposition of cholesterol in artery walls). Increased intestinal permeability has been noted in a number of cardiometabolic disease including metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Intestinal permeability has also been linked to an impaired blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier separates the brain from circulating pathogens or toxins. Therefore an impaired barrier can result in unwanted products entering the central nervous system and provoking conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Factors which can increase intestinal permeability include alcohol and food additives (emulsifiers and surfactants (commonly found in processed/packaged food such as ice cream)).

The following can improve the integrity of the gut barrier:

  • Prebiotics

  • Specific probiotics

  • A diversity of colourful plant foods

  • Fibre

  • Glutamine

  • Vitamin D

  • Zinc

(Khoshbin & Camilleri, 2020)


Khoshbin, K., & Camilleri, M. (2020). Effects of dietary components on intestinal permeability in health and disease. American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 319(5), G589–G608.

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