• Brian Dooreck, MD

Leaky Gut Syndrome. Is this for real?

Updated: Aug 11, 2019

What is “Leaky Gut Syndrome"?

The term “leaky gut” is also called "increased intestinal permeability."

If the mucosal barrier that lines your intestines or gut becomes "damaged" — it has been proposed you have a “leaky gut” or "increased intestinal permeability."

Thus this “leaky” or pore filled intestinal lining allows large food particles, toxins, and germs to pass into the tissues beneath it, and then into the blood. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria). This can then also cause inflammation throughout your body.

What is the mucosal barrier in your intestines?

The mucosal barrier is a layer of cells in your intestines. It is essential for life and serves to both help and protect you. Your intestinal lining covers more than 4,000 square feet of surface area.

Your intestinal lining covers more than 4,000 square feet of surface area.

The mucosal barrier allows essential small nutrients to pass through. When functionally normally, it also blocks large food molecules, toxins, and germs from getting into your body and blood.

What damages the mucosal barrier in your intestines?

The theory is that the cells that make up this barrier are damaged from a either poor dietary choices, excessive use of antibiotics, or even painkillers.

Is “Leaky Gut Syndrome" a true medical condition?

“Leaky Gut Syndrome,” is not recognized by conventional medicine at this time. It is still considered a hypothetical condition. There is not a billable medical code for this "diagnosis."

However, there are clinical symptoms that are labeled as being caused by a "leaky gut.” The symptoms are real. However, the cause is not necessarily a “leaky gut."

The symptoms are real. However, the cause is not necessarily a “leaky gut."

Who gets a "leaky gut"?

To be clear. We all do. We all have some degree of a "leaky gut." It does not mean you have “Leaky Gut Syndrome." Let me explain.

The normal intestinal mucosal barrier is not completely impenetrable (impossible to pass through or enter). That is normal. It is not supposed to be impenetrable.

Diet plays a role. A diet low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fats, will increase your normal permeability. Heavy alcohol. Stress. Also seem to negative effect on a healthy mucosal lining.

Increased intestinal permeability plays a role in certain gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. The biggest question is whether or not a leaky gut may cause problems elsewhere in the body.

Some studies show that leaky gut may be associated with other autoimmune diseases. Yet there are not clinical studies in humans clearly showing this.

What are the reported symptoms and disease associated with “Leaky Gut Syndrome"?

Reported symptoms and associated diseases of a “leaky gut" are broad and nonspecific. Some examples are the following.

  • Boating

  • Gas

  • Abdominal pain

  • Recurrent vaginal infections

  • Asthma

  • Mood swings

  • Migraines

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Food allergies

  • Lupus

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Arthritis

  • Allergies

  • Acne

  • Obesity

  • Mental illness

Remember having any, some, or all of the above symptoms does not mean you have a "leaky gut." Nor does it mean you need to label yourself has having “Leaky Gut Syndrome" or the commonly used term "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)." If the symptoms are concerning to you — speak to a Gastroenterologist.

Nor does it mean you need to label yourself has having “Leaky Gut Syndrome" or the commonly used term "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)."

Are you sure “Leaky Gut Syndrome" is not real?

People already predisposed to Crohn’s disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and type 1 diabetes, Celiac disease — all autoimmune diseases, may have a higher than normal “intestinal permeability.”

What is unclear is whether this "intestinal permeability" is related to symptoms or some of the medical conditions listed above.

How can I check if my intestines are absorbing nutrients correctly?

If you are concerned of a "leaky gut" you may want to test to see if your intestines are absorbing the small nutrients correctly and blocking the large food particles and germs that could cause inflammation.

The first thing to know is that testing is both costly and time-consuming. More importantly, it will not change the clinical management and treatment. Thus, there is no point in getting it done. The same applies to the home testing kits found on the internet.

I am convinced I have “Leaky Gut Syndrome." What can I do?

The advice goes back to the basics. Your diet. Exercise. Water. Focus on a healthy microbiome. (You can see my earlier posts "Your Microbiome and You")

  • Eat plenty of fiber

  • Eat fermented foods like kefir

  • Eat nutritious, unprocessed foods

  • Probiotics

  • Stay hydrated with lots of water

Diet. Exercise. Water. Focus on a healthy microbiome.


I eat a high fiber, mostly plant-based diet, no red meat, drink 4 liters of water a day, exercise, and am focused on "nutrition simplified." No pills. No supplements. No purchased meals.

🥬 Join me when I post “Lunch 🥗 with @dr.dooreck” on LinkedIn.

Eat Smart. Eat Healthy. 🥬 🌾 🥦

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