Leaky Gut (Intestinal Permeability) by Janella Purcell

This ever-increasing condition could just as well be called Leaky Small Intestine, as this is the part of the gut where the leaks are actually happening. A lot happens here, in fact the majority of the nutrients from the foods we eat are absorbed here. Well they’re supposed to be anyway.

This process of digestion takes about 6 hours from the mouth, through the stomach then into the Small Intestine. Before food gets to the small intestine however, our digestive process is supposed to break down big food particles into individual molecules, tiny enough to squeeze through the gastro-intestinal lining in the SI and be assimilated into our blood, then muscle tissue and bone, then bone marrow, and finally reproductive tissue.

So, what happens if the small intestine is damaged? What if, instead of the tiny holes in the small intestine designed to let certain particles into our blood stream, there are nasty tears in it, allowing toxic substances like gluten, bad bacteria, yeast, microbes and undigested food through? One possibility is that over time your immune system will see some of these particles as invaders and facilitate an immune response to attack them. This process can lead to autoimmune disease. Another possibility is that without this absorption, then delivery of nutrients, we may become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals like including zinc, iron and vitamin B12, causing us to become malnourished, infertile, cranky, fatigued, iron deficient, slow and sad.

Interestingly “Intestinal Permeability” has been discussed in the medical literature for over 100 years, yet we are still learning about the causes, symptoms and safer treatments available for this condition.

Symptoms to look out for

  • Bloating and excessive gas; feeling of fullness
  • Digestive pain such as abdominal cramps
  • Allergies
  • Food intolerances
  • Headaches
  • Skin issues – eczema and rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Foggy head
  • IBS
  • Autoimmune diseases including Type 1 Diabetes
  • ASD like Autism and ADHD,
  • Anxiety
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Adrenals Fatigue
  • Joint issues/pain
  • Entire body inflammation
  • Endometriosis, Candida, SIBO and weight gain have all been shown to be linked to Leaky Gut.

Possible causes

  • The birth control pill or intra-uterine device, HRT, statins, pain- killers, antibiotics
  • Trans-fats in our diet
  • Chlorine and fluoride in tap water
  • Chronic stress
  • GMO’s, pesticides and herbicides our food is grown with can damage the gut lining. Go organic or at least spray-free. Studies out of the Journal of Environmental Sciences have found GMO foods destroy the probiotics in your gut and cause organ inflammation.
  • Mould can cause Leaky Gut

Diet points to consider

  • Raw cultured/fermented dairy: add in small amounts of healing probiotic foods like goat’s milk kefir and yoghurt, organic cottage cheese, quark and lubne.
  • Other fermented/cultured foods like fermented veggies: miso, kimchi and pickles are recommended after the gut has started to heal.
  • Remove foods that trigger your symptoms: the offenders are likely to be gluten, fodmaps, legumes, trans fats, GMO foods and red meat.
  • Processed cow’s milk dairy: Beta casein type 1 is worse than gluten, and btw has over 20 different toxic chemicals and additives. A1 casein may be 26 times more inflammatory than gluten.
  • Sugar: will feed the growth of yeast, candida and bad bacteria, which will further damage your gut.
  • Eat like a baby for a while whilst your gut heals: eat the easy to digest foods, avoiding raw and cold foods that are harder to digest.
  • Include Resistant Starch (RS): most foods we eat feed only 10% of our cells, RS feed the other 90%. RS intake allows for increased production of butyrate by our gut microbes.  Butyrate acts as an anti-inflammatory agent for the cells of the colon. Examples are green banana flour, cooked then cooled white potatoes and white rice, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes.
  • Sprouts are easier on our gut than grains: some of the lectins and foods that cause leaky gut include wheat, rice, spelt and soy. They contain large amounts of anti-nutrients or nutrient blockers called phytates and lectins. Sprouting and fermenting grains reduces these, making them easier to digest. GMO and hybridized foods tend to be the highest in lectins since they have been modified to fight off bugs. Also, gluten-containing grains will damage your intestinal lining and cause leaky gut syndrome.
  • Sprouted Seeds like chia seeds; flaxseeds and hemp seeds can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria and heal Leaky Gut.
  • Avoid GMO foods
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners: Splenda and NutraSweet as they cause too much damage to our guts and kills off beneficial micro biome.
  • Bone broth: Beef, fish or chicken cooked for less than 12 hours to produce collagen. Proline is an amino acid in collagen that heals connective tissue and collagen, helping to patch up the leaks. The glycine and potassium it contains can also help heal leaky gut and improve mineral deficiencies.
  • Oats: can heal intestinal lining, if there’s not a gliaden sensitivity. Soak them overnight anyway, and buy them organic as they’re usually contaminated with glyphosate (*Roundup).
  • Limit Gliadan in most grains: around 30% of us have sensitivity to it, coeliac or not.
  • Include healthy oils: avocado, coconut, tahini, olive, hemp and those in nuts and seeds – if tolerated.
  • Avoid unhealthy oils: trans fats in packaged cakes, cereals, biscuits, sauces and fried foods.
  • Fruit: one piece of fruit a day will be ok, if there’s no candida present. Fruit is best eaten cooked, and in the morning. Eat only the fruit that you can tolerate.
  • Include Omega 3 oils: from wild Alaskan salmon and mackerel, anchovies and sardines, and hemp, chia and flax oils. These are anti-inflammatory and especially healing for the gut.
  • Quercetin: in onions is good to reduce inflammation, if you’re not on a low Fodmaps diet
  • Turmeric and Green Tea: to reduce inflammation and oxidisation (or as herbal medicine)


  • Avoid over-eating: chew, a lot. Eat slowly and mindfully. Large particles of undigested food rot and ferment, feeding unhealthy bacteria and yeast in the gut also leading to histamine intolerance.
  • Having a nap after you eat: is actually far better for your digestion than eating at your desk and staying there.
  • Emotional stress triggers and causes Leaky Gut: Stress comes from anything that puts extra pressure on your body, and absolutely needs to be reduced. Schedule in times for relaxation, joy, pursuing your life’s purpose and daily meditation
  • Write down what’s stressing you out: you’ll see that some things are going to be out of your control. Also write a list of what you like doing and schedule them in.
  • Avoid intense exercise: may increase cortisol and have a negative effect on your gut. Gentle walking, yoga, Pilates and swimming are recommended.
  • Check for MTHFR mutation: This will contribute to Leaky Gut.
  • Take a relaxing, detox bath: with Epsom salts, essential oils of chamomile and lavender, to reduce cortisol.
  • Removing trigger foods and situations: will only help to partially heal a leaky gut. It won’t repair all the damage done to the intestinal wall. This is where aloe vera, glutamine and slippery elm come in.
  • Supplements: it is recommended that people with leaky gut supplement with a whole foods based multi-vitamin and live probiotic to help digest the food that they eat, – People with leaky gut and other chronic digestive problems may be better off eating a low-fibre diet just until your bowel is healed. Pathogenic microbes (the bad guys), feed on fibre making the proliferate making everything worse.

Herbal Medicine

  • Immunity: Reishi, Holy Basil, Echinacea
  • Liver: Dandelion Root, Schisandra, and St. Mary’s Thistle
  • Anti-microbial: Barberry, Burr Marigold
  • Adaptagens: Withania, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Licorice
  • Digestive: Chamomile, kawakawa, peppermint, ginger
  • Mucous membrane restorative: Marshmallow, Aloe, Oats, Licorice, and Barberry

Essential Oils

Ginger, Peppermint, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Rosemary, Frankincense


  1. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that may help repair intestinal permeability, reduce IBS symptoms, and improve detoxification. It is only recommended for short- term use and contraindicated if there are any psychological issues present.
  2. A multi-strained probiotics twice a day, to recolonize healthy bacteria
  3. Digestive enzymes before meals to help breakdown your food into smaller more useable particles
  4. Aloe Vera on an empty tummy twice a day, to help cool and heal the gut.
  5. Slippery Elm has gooey properties called mucilage’s that will help glue the holes in the small intestine together. Aloe Vera also does a good job of this.
  6. Zinc has been found to be quite effective at tightening up the intestinal junctions.
  7. Quercetin supports tight junctions. It also reduces the release of histamine, which is common in food intolerance. New studies have also shown its effectiveness in healing ulcerative colitis.

Testing for Leaky Gut

Talk to your Naturopath, Nutritionist or health care professional      about looking into Leaky Gut further. They can recommend dietary & supplement advice, plus further guidance on any of the following :

  1. Stool test: Stool samples are collected at home then sent back to the lab. There they will look at the levels of beneficial bacteria, inflammatory markers and immune function. They’ll also be able to see your own personal probiotic levels, good and bad microbes, yeast, parasites and bacteria that might contribute to leaky gut.
  2. Organic Acids Test (OATS): This is a simple urine test performed at home that will look for vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as high Organic acids, indicating a nutrient deficiency, lack of digestive enzymes, candida overgrowth and toxic buildup. It doesn’t require a referral from a GP, so it’s easy to organise these yourself.
  3. IgG Food Intolerance Test: Most people who have leaky gut wind up developing food sensitivities due to particles and toxins entering the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there. The immune system then attacks these strangers, seeing them as dangerous. You can either have this test done by getting a blood test, or by using dried blood that can be collected from home and shipped to the lab.
  4. Zonulin Tests: Zonulin controls the size of the openings between your gut lining and your bloodstream. We all need tiny openings but when zonulin levels get too high, these openings become too large. Zonulin levels are many times triggered by gluten, parasites, a candida overgrowth and nasty bacteria. An ‘enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay’ test (ELISA), will check serum levels of zonulin.
  5. Lactulose and mannitol tests: This test looks at the levels of these two sugars in the urine, six hours after ingesting them.

Always seek further advice from your health care professional – talk to the Flannerys team in store.

Janella Purcell 2017
Naturopath & Nutritionist

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