Wellness Encyclopedia: What is Leaky Gut?

Just what is leaky gut and what causes it? And more importantly, how do you heal it? Answers inside…

Leaky gut. Four or five years ago the term was relegated mostly to a few in-the-know doctors and nutritionists and the Paleo community, but these days the condition has gained wider recognition as the possible source for everything from mood disorders to allergies, arthritis to indigestion. Appropriately, I was first introduced to the concept upon embarking on my first Whole 30 several years ago. Interested in easing the pain that plagued my joints, and my general sleeplessness and sluggishness, I embarked on a 30-day elimination diet in hopes of learning more about the foods I ate regularly and how they affected my level of wellness. Over the course of those 30 days my body — inside and out — and mind went through a transformation I wasn’t expecting. I watched my skin clear up, felt the near-constant pain in my knees subside, and the sleep! Can we talk about the level of rest for a minute? Because it needs to be talked about. Besides allowing a peek into how the foods you eat affect your gut health, a 30-day elimination diet will also introduce you to what will likely be the best sleep of your life.

Epic snoozing aside, the health of your intestines influences every system in your body — why wouldn’t you want them at the top of their game? Today I’m diving into the, er… guts of the matter. Just what is leaky gut and what causes it? And more importantly, how do you heal it? Answers below…


What is it? Your skin absorbs 60% of what’s put on it, so think about how much it’s absorbing of what’s put in it… yeah. A lot. The “gut” refers to the tube that runs from end to end in your body, where food goes in and where it comes out — this includes your throat, your stomach and your intestines. “Leaky gut” refers specifically to your intestinal tract, where food is broken down and digested, where beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria breed, and where nutrients and anti-nutrients are absorbed through the lining of the gut through gates that exist between the protective cells. These gates were first discovered through research conducted around Cholera, where the cholera bacteria was found to cause the cellular gates to open widely, allowing fluid in from the bloodstream and causing intense pain, dehydration and diarrhea. A similar reaction was observed in people who are genetically predisposed to food sensitivities — such as gluten sensitivity and dairy intolerance — where the offending food caused these passages to open slightly, allowing food particles and bad bacteria to enter into the bloodstream… hence leaky gut. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Understandably, a leaky gut can lead to some pretty serious health concerns … When you have food particles and bacteria leaking into your body, how could you not?


What are the symptoms? Leaky gut has been linked to everything from food allergies to mood disorders to joint pain and systemic inflammation. If you’re plagued by any of these conditions, or if you regularly take medications such as antacids, antibiotics or prednisone (not knocking antibiotics, but they do what their name suggests, knocking out not only the bad bacteria, but the good as well), a leaky gut may be to blame. Besides speaking with a doctor or nutritionist well versed in the signs and symptoms, the best way to find out if you have a leaky gut is to do an elimination diet, explained below. Many people see their allergies lessen and even disappear, joint pain subside (it did for me), and chronic conditions take leave.


How do I fix a leaky gut? The first step in healing a leaky gut and discovering what’s causing the problem in the first place is eliminating the culprits. The bad guys often come in the form of alcohol, legumes and grains, gluten, processed sugar, and dairy (and sometimes caffeine, though I’m still in denial); these are the groups you want to avoid for a set amount of time through an elimination diet. Elimination diets (the big one is the Whole 30) work by removing foods that often cause systemic issues for a set period of time — at least 30 days, but sometimes more — and replacing them with only the good — clean protein, tons of vegetables, fruit, and good fats — then adding those foods back in and observing the body’s reaction. During these 30 days and after, it’s important to consume gut-healing foods rich in zinc, beneficial bacteria, omega 3s, vitamin A, and glutamine, which helps rebuild colon cells. Elimination diets are often gateways to more balanced, healthy eating and allow us to truly understand the ways in which our bodies react to certain foods and food groups. Think about it, if you’ve been eating bread and grains and dairy ever since you were weaned, and suffered from stomachaches or allergies for the same amount of time, there could be a connection you’re not aware of.

Additional reading:

It Starts with Food by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig

Eat Dirt by Josh Axe

Brain Maker by David Perlmutter

Check out more Wellness Encyclopedia posts…

Follow Julie on Instagram + check out her blog

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7 years ago

I find it so ironic that I’ve been struggling with all of these issues and have found eating to be so uncomfortable now…and the first thing I see this morning is this article. It’s got to be a sign. I’ve been in a denial for a while now, and I’m right with you on the whole caffeine thing because it may be what got me here in the first place..but I think it’s time to start taking care of myself. Thank you for this article!

7 years ago

Great article! Love the information and beautiful images.

7 years ago

Such a great post! Thanks dear :)

Ell Sidney
7 years ago

I was very sad, but mostly upset after reading the list of healthy foods suggested to treat leaky gut. I ask why the researchers in this enlightened age recommend bone broth and omega-3s as healing foods? In order to produce bone broth and omegas animals and fish must be murdered. There are healthy and healing food alternatives currently available other than killing animals and fish so that indulgent humans may satisfy their macabre food choices. At a time in history African tribes hunted and ate humans as meat. Thankfully, civilizations evolved with the ceasing of this practice. I hope in the future human civilizations will evolve even further by eliminating the need for dead animals and fish from the food chain.

7 years ago

Whoops. I believe you mean Dallas Hartwig, not Doug.

7 years ago
Reply to  Jordan

thank you for catching our error – i’m sure dallas and melissa appreciate it. :)