What causes Leaky Gut?


In the last article we gave an overview of Leaky Gut and the impact it has on our overall health.  Today I would like to cover common causes of Leaky Gut and what to do about it. 

  1. Diet:The consumption of large amounts of processed foods including refined sugars, preservatives, refined flour, chemicals and artificial flavorings can overwhelm the digestive system.  These chemicals are toxins and their overconsumption leads to toxic buildup resulting in inflammation.  (We discussed the effects of inflammation in the previous article).
  1. Inflammation: Inflammation is important in Leaky Gut since inflammation in the intestines causes Leaky Gut and once the gut becomes leaky, it contributes to inflammation in other parts of the body.  Common causes of inflammation in the gut include toxins, improperly digested food as a result of low stomach acid and/or low digestive enzymes, Candida overgrowth, bacterial overgrowth, or parasites.
  1. Chronic Stress: This is a very common cause and unfortunately one of the most difficult to address.  Chronic stress almost always results in a suppressed immune system.  A weak immune system can easily be overrun by pathogens.  Additionally, high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) have an adverse effect on the intestinal lining.

Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, but it has been shown   to cause changes in the composition of the gut microbiota, possibly due to changes in neurotransmitter and inflammatory cytokine levels.   Research has found that exposure to stress leads to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria while also reducing microbial diversity.  This can lead to GERD, peptic ulcer disease, IBS, food allergies or intolerances and the full array of Leaky Gut conditions.

  1. Medications: Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can damage the intestinal lining leading to Leaky Gut.  The most common medications that contribute to Leaky Gut include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen), prescription pain medicates (opiates), and oral antibiotics.
  1. Yeast: While yeast (usually Candida) is a part of our normal gut flora, it often gets out of balance and can mutate into the hyphal form which grows tentacles that penetrate and punch holes into the intestinal lining. 
  1. Nutrient Deficiencies: The most common deficiency related to Leaky Gut appears to be Zinc.  Zinc plays a critical role in maintaining a strong intestinal lining.  Once Leaky Gut exists, nutritional deficiencies become more widespread because damaged intestinal microvilli do not properly absorb nutrients.

Watch for our third article in this three-part series which will focus on healing Leaky Gut.  For now, you are encouraged to implement the lifestyle and dietary changes listed above that can help restore a healthy gut function.


More information about what causes Leaky Gut can be found at Vitopia.


Make sure to check out our in-depth articles on preventing and healing chronic diseases utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.


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Wishing you good health!

Mike Woodley, R.Ph, FAARM, FMNM


Posted by Mike Woodley on


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