What is Leaky Gut and How to Avoid It

What is Leaky Gut and How to Avoid It

Medically reviewed by Dr. George Kosco, DO on August 25, 2020

Video | Definition | Why is it Bad? | Why Does it Happen | Diet Recommendations

Leaky gut is a condition that can lead to debilitating digestive issues and the spread of inflammation throughout the body that opens you up to a whole host of health problems, but its simple name makes it hard to take seriously. 

In this post, I discuss leaky gut, how it happens, and what you can do to avoid it. 

Leaky Gut At-A-Glance

  • Leaky Gut (Intestinal Hyperpermeability) is a condition in which potentially harmful substances leak out of the intestines and into the bloodstream.
  • Poor diet and gut health are major contributors to leaky gut. Other contributing factors include, certain bacteria, vitamin deficiencies, and excessive use of alcohol or NSAIDs like ibuprofen. 
  • To avoid leaky gut, cook and eat a low-carb/low-gluten diet at home that is rich in whole foods and healthy sources of prebiotics.

What is Leaky Gut & How to Avoid It [Video]

In this video, you’ll learn…

  • The definition of Leaky Gut.
  • What causes Leaky Gut to occur.
  • Lifestyle changes that will help you prevent it!

What is Leaky Gut? 

Leaky Gut has a more sophisticated name, which is Intestinal Hyperpermeability. Both names conger up the same image of substances leaking out of or permeating through the intestinal wall. 

Leaky Gut Definition

This, of course, should not be happening. One of the main purposes of the intestinal wall is to act as a gatekeeper and carefully control the passage of substances between our gut and our bloodstream. 

When you consider the delicate construction of the intestinal lining, it is not hard to imagine how this condition can develop.

Intestinal Wall

Your intestines are lined with a single layer of cells covered by a mucous membrane. Each of the cells in that lining sits very close together with what is called a tight junction between them. 

That single-cell lining does two things. It allows nutrients from the foods you eat to pass into your body. It also acts as a barrier to prevent harmful things that would normally stay trapped in your gut from leaking into your bloodstream. 

When the tight junctions between the cells aren’t working properly, the junctions become permeable and that is what’s referred to as leaky gut. 

Why is Leaky Gut Bad? 

When this leaking occurs harmful substances like bacteria can pass from your digestive system into your body. There, they have the potential to wreak havoc and contribute to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis and possibly even obesity, and metabolic diseases. (1)

Why Does Leaky Gut Happen? 

What happens that makes a gut leaky? There are likely many contributing factors, including certain bacteria, vitamin deficiencies, and excessive use of alcohol or NSAIDs like ibuprofen. 

There is strong evidence that points to diet and gut health as major contributors to leaky gut. 

If you’ve heard of leaky gut before, you’ve probably heard the word gluten as well. 

Gluten is a protein found in our diet. Specifically, it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that is made when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin bond or stick together. 

That stickiness gives foods with gluten, like pizza dough, their elastic nature, and bread and cookies their soft chewy texture.

Causes of Leaky Gut

In his book Brain Maker, which draws links between gut health and brain health, Dr. David Perlmutter states that Gluten’s sticky attribute interferes with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. This leads to poorly digested food that can then sound the alarm in the immune system, eventually resulting in an assault on the lining of the small intestine, which is what we see with leaky gut.

He also points out that processed foods and drinks that are high in manufactured fructose contribute to poor gut health, which increases the risk of leaky gut.

You cannot outrun the metabolic impact of a poor diet. Conditions like leaky gut, develop after years of thinking that we are getting away with the daily fast foods, and sodas, and cookies and crackers. 

These foods are stressing our metabolisms and will cause our bodies to reach a tipping point sooner or later.  

Diet for Leaky Gut

How do you eat to avoid leaky gut? Well, you can make a lot of progress by eating a gluten-free diet and taking steps to promote good gut health. 

The best way to avoid leaky gut is to cook and eat a low-carb diet at home that is rich in whole foods and healthy sources of prebiotics. 

Cook at Home

Let’s look at what all that means. A low-carb diet is naturally low in gluten because gluten is found in foods that do not fit into a low-carb lifestyle like cereals, breads, and pastas. 

By cooking at home, you avoid restaurants where it can be tricky to avoid glutens that show up in things like sauces.

When you cook whole foods at home, you also naturally avoid processed foods that contain added sugar and the unnatural fructose that we talked about earlier.

Eating at home makes it much easier to eat prebiotic foods, which are foods that contain fiber that is not easily broken down. These foods make their way down through your gut where they feed the intestinal bacteria. 

Foods that improve gut health

Onions and garlic are great examples of prebiotic foods that are easy to work into many recipes. 

Eating plenty of low-carb, high-fiber foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low-sugar fruits like berries and lemons will also benefit your gut health. So will fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and a high-quality yogurt that contains live cultures and no added sugar or sweeteners.

As for drinks, tea and coffee can be enjoyed because they provide your body with polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants and are starting to show promising benefits for gut health. (2)


(1) Bischoff, Stephan C., et al. “Intestinal permeability–a new target for disease prevention and therapy.” BMC gastroenterology 14.1 (2014): 189.

(2) Cardona, Fernando, et al. “Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health.” The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 24.8 (2013): 1415-1422.

About the Author

Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991. 

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