Causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky gut syndrome has no single cause, but some of the most common are chronic stress, dysbiosis, environmental contaminants, gastrointestinal disease, immune overload, overuse of alcoholic beverages, poor food choices, presence of pathogenic bacteria, parasites and yeasts, and prolonged use of NSAIDs. Let’s discuss some of these one at a time.

Chronic Stress

Prolonged stress changes the immune system’s ability to respond quickly and affects our ability to heal. It’s like the story of “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf.” If we keep hollering that there’s a wolf every time we’re late for an appointment or we need to finish a project by a deadline. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between this type of stress and real stress—like meeting a vicious dog in the woods or a death in the family.

Our body reacts to these stressors by producing less secretory IgA (sIgA) (one of the first lines of immune defense) and less DHEA (an antiaging, antistress adrenal hormone) and by slowing down digestion and peristalsis, reducing blood flow to digestive organs, and producing toxic metabolites.

Meditation, guided imagery, relaxation, and a good sense of humor can help us deal with daily stresses. We can learn to let small problems and traumas wash over us, not taking them too seriously.


The presence of dysbiosis contributes to leaky gut syndrome. Candida push their way into the lining of the intestinal wall and break down the brush borders. Candida must be evaluated when leaky gut syndrome is suspected.

Blastocystis hominis, giardia, helicobacter, salmonella, shigella, Yersinia enterocolitica, amoebas, and other parasites also irritate the intestinal lining and cause gastrointestinal symptoms. People who have or have had digestive illness or liver problems have an increased tendency to leaky gut syndrome. Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Environmental Contaminants

Daily exposure to hundreds of household and environmental chemicals puts stress on our immune defenses and the body’s ability to repair itself. This leads to chronic delay of necessary routine repairs. Our immune systems can only pay attention to so many places at one time.

Parts of the body far away from the digestive system are affected. Connective tissue begins to break down, and we lose trace minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Environmental chemicals deplete our reserves of buffering minerals, causing acidosis in the cells and tissue and cell swelling. This is known as leaky cells—like having major internal plumbing problems!

Overconsumption of Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic drinks contain few nutrients but take many nutrients to metabolize. The most noteworthy of these are the B-complex vitamins. In fact, alcoholic beverages contain substances that are toxic to our cells. When alcohol is metabolized in the liver, the toxins are either broken down or stored by the body. Alcohol abuse puts a strain on the liver, which affects digestive competency, and also damages the intestinal tract.

Poor Food Choices

Poor food choices contribute to an imbalance of probiotics and pH. An intestinal tract that is too alkaline promotes dysbiosis. Low-fiber diets cause an increase in transit time, allowing toxic by-products of digestion to concentrate and irritate the gut mucosa. Diets of highly processed foods injure our intestinal lining.

Processed foods invariably are low in nutrients and fiber, with high levels of food additives, restructured fats, and sugar. These foods promote inflammation of the GI tract. In fact, even foods we normally think of as healthful can be irritating to the gut lining. Milk, an American staple, can be highly irritating to people with lactose intolerance.

Use of Medication

NSAIDs damage brush borders, allowing microbes, partially digested food particles, and toxins to enter the bloodstream. Birth control pills and steroid drugs also create conditions that help feed fungi, which damage the lining. Chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy can also significantly disrupt GI balance.

Restoring Gut Integrity

If you believe you suffer from leaky gut, it’s best to work with a health professional who can help you determine the underlying factors. Fortunately, you can find many ways to heal your gut. Some involve changing your habits, like chewing your food more completely; others involve taking specific supplements that will help your body repair itself.

If you have food allergies or sensitivities, deal with them. Find out if you have dysbiosis or candida and get appropriate treatment. Replenish your bacterial flora with probiotics and prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS). You may need to support your digestive function with enzymes, bitters, or hydrochloric acid tablets.

Once the intestinal tract has been damaged, free radicals are often produced in quantities too large for the body to process. This causes inflammation and irritation, which exacerbate a leaky gut. Increasing use of antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E, selenium, N-acetyl cysteine, superoxide dismutase (SOD), zinc, manganese, copper, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, and vitamin C can help quench the free radical fire.

Supportive nutrients can help repair the mucosal lining directly. Glutamine is the preferred food of the cells of the small intestine. Dosages can range from 1 to 30 grams daily, depending on your needs. Zinc may be an essential nutrient for gut repair.

Other nutrients and supplements that are helpful include gamma oryzanol, Seacure, vitamin A, vitamin C, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), deglycyrrhized (DGL) licorice, folic acid, concentrated whey immunoglobulin concentrates, schizandra, and aloe vera.