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What Is Leaky Gut and How Can You Prevent It?

Loukia Lili, PhD

What is gut integrity, gut permeability, and leaky gut?

Gut permeability is simply the ability of the gut to allow or block specific material to travel from the gut to the rest of the body. Permeability is one of the most fundamental roles of our gut because it regulates the absorption of nutrients, balance of water and electrolytes, and the entrance of harmful pathogens and other molecules that can negatively affect our digestive system and our health. It is a protective wall that ideally allows the transport of only beneficial material and blocks everything that is potentially harmful.1 

Permeability of the gut is supported by the gut barrier or gut wall that holds the intestinal cells in an organized fashion and facilitates the passage (or blockage) of substances. The gut barrier is a complex multilayer system that has a physical, outer component and an inner functional component. The interaction of those two components ensures a sustainable gut permeability and maintains gut integrity. This gut integrity can be disrupted by imbalances in the gut microbiome (i.e., imbalances in the amount and composition of healthy bacteria in your gut) and cause cell damage.1 This is oftentimes referred to as “leaky gut.” It is still not well-established whether some particular lifestyle choices or certain diseases compromise the gut barrier and create the “leaky gut” or if it is the “leaky gut” itself that manifests problems and causes certain diseases. 

Research has demonstrated strong associations between a suboptimal gut barrier (“leaky gut”) and increased inflammation or stress. Typical GI complaints from the possibly compromised gut barrier can be frequent in athletes because intense and/or prolonged exercise can lead to sustained inflammation and stress, which in turn can compromise the gut barrier. Additionally, poor gut health from either genetic or environmental factors (i.e., lifestyle, nutrition, and conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, food intolerances, etc.) can also lead to compromised gut integrity. 

Can food intolerance lead to a leaky gut?

Food intolerance or food hypersensitivity (which is non-allergic) describes a condition where some particular foods are digested with difficulty. This condition can take time to develop bothersome symptoms, which can vary from headache to stomachache, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, irritable bowel, or even runny nose. Food intolerances can also cause a temporary gut dysregulation and lead to a disrupted gut barrier. In reverse, certain conditions that affect the gut barrier and gut integrity may result in specific food intolerances. It is a “chicken-and-egg” question, and science has not yet found the evidence to support which condition causes which result.

Nonetheless, science has demonstrated that “leaky gut” or disrupted gut permeability is associated with other conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract as well as some food intolerances and inabilities to process specific foods.2 Because of this association, addressing a dysregulated gut barrier by increasing the amount and composition of beneficial bacteria and decreasing the ones that are causing inflammation may lead to a significant reduction in certain food intolerances and/or gut conditions.3

How can you prevent leaky gut and protect your gut integrity?

GutbioTM offers the opportunity to get your entire gut microbiome composition analyzed. Gutbio is a personal, at-home stool test that utilizes the latest next-generation DNA sequencing technology (shotgun metagenomics) to provide you a comprehensive picture of your gut health and functionality. It also provides you with detailed suggestions for optimizing your current gut status with a specific diet, lifestyle and supplement recommendations, tailored to your unique profile and needs.


1.        Bischoff SC, Barbara G, Buurman W, et al. Intestinal permeability – new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterol. 2014;14(1). Doi:10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7

2.        Quigley EMM. Leaky gut – concept or clinical entity? Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2016;32(2):74-79.

3.        Krishna Rao R, Samak G. Protection and restitution of gut barrier by probiotics: nutritional and clinical implications. Curr Nutr Food Sci. 2013;9(2):99-107.