Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky gut syndrome is a phenomenon that may, or may not, actually exist. The theory is that things (such as antibiotics, infections, and inflammation) can damage the cells that line the intestines and weaken the “tight junctions” between the cells. This causes there to be small gaps between the cells and, thus, particles that the cells would normally prevent from entering the bloodstream get through. This, in turn, causes the body to mount an immune reaction against these particles which are viewed as foreign invaders.

A leaky gut has been implicated by various nutritionists as one of the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome — another syndrome about which little is known with certainty.

Wikipedia.org has a concise explanation of leaky gut syndrome. Most interest has been about its relation to autism, but that is not my focus here.

It is my own personal theory that allergy tests that measure immunoglobulin G (IgG), and find that someone is “allergic” to a host of different foods, are sometimes merely uncovering a leaky gut in someone who is not actually allergic to all or most of those foods.

So what does the research say? Not much. There has been very little published on leaky gut syndrome. I could find only one clinical trial (1).

The purpose of this trial was to see if they could get immunoglobulin A (IgA) and M (IgM) levels to go down in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. To do this, they used a dietary regimen, but their purpose was not to actually test this regimen, and they, therefore, give very few details about it; they merely say:

“All patients followed the leaky gut diet and took glutamine, zinc and [N-acetyl-L-cysteine], in combination with other [natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidative substances], which were given according to the immune and biochemical status of the patients, i.e. L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10, taurine and lipoic acid (in case of carnitine and/or coenzyme Q10 shortage); or curcumine and quercitine (in case of systemic or intracellular inflammation).”

They described their “leaky gut diet” as a dairy and gluten-free, low-carbohydrate diet.

Their study found that some people’s IgA and IgM levels were reduced on this regimen. They also found that a younger age at onset of chronic fatigue, a shorter duration of illness, and a younger age of the patient led to a better outcome.

It’s important to note that there was no control group and so it could be that patients were merely responding to the care and attention they were receiving or from a placebo effect.

This blog post is just to get something started on the subject. As more research comes out, I will post updates.


1. Maes M, Leunis JC. Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Dec;29(6):902-10.

10 Responses to “Leaky Gut Syndrome”

  1. Rita Says:

    This reminds me of the research on the causes of laminitis in horses (and other hooved animals). I’ll ask around on the horse forums……..anyone else?

  2. Leaky Gut Says:

    As someone who works with leaky gut and chronic fatigue, I can tell you that it has much to do with allergies. But there are so many different mediated immune factors from IgA, IgG, IgM, IgE, Phagocytes, etc that lab testing for all food allergies is extremely difficult. Gluten just happens to be a HUGE and very common food allergy which also drives dairy allergy/intolerance. So it makes sense why the immune response would decrease from this study. But, remember there are many other food allergies that develop from Leaky Gut so it doesn’t stop there.

    While supplements are a great way to help accelerate the leaky gut healing process, I have found that they are not effective unless these food allergies are removed from the diet. These foods are creating a lot of inflammation within the gut and using these supplements without the dietary considerations is like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. It just doesn’t work.

  3. Seana Says:

    We started our journey when our now 7yo daughter was about 11 months old. She developed a nasty rash. It took a couple years to figure out what the cause was. The doctor’s only solution was to put her on steroids. After much research, we decided that the side effects of steroids weren’t something that we wanted to expose a child that age to. Since then, it’s been a slow progression to where we are now.

    We started an elimination diet in June 2009. Up until then, we had been trying to manage our 7yo daughter’s asthma-like attacks by limiting dairy. I noticed a year or so before that dairy in her diet led to a sniffle and then to a little cough and by the end of the week she was having asthma-like breathing issues. In June, “managing” her sensitivity became too stressful. If we misjudged the amount of dairy she could tolerate, we were in for at least 24 hours of misery and anxiety and sometimes more.

    In July of last year, we discovered that approximately 85% of people in the U.S. probably have issues related to Candida or Yeast Overgrowth. After more research, we started a yeast elimination diet. Interestingly enough, the steroids that we were trying to avoid are one of the things that contribute to yeast overgrowth.

    Since then, I’ve done many hours of research on yeast overgrowth. It’s my understanding that several things can contribute to yeast overgrowth. A diet high in carbohydrates, steroid use and more than one dose of antibiotics in a row are three of the big contributors. When the gut is cleared of good bacteria, that gives yeast a foothold to take over. Yeast rhizomes (a type of root) take over and grow into the intestinal wall causing holes or what’s also called Leaky Gut. When small particles of food slip through the holes that the yeast has made, over time it can cause allergic reactions.

    The symptoms of Yeast Overgrowth are many. You can experience, female and male genital and oral yeast infections, athletes foot, foggy brain, memory issues, aches and pains in your muscles and joints, carb cravings, sleep issues such as not being able to sleep through the night, waking up tired, not being ready to go to bed at a reasonable time, snoring, having a stuffy nose and being overweight or underweight. These are just a few of the things you can experience as a result of yeast overgrowth.

    When the good bacteria and yeast are in balance in your gut, they provide 95% of the serotonin your body needs causing you to feel that the world and people in it are more good than bad. You also sleep through the night and wake up rested.

    Yeast can also cause severe carb cravings. It’s a theory of mine, that alcoholics probably have severe yeast overgrowth issues. When alcoholics, quit drinking, they tend to want a lot of sweets. While they are drinking, they usually don’t eat many sweets.

    In May, we started an elimination diet. Via that diet, we removed the foods we were having issues with. It’s out hope that with time the holes in our gut will heal and we may be able to eat those foods again.

    Dianne Craft was instrumental in our journey. Without attending her workshop at the CHEC Conference in June 2009, I might never have discovered what the deal was.

    One of the bonuses, to our experience has been the slimming of our pudgy daughter. She’s tall for her age but between that and being chubby, she was wearing a size 14-16. It was almost impossible to find clothes appropriate for a 6-7yo girl in those sizes. I ended up making her summer dresses each spring and jumpers in the fall. She’s now wearing a couple sizes smaller and looks so much healthier.

    On top of that, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds. My dh has also slimmed down although he isn’t as strict about gluten and dairy and didn’t need to lose much.

    Our family takes, Plant Enzymes with meals, Oregano Oil to kill the yeast, Probiotics on an empty stomach twice a day, to replant the good bacteria that are needed to keep the yeast under control. We also take Glutamine 10-15 minutes before we eat to help with carb cravings and to help heal/seal up the holes in our guts. There are several other things that can kill the yeast like Olive Leaf, Caprylic Acid, and Goldenseal. Read up on Candida and consult a nutritionally oriented doctor to see what might work best for you.

  4. Keith Says:

    Very helpful and informative. These connections between candidiosis, leaky gut and all that appears to follow intrigue me at the moment. I have a history of Crohn’s disease and there seem to be connections there also.

    Seana provides a great summary in her comment, thanks.

  5. Richard Says:

    A fascinating read I wish I’d found a long time ago, thank you for this.

    My problems stretch back about 5 years when I started getting a pain in my breastbone which I thought was the recurrence of a physical injury I sustained a few years before. A while later I realise it only seemed to happen after eating so I went to my GP as it was becoming quite concerning. Over the course of the next year I was sent for ultrasound scans, X-rays, endoscopies, you name it.. The diagnosis was a damaged oesophageal sphincter with an inflamed surrounding area – Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD or GERD). I was put onto a course of Omeprazole to reduce the amount of acid my stomach produced after food and when that didn’t work they gave me Nexium. I came off the Nexium after a week as it was making me hallucinate and was giving me horrible aggressive mood swings.

    The time had come to research this myself, so I went on an elimination diet for 2 weeks and felt 10 years younger, so I knew I was onto something. Wheat turned out to be the problem, so I tried to cut it out of my diet entirely, but when you finally realise how much stuff contains wheat it becomes very difficult to avoid so I found myself having good weeks and bad weeks depending on how I’d eaten, and my body would always tell me if I’d had wheat about 48 hours after the event and start giving me all sorts of symptoms from aching joints, to diminished eye sight quality, brain fog and lethargy, plus of course the original tell tale sign of the painful breast bone.
    Things went OK for a while until I started to realise that I was now getting symptoms from dairy products as well as wheat, so I decided that I must have been treating the symptoms and not the cause. This is when I came across the term leaky gut and having read around the subject it struck many chords with me, so I decided to embark upon the leaky gut diet.
    At the moment I am only just over a week into this diet. I am still cutting out wheat and dairy, but now supplementing this with Zinc, L-Glutamine, Co-enzyme Q10 and Acidophilus probiotic tablets. Even after just a week I am full of energy, my eye sight is better than it has been in ages, I have no joint pain, I am sleeping better but needing less of it. My skin is better and my brain is functioning well. It’s quite a transformation which I noticed within the first few days. I should report back here after another month and tell you how I am doing.

  6. jacqueline dix Says:

    i have leaky gut syndrome symptoms too numerous to leave here, please contact me if you hear of any trial with manitol. thankyou

  7. Norton Says:

    Any updates on Leaky gut? Research-based causes & prevention?

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I haven’t seen anything lately, but I haven’t done a lit review in a while.

  9. M Says:

    Hi Jack,
    Any updates on CFS & leaky gut?
    NICE guidelines haven’t been updated since 2007 :/

  10. Jack Norris RD Says:

    I found this article:

    I haven’t seen any clinical trials.

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