What is Leaky Gut Part 2: Causes and Effects


Lydia from Divine Health From the Inside Out, A fellow blogger whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know recently, has put together an amazing and comprehensive course on digestive health and gut healing. I have seen a little preview of what she has put together and it looks extremely evidenced based and educational. I highly recommend checking it out and registering. In honor of the wonderful work she’s doing and to encourage you all to check it out. I am going to do a three part preview series this week on leaky gut. What it is, Its causes and effects, and how its healed. I will give you a brief preview of this one element of gut health, but I highly recommend that you check out Lydia’s course here to learn a ton more and get on your way to healing and better health!



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A few days ago I gave you all a very brief overview of increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut (to see this post click here). We only talked about what it is and what happens when it occurs, but now today it is time to talk about its causes and its effects. This is again, a very brief overview. In fact, I have intentionally left out some of the potential causes of leaky gut just for the sake of post length. I have touched on some of the key pieces but for more information I strongly encourage you to do research and register for this excellent course on gut health being offered by Lydia of Divine Health from the Inside Out. To check out the course and register, click here. She is a nutritional therapist and a wonderful resource.

As with the last post, I have taken the majority of my information, quotes, and research from Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach. Sarah is a scientist, mom, and amazing blogger and her research in the field of autoimmunity and leaky gut has changed my life. To see her book click here

Potential Causes of Leaky Gut:

So, we know that leaky gut is caused by damage to the gut membrane that allows toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria out into our blood streams and lymphatic systems, but what causes this? It isn’t the way our bodies were meant to work, so there must be something interfering. Here are three of the top contributing factors:


A number of foods, common in the standard American diet are known to irritate and damage the gut, causing increased intestinal permeability. The primary categories housing these irritating foods are grains, pseudo-grains, legumes, and dairy products. It is probably not a coincidence then, that these foods are the most nutritionally lacking foods in the western diet. Each of these foods contains less of every important vitamin and mineral than food coming from plants and animals. According to Sarah Ballantyne, “Grains and legumes are also high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, contributing to the gross imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the western diet.” 1

For many of people in our society these nutritionally poor foods comprise a large percentage of the daily diet. This results in diet lacking necessary nutrients, which leads to deficiencies. Many of these foods also feed bad bacteria that can be found in our guts causing a condition referred to as a Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth or SIBO.


Stress management, or a lack thereof, plays a large role in damage to the gut. In our world today we live in a state of unrelenting stress. Just yesterday, I had to wake up to my alarm going off before I was ready to wake up, I had to run around and make breakfast, clean up the kitchen, start the laundry, get dressed, look presentable and go to work all before 7am! At work, there is the stress of deadlines, of errors, of technical difficulties, of social problems, and just generally trying to get everything done before its time to go home, then upon getting home I still had to run around and clean, finish laundry, catch up on emails and phone calls, make dinner, clean up from dinner, go out for a meeting, drive home in the dark, listen to an account of another person’s stressful day, take a shower, do more work, and then fall into bed much later than I should and long after the sun has gone down. That is just a normal day. That doesn’t account for that time last week when you blew a tire driving over a pot hole, or finding out that you’re getting laid off, or having to move, or experiencing an illness, or family drama, or the death of a loved one, or not being able to pay your bills… our lives are filled with constant stress.

According to Ballantyne, “ The major stress hormone is cortisol. Cortisol is a glucosteroid – a class of steroid hormones… while best known for its contribution to the fight-or-flight reflex, cortisol is also an important regulator of metabolism, inflammation, and circadian rhythms.” 1 Part of the role that cortisol plays in the fight or flight reflex is in, “shutting down nonessential processes to reserve resources for immediate survival needs. This means that increased cortisol suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, growth, the immune system, collagen formation, amino acid uptake by muscle, and protein synthesis, it even decreases bone formation…. In the context of surviving immediate danger, this has a negligible effect o overall health, but in the context of chronic stress, these “other” effects of cortisol become a very big problem.” 1 The effects of chronically increased cortisol levels are detrimental to health and contribute to leaky gut, inflammation and the over stimulation of the immune system that leads to autoimmune conditions.


–       NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include many common over the counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen (Aleve). While, prescribed regularly for pain management and every day ailments, they carry a high risk of gastrointestinal problems. “The reason for this is that NSAIDs cause damage to the intestinal barrier, and their chronic use carries significant risks of ulcers, hemorrhage, and perforation of the intestine. Even a single dose of an NSAID medication causes increased intestinal permeability, even in a healthy person.

–       Laxatives: “as a general rule, laxatives cause damage to the epithelial cells that line the gut… Stimulant laxatives such as senna and castor oil are known to damage the intestinal epithelial cells, stimulate the cells that line the gut to divide rapidly, and cause inflammation…” 1

–       Antibiotics: While antibiotics can be necessary and useful is some situations, overuse of antibiotics or use of them when they are not truly needed, can contribute to unnecessary damage to the gut. Antibiotics are not selective when it comes to what bacteria they kill. They take the good with the bad. With the good bacteria in your gut wiped out this leaves room for some of the bad bacteria to find its way back into your system and colonize, contributing to a negative bacterial or yeast overgrowth which severely damages the gut and leads to increased intestinal permeability.


So now that you have a very brief overview of some of the causes of leaky gut what are the symptoms? Well, they are vast. Even the list below is not exhaustive, but take a look:


  • Belching within one hour of eating
  • Bad breath
  • Stomach pains of cramps
  • Sweat with a strong odor
  • Food allergies
  • A history of morning sickness
  • A pulse that speeds up after eating
  • Less than one bowel movement per day
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • A sense of excess fullness after meals
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • Pain under right side of rib cage
  • Blood or mucus in your stool
  • Gas within one hour of eating
  • Bloating within one hour of eating
  • Sleep after meals
  • Undigested food in stool
  • Light or clay colored stools
  • Pain between your shoulder blades
  • Hemorrhoids or varicose veins
  • Itchy anus
  • Excessive foul smelling lower bowel gas
  • Cramping in lower abdominal region


On top of these symptoms research is surfacing that suggests that leaky gut may play a large part is the exacerbation and formation of some of these conditions:

  • All autoimmune diseases
  • Alopecia (Spot baldness)
  • Allergies
  • Dermatitis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Eczema
  • Endometriosis
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Asthma
  • IBS

Well, I know that this is a lot of information to digest (pun intended). Tomorrow we will be discussing how one can get started in treating leaky gut, but in the mean time check out Sarah Ballantyne’s information in her book or here on her website and head over to Lydia’s site and register for her course, I promise you it is worth it. And when you register you become eligible for a lot of great FREE add-on’s like a pdf guide to digestive health! Check it out!


Citation: (1) Ballantyne, Sarah. The paleo approach: reverse autoimmune disease and heal your body. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing Inc. , 2013. Print. 


Jesse St. Jean

Jesse St. Jean

I am many things: a wife, a daughter, a sister, a nutritional therapist, a dog-mom… and I’m an autoimmune warrior.

Nutritional therapist Jesse

Hi, I'm Jesse

I empower women autoimmune warriors to reclaim their health by teaching each woman how to make the right food choices to heal her body while confidently owning her journey so she can live a vibrant life with chronic illness.


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