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Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, is essentially impairment of the gut’s ability to filter the gut content and only allow “permissible” substances and molecules to cross through the gut lining and reach into the body itself. Technically, the gut content is outside the body in a specialized tube that connects the oral opening and anus.

At DMH Functional Medicine, we work with a 360 degree, patient-centric approach to health care, recognizing the potential implications of leaky gut syndrome on overall wellness.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

The gut lining, a critical barrier between the internal and external environment, regulates nutrient absorption and prevents harmful substances from entering the bloodstream. In leaky gut syndrome, this barrier is compromised, potentially allowing toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream.

To understand leaky gut better, we need to have some basic understanding of two parts of the immune system, the innate and the adaptive immune system.

Innate Immune System: First line of defense. General and fast. Consists of

  • Physical Barriers, primarily the skin and mucous membranes, that prevent entry of pathogens
  • Phagocytes, macrophages and neutrophils that engulf and destroy pathogens
  • Natural Killer (NK) cells recognize and kill infected cells and tumor cells
  • An inflammatory response at the site of injury or infection. Inflammation triggers recruitment of immune cells to the site and promotes tissue
  • The complement system is a group of proteins that can destroy pathogens. The complement system also recruits or enhances the activities of other immune cells.

The innate immune system provides a rapid but nonspecific responses to a wide range of pathogens. It does not include memory for specific pathogens.

Adaptive Immune System: The adaptive immune system is a more specialized. It recognizes and remembers specific pathogens and is more targeted in its defense of the body.

The adaptive immune system include specialized lymphocytes:

  • B cells produce antibodies that binds to the specific pathogen and marks it for destruction. They can develop memory for specific pathogens and subsequent exposure generates a much stronger response – this response is the basis of our vaccines.
  • T cells directly kills infected cells or recruits other immune cells.

The adaptive immune system is more specific and targeted in its response. It also developa  memory for a subsequent fast and forceful defense against the same pathogen.

In leaky gut, the innate immune system fails and allow undigested food particles, toxins, microorganisms, heavy metals and other harmful substances to reach the system blood circulation. What should have been handled, sorted and filtered by the innate immune system in a healthy gut is now roaming around inside the body where specific or adaptive immune system and the liver have to clean the mess, literally speaking.

In other words, smugglers, criminals and spy, drugs and other “pathogens” that should have been handled at the border (mucous membranes, skin), reaches inside the country (body). Once inside, it’s no longer the border security or customs (the innate system) but the internal law enforcements agencies (the adaptive system) that will deal with intruders. Imagine, if the border is leaky and very little filtering is done at the border, then the internal agencies can be quite overwhelmed. This is the increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, in a nutshell.

Due to the heavy load of pathogens the adaptive immune system and the liver are constantly in a state of alarm. This can cause the adaptive immune system to dysfunction and it can overload the liver with toxins, so that it’s no longer able to detoxify the body and inflammation can spread throughout the body.

Over the past decade, we’ve increasingly come to appreciate how central inflammation is in the development and maintenance of many chronic diseases. It’d probably be correct to say that all chronic diseases have some element of inflammation as at least a partial contributor to the development or the maintenance of the disease.

Symptoms of Leaky Gut

Principally symptoms of a leaky gut could come from anywhere in the body and it could affect nearly any organ, tissue or cell, directly or indirectly. However, many factors play a role in which symptoms each patient may develop as a response to a leaky gut.

Typical symptoms may include:

  • GI symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or gas.
  • Malabsorption and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Development of allergies
  • Autoimmune diseases or increased autoimmunity even if an autoimmune disease is not diagnosed.
  • Mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, mood swings and impaired memory.
  • Skin manifestations: Acne, eczema or rosacea.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Persistent fatigue not relieved by rest.

Causes of Leaky Gut

Many factors can contribute to the development of a leaky gut:

  • Sugars, processed foods, or excessive alcohol can harm the gut lining and also cause gut dysbiosis.
  • Infections can cause gut dysbiosis, leading to increased permeability. Fungi can also directly harm the gut lining.
  • Medications, such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, steroids, stomach acidity lowering medicine and others can directly or indirectly contribute to the development of a leaky gut.
  • Persistent or overwhelming short burst of stress can adversely affect the innate and/or the adaptive immune system.
  • Environmental exposure and toxins, such as pesticides and BPA can be harmful to the gut lining.
  • Gut diseases and conditions, such as celiac disease, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (Crohn’s disease and colitis ulcerosa), Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Small Intestine Fungal Overgrowth (SIFO) can impair the gut lining.


Diagnosis of leaky gut can be challenging due to its diverse symptomatology and a lack of standardized diagnostic tests. At DMH Functional Medicine, we implement a comprehensive diagnostic approach, considering patient history, symptom presentation, and specialized testing, such as blood tests, stool tests, organic acid tests, or zonulin tests.

These tests may not be available in all countries and we may have to send samples abroad to reach a diagnosis.

Complications of Leaky Gut

Leaky gut can cause many and quite serious complications. Few of these include:

  • Chronic Inflammation with tissue damage, organ dysfunction and multiple health issues.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, atopic dermatitis, Alopecia Areata, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, psoriasis and many others.
  • Nutrient deficiency impacting overall health.
  • Neurological/mental disorders, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, mood disorders, brain fog, ADHD, headaches and many more

Treatment of Leaky Gut

At DMH Functional Medicine, we believe in a 360 degree and a patient-centered approach to the treatment of a leaky gut condition. The treatment will be directed towards the likely co-factors in the development of leaky gut in each patient. This may vary considerably.

Treatment strategies include:

  • Non-inflammatory diet:
    • Whole real food
    • Fermented foods, fruits and vegetables
    • Bone broth
  • Supplements: probiotics, collagen, L-glutamine, Omega 3, curcumin, berberine, zinc, fibers and other healing supplements may be required.
  • Stress Management: Meditation, yoga, prayer and counseling may be required.
  • Lifestyle modifications: exercise, adequate sleep, and reducing exposure to environmental toxins may be included in the treatment plan.

Prevention of Leaky Gut

Preventing the development of leaky and many other chronic conditions are down to some of the same principles:

  • A healthy diet: whole real foods and avoid inflammatory items such as refined sugars, gluten, and dairy if relevant.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Exercise, sleep and stress management are vital.
  • Gut support: Probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes to maintain a healthy gut.

How DMH Functional Medicine Can Help?

At DMH Functional Medicine, we’re dedicated to helping you understand and navigate your health journey. We firmly believe in the role of gut health in overall wellness and the adverse effects of a leaky gut.

Our personalized, integrative approach to treatment can help treat underlying causes, and improve your overall quality of life.

Leaky gut is a complex condition with potentially wide-ranging effects on health. It requires a comprehensive, patient-centric approach for effective management.

DMH Functional Medicine is committed to individualized care, helping you navigate your health journey, and improve your gut health.

Speak to us today if you wish to know more or if you want to book a consultation.


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  • Sturgeon, C., & Fasano, A. (2016). Zonulin, a regulator of epithelial and endothelial barrier functions, and its involvement in chronic inflammatory diseases. Tissue barriers, 4(4), e1251384.
  • Bischoff, S. C., et al. (2014). Intestinal permeability–a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC gastroenterology, 14(1), 189.