Water spilling out of a bucket with holes with text bubble saying what is leaky gut

For decades, Leaky gut was a term used that had limited scientific evidence to back it up. Now we have a lot of evidence showing leaky gut is real and contributes to a wide range of conditions.

The research into leaky gut is growing at an alarming rate. Over the past 35 years, more than 2000 scientific publications have been released, with now over 100 articles per year being published [1].

We know a lot, but still, not every aspect of leaky gut is fully understood.

Normal Gut Health

You can learn more about normal gut function in another article, but as a quick review, please see the video below.

  • When you chew food, digestion begins
  • Food drops into the esophagus and travels into the stomach
  • The stomach has acid, which continues breakdown
  • Once the broken-down food makes it into the small intestine, it will combine with digestive juices the liver and gall bladder made
  • In the small intestine, absorption occurs. Absorption is transfer of nutrients from the digestive track into the blood
  • Left over byproducts make it into the large intestine, and stool is formed

As you can see, problems can arise in various parts along the digestive track. The focus of this article is leaky gut, an issue of the small intestine.

What is Leaky Gut?

The medical term for leaky gut is intestinal permeability.

Basically, what happens is things can leak through the intestinal wall that shouldn’t be able to.

The video below illustrates the general concept.

The Healthy Intestinal Barrier

We have a sophisticated gastrointestinal system, and the mucosal barrier is responsible for digestion and absorption [2]. The mucosal barrier is supposed to be selective, only allowing certain things from our digestive tract into our bodies.

Not only is our gut lining exposed to absorbable nutrients, but also food antigens, commensal bacteria, pathogens and toxins [2]. As such, we have a complex system protecting us.

There are a few components in our guts protecting bad things from getting absorbed into our blood stream:

  • Physical barrier: cellular component consisting of blood vessels, epithelial cell lining and mucus layer [1]
  • Chemical Substances: next to the physical barrier; consists of digestive secretions, immune molecules, and cell products like cytokines, inflammatory mediators, antimicrobial peptides
  • The microbiota is involved in metabolic processes, and modulates the barrier, but is not a barrier itself [1]

Impressively – the front line of this barrier is maintained by a single layer of specialized epithelial cells that are linked together by tiny proteins called tight junctions [2].

All of these layers of protection are vital to protect against leaky gut.

Mechanisms of Leaky Gut

The following are established contributors to leaky gut. It should be noted, most factors that impede gut function all work via multiple mechanisms.

Diet-induced leaky gut

  • Such as vitamin D deficiency [2], low dietary fiber[3], western style diet [4], [1]

Stress-induced leaky gut [5]

  • Stress is known to reduce blood flow to the gut, and thereby interfere with the health of the gut lining

Alcohol consumption [6]

  • Alcohol increases oxidation and alters gut bacteria, both of which independently weaken the gut lining

Infections [7]

  • Infections will alter gut bacteria, change pH, increase inflammation and directly contribute to leaky gut

Oxidative stress [8]

  • Oxidation can interfere with healthy gut function

Proinflammatory cytokines [8]

Hypoxia [8]

Altered intramucosal pH [8]

graphic with digestive system showing the mechanisms of leaky gut, including diet, stress, alcohol, infections, dysbiosis, oxidative stress, inflammation, hypoxia, and altered gut pH


Leaky gut is a well-known phenomenon. Our guts are supposed to absorb certain nutrients from our food and exclude certain toxins, antigens and bacteria.

If the gut lining is harmed in any way, it results in leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability. Future posts will highlight exactly how leaky gut can contribute to autoimmune disease.


Interested in learning more?

Read on in our series of articles on Gut Health!

About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera

man facing camera

Dr. Johann is a fully licensed Naturopathic Doctor. His approach emphasizes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and improving one’s health naturally. Dr. Johann obtained a Doctor of Naturopathy at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). Education at CCNM is a vigorous four years, with a curriculum involving biomedical sciences, physical diagnosis, clinical nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, botanical (herbal) medicine, physical medicine, homeopathy and lifestyle management.

While Dr. Johann has a general practice, he focuses on fertility, hormonal imbalances, gut health, and autoimmune disease.

To book in please call us at (519) 442-2206 or click here.

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