Leaky Gut Defined

When the gut is healthy, it is selectively permeable, or porous. This means that nutrients can be absorbed, but it doesn’t allow toxins, pathogens (i.e. bacteria, virus, fungus), or large food particles to pass through it into the bloodstream.

With leaky gut syndrome (more formally called intestinal hyper-permeability), this mechanism is compromised, and these undesirable elements may pass through the gut into the bloodstream and cause symptoms.

While the term leaky gut is controversial, the importance of intestinal impermeability and intestinal hyper-permeability is not.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

There are a number of factors that may lead to a leaky gut. Some of the most common triggers in children may include:

  • Food intolerances or sensitivities (most commonly cow milk, soy, wheat, and eggs)
  • Certain medication, for example, antibiotics
  • Gastrointestinal infection
  • Dysbiosis (an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut)
  • Nutrient deficiencies

How Leaky Gut Affects Health

When particles pass through a leaky gut, the immune system may be triggered. The tissues most often affected are in the gut, lungs, ears, nose, and skin.

Symptoms associated with leaky gut may include eczema or rashes, mucous congestion, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain/colic.

Healing the Gut

The best path to healing the gut depends on the cause, but the guiding principle is to identify a trigger that may be irritating the gut and add elements that can help the gut heal itself. Some ways to do this include: 

  • Removing offending foods, such as cow milk or gluten and finding alternatives (for example, swapping cow milk for goat milk, or going gluten-free)
  • Talking with your healthcare provider about the impact of medications on the gut
  • Identifying and resolving any lingering gastrointestinal infection
  • Starting a probiotic to add to the good bacteria in the gut
  • Speaking with a healthcare provider about whether a vitamin, fatty acid or mineral supplement might be right for your child

One of the best ways to advocate for your child’s health (and your own!) is to empower yourself with a deeper understanding of how the body works. Making small changes to diet and lifestyle can result in big health wins.


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Annie Salsberg ND DrGreene.com contributor

Read more on: Nutrition