Leaky Gut Syndrome – The Signs and Symptoms

The gut is often referred to as a foundation pillar of health for the body, and the digestive system as ‘the mother’ of the body, as it feeds all of the other organs and provides the first line of defence against ‘foreign’ substances.

We know that digestive health is of prime importance to overall health, and is often the first place to focus on in a functional medicine programme. When considering gut health the health of the gut lining (and repairing or preventing leaky gut) is of utmost importance.

Leaky Gut Syndrome is an extremely grey area in terms of diagnosis and cause, however it is considered by many professionals in the medical industry to be an underlying cause of a wide-range of chronic diseases.

What is a Leaky Gut?

The NHS provide a simple explanation of Leaky Gut:

“The inside of the bowel is lined by a single layer of cells that make up the mucosal barrier (the barrier between the inside of the gut and the rest of the body).

This barrier is effective at absorbing nutrients, but prevents most large molecules and germs passing from inside the bowel into the bloodstream and potentially causing widespread symptoms.

In some circumstances, this barrier can become less effective and “leaky”, although this in itself is not generally thought to be sufficient to cause serious problems.”

To elaborate upon this summary from the NHS Website, the intestinal lining acts as the first line of defence for our immune systems, and through what are known as ‘tight junctions’, molecules in our body go through a ‘screening’ process so that essential nutrients are absorbed and harmful molecules (such as toxins and unwanted food particles) are ‘turned away’.

However, in some circumstances (the reasoning behind which we will discuss later) these ‘junctions’ become too permeable, allowing un-screened molecules to move straight into the bloodstream. This is referred to as ‘leaky gut’ or ‘increased intestinal permeability’.

Obviously, when an unwanted or ‘foreign’ molecule breaches the initial defence system, your body begins to work extra hard to get rid of it. The first point of call is the liver, which provides a second screening process (much like that of the intestinal wall) to try and remove all of the ‘foreign’ particles.

However, in the vast majority of circumstances, if the intestinal wall is leaky, the flow of ‘foreign’ particles will exceed the liver’s capacity to deal with them and they will begin to accumulate in the body.

At this point, the immune system is called upon to produce antibodies to help fight the ‘foreign’ molecules. The key point to note is that your body doesn’t ‘forget’  Because of this, the next time you eat that food, your immune system is likely to have a similar reaction to it. This is the underlying mechanism behind many food sensitivities.  This activation of the immune system can also result in on-going inflammation.

Signs and symptoms of Leaky Gut

The intestinal lining essentially protects substances from moving into the blood stream, so if the lining isn’t doing its job efficiently, all of these harmful substances are able to manifest and accumulate in your body. It is considered that the following conditions can potentially come about as a result of Leaky Gut:

  • Seasonal allergies or asthma
  • Digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Hormonal imbalances such as PMS or PCOS
  •  Depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD
  • Autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or coeliac disease
  • Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  • Skin issues such as acne or eczema
  • Food allergies or food intolerances
  • Candida overgrowth

What causes Leaky Gut?

The NHS have listed the following conditions as being potential causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome:

  • “Inflammatory bowel diseases – such as Crohn’s disease
  • Infections of the intestines – such as salmonella, norovirus and giardiasis
  • Coeliac disease
  • Chemotherapy medicines
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Radiotherapy to the abdomen (tummy)
  • Immuno suppressants (medicines that weaken the immune system)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Sepsis
  • Complicated surgery”

Other common causes are infections, toxins and foods such as sugar, dairy, alcohol and in particular gluten.


A high percentage of people are unable to digest gluten properly which causes a vast array of problems in the gut.

When a food that contains gluten reaches your intestines, enzymes produced in your intestinal wall, breaks down the gluten into its ‘active’ protein building blocks; the peptides gliadin and glutenin.

As the peptides  (gliadin and glutenin) make their way through your digestive system, your immune system in your gut, the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), reviews them for potentially harmful substances.

When one doesn’t have an issue with gluten, then the proteins are efficiently absorbed. However in those that do have a sensitivity or intolerance, the GALT identifies gluten peptides as potentially harmful substances and therefore antibodies are produced by the body to attack it.

When your body produces antibodies to defend itself against gluten peptides, the intestinal barrier may also become compromised decreasing your ability to absorb nutrients and making the walls of your intestine ‘leaky’ allowing more substances through. This can manifest itself in digestive symptoms, including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, weight loss, fat malabsorption and malnutrition.


Gluten also causes the gut cells to release a protein called zonulin. Zonulin’s role is to open up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining and this is a process that is essential for the efficient absorption of nutrients. However, in those with gluten sensitivity the gut cells remain open allowing much larger protein molecules (that are potentially harmful) to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

When these tight junctions remain open, you have a leaky gut. When your gut is leaky, harmful things like bacteria, toxins, heavy metals and undigested food particles can leak through your intestines into your bloodstream. Once they get into your bloodstream, they are transported to the liver. This puts a strain on your liver function and most people who have had a leaky gut for some time eventually go on to develop poor liver health.


 Leaky Gut is known to have a strong association with Candida overgrowth. The Candida cells begin to cause problems when they adopt their fungal form and begin to grow hyphae – the long branches that grow out of the fungus. These branches invade the cells in your intestinal lining, creating inflammation and permeating the membrane that prevents substances from leaking out.


The overuse of antibiotics is of grave concern on a Worldwide basis. Antibiotics reduce the friendly gut bacteria that provide protection against infections all around the body. The friendly bacteria in the gut also produce substances that are protective for for a healthy gut. A reduction in friendly bacteria can allow undesirable bacteria to overgrow -this potentially causes inflammation which can lead to a Leaky Gut.

The 4-Step Plan to Healing a Leaky Gut

Functional medicine practitioners use a 4 step plan to heal a leaky gut called the 4-R programme. This programme involves identifying and removing dietary and lifestyle factors that may be damaging the gut, replacing missing factors and adding in gut healing nutrients for repair.

Remove – all gluten containing foods, sugar, alcohol, conventional dairy products and any other known food sensitivities; stress; and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (unless these have been prescribed by a medical practitioner). If there is an overgrowth of undesirable bacteria or yeast this will also need to be addressed using appropriate anti-microbials.

Replace – use digestive enzymes (and betaine hydrochloride if indicated) as natural production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid may be  compromised in a leaky gut. Ensuring adequate digestion of food will help with absorption and prevent undesirable bacteria from using  the food. Choose healing foods such as bone broths, probiotic rich foods (eg fermented vegetables), prebiotic rich foods (such as vegetables), chia seeds and good quality proteins.

Repair – with digestive tract healing nutrients such as l-glutamine, aloe vera, curcumin, essential fatty acids and vitamins A and D. It is important this step is not overlooked – if the gut is not healed then further food sensitivities may develop and you may not see a full resolution of symptoms.

Rebalance –  with probiotics and additional nutritional support. Probiotics are needed to rebalance the gut flora. In addition there may be a need for additional nutritional support – if digestion and absorption have been compromised for some time short-term additional nutrients will be needed to address any specific needs identified, along with a good quality multivitamin and mineral in both the short-term and for long-term maintenance.


In conclusion, the gut is key to overall health and a leaky gut is the start of many health conditions and disease processes. Hippocrates summed it up 2000 years ago when he said “All disease begins in the gut” and “Death sits in the bowel”.

A health improvement programme should start with an evaluation of symptoms that might be related to gut health. If needed a 4-R programme can then be used to repair the gut and start the return to health.

If you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

[email protected], 01684 310099

Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth & Simon Holdcroft


19 thoughts on “Leaky Gut Syndrome – The Signs and Symptoms

  1. A very informative & thought provoking article. My daughter suffers with very severe IBS, I shall share this with her. Thank you. Patricia

  2. Dear Amanda

    This leaky gut syndrome article is, I feel quite unintentionally, a little one-sided. What I’m getting at is that another cause of illness is the opposite ‘syndrome’, if that is the right word, when the gut FAILS to allow essential nutrients through or allows only insufficient amounts of some of these. Another article specifically to address such failure would be most welcome.

    Yours sincerely

    Malcolm Elliot

  3. Thank you for this informative, easy to follow jargon-free article. Please tell what your advice is for clients taking antibiotics. Should they wait until they finish treatment or can probios be taken alongside? Thank you in advance!

    1. Hello Geraldine,

      Thank you for your question about taking probiotics alongside antibiotics. We do recommend taking a live bacteria supplement whilst taking antibiotics as well as for at least 4 weeks afterwards. Take the live bacteria supplement 2 hours away from any antibiotic dose. For people who are prone to antibiotic associated diarrhoea, there is research supporting the use of Saccharomyces bhoulardii.

      Antibiotics can have long-term effects on the balance of bacteria in the gut and in some countries probiotics are routinely taking alongside and after antibiotic therapy.

      If you have any questions please do contact me at [email protected],

      All the best,

  4. I have been ‘fighting’ Candida Albicans for some time. The disheartening thing is that apparently this fungus goes inside the cells when it is threatened and then, like any other fungus, makes spores again which keep repeating the cycle. I use all the usual Candida-fighting methods but it keeps coming back. The most effective I have found so far is Horopito extract, found only in New Zealand.

    Is there any real research being done to find a way of eradicating Candida spores?

    1. Hello Kristina,

      Thank you for your question about Candida. I understand your frustration in having repeat infections of Candida, it can be difficult, but not impossible, to keep under control.

      It is probably not possible to ever eradicate Candida totally, given that it is a normal part of our gut bacteria and present in many people without causing symptoms. The problem is when it overgrows so the strategy would be to prevent this from happening by:

      1) Supporting the immune system with a diet that contains adequate good quality protein, healthy fats and is low in sugar. Sugar suppresses the immune system (as well as potentially feeding Candida). However this does not need to be a diet that includes no fruit. Choose berries which are lower in sugar. Other nutrients important for immunity include vitamins A and D, B vitamins, zinc. So an all-round, good quality multi would be recommended. Extra vitamin D may be needed if levels are low (especially over the winter months).

      2) Rebalance gut flora – by eating plenty of vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, chicory, onions, fermented vegetables – these all provide fibre to feed good gut bacterial. A live bacteria supplement should also be considered long-term, along with a few months supplementation of Saccharomyces boulardii which is a yeast organism often used as part of an anti-Candida protocol.

      3) Use of antimicrobials for a short period or at the first sign of any symptoms. Caprylic acid, garlic and oregano are all used as part of anti-candida protocol.

      Stress can also be a factor in triggering an overgrowth as it suppresses the immune system, so consider your stress levels and what you can do to minimise these. One tool for stress management is ‘HeartMath’ and the ‘App’ can be downloaded to your phone.

      I hope this information is of use to you. If you have any questions please contact me.

      Best wishes,

  5. Having struggled with Candida overgrowth for many years unsuccessfully it was finally resolved when I had the mercury fillings removed from my teeth. Heavy metals play havoc with the nervous system and the digestive tract.

    1. Hi Teresa,
      I struggle with what I think it Candida overgrowth (amidst other things) and also have plenty of mercury fillings from youth.
      What was the process for removing these, gradual over months, or in one ‘sitting’. And what were the costs involves, as I imagine the NHS doesn’t cover this. Thanks.
      Kind Regards

      1. Hi Anna,

        You would need to consult a holistic dentist that specialises in removing mercury fillings and takes all the necessary precautions – for example uses oxygen while removing the fillings etc. Some dentists may also use IV vitamin C to chelate any mercury that is released. In my experience if you have a lot of fillings they would be removed gradually, rather than in one sitting. It is important prior to (and after) removal to prepare your body by eating a diet high in fibre and phytonutrients – so ensuring good overall nutritional status and bowel function. Eating a wide variety and good quantity of prebiotic foods daily eg green leafy vegetables, onions, garlic, leeks, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, baked or stewed Bramley apple with skin, kefir or natural yoghurt (ideally coconut yoghurt); plus live bacteria supplements. Avoiding sugary foods is important for bowel health – both because sugar suppresses the immune system and can also stimulate growth of undesirable microbes. Some low sugar fruit is ok to include eg berries, apples. We do have a Detox Support supplement which contains vitamin C, manganese, zinc, garlic and spirulina that can be used short-term alongside a multivitamin and mineral. Selenium is also used in mercury detox protocols – a good food source is Brazil nuts. It is also included in most multis and you could take some extra for a short period. Total intake of selenium however should not exceed 400 mcg per day (this includes food and supplements).

        I hope this helps.

        Best wishes,

        1. Hi Clare, thanks very much for the details in your reply.
          There’s some useful information in there. I think I need to see a practitioner again, since I have multiple issues going on which means I can’t tolerate many of the foods you mention – specifically all the FODMAP ones (onions, garlic, etc).
          Kind Regards,

  6. I have been taking Bio-Kult since last August (3-4 x day).and a multi vitamin tablet x 2 day but am still troubled by an erratic bowel as the consultant calls it! Would it be good to add aloe Vera as well. If I eat too many green veggies I loose weight and go to the loo too much. It’s finding the right balance. Awaiting results re B12 and liver.
    Hope you can help? June

  7. Help. I’m so intolerant of all foods and water except grass fed beef, certain rice cakes, certain goats cheese and biodynamic leeks. That’s it – that’s all I ever eat. But now eyes are swelling and I’m exhausted. How could I follow any of your recovery plans please?

    1. Dear Catherine

      Thank you for your question posted on our blog. It sounds like you may have developed sensitivities to a lot of foods and so now you are eating a very restricted diet. This can happen due to leaky gut.

      Sometimes when people suspect a food sensitivity, they remove it from their diet. Symptoms improve for a while, then some time later they may notice reactions to other foods, so these are removed too. However removing foods is not addressing the underlying cause of the problem i.e. leaky gut. So to prevent further food sensitivities from developing some gut repair work is needed – to heal the leaky gut.

      If you would like some advice more specifically tailored to you on carrying out a 4-R gut repair programme, then please complete and return a health questionnaire and food diary to us, along with details of all the symptoms you are experiencing, any medications or supplements you are already taking etc. We will then send you some written recommendations.

      I hope this helps.

      Best wishes

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