Leaky Gut: What Does that Mean?

Leaky gut is a term that people often throw around especially in the holistic wellness community, but what does that actually mean? Leaky gut is a naturopathic idea of poor gut health and increased gut permeability.  In other words, leaky gut is the side effect of poor gut health.  Our gut is lined by the same cells that the outside of our body is lined with, epithelial cells.  And just like our skin, the cells of our gut help us to absorb nutrients from the outside world directly into our blood stream. The gut selectively absorbs nutrients from the food that we take in, in a process called selective permeability. The idea is that only food that is nutritionally useful is used, and anything that may be toxic is filtered out and eliminated in our stool. The gut is actually the seat of our immune system; more immune cells are found in our gut then any other area of our body. On top of immune cells, beneficial bacteria that help us to break down and absorb the nutrients that we are consuming also inhabit our gut. The healthy bacteria of our gut, is an example of a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and human. I know I am throwing a lot of biology at you, but when you think about it, it is all really miraculous.

The nutrients that are absorbed by your gut are supposed to be small and non- toxic.  Your body’s innate wisdom tries its best to keep toxic materials from being absorbed into your bloodstream, and thus damaging your vital organs.  For example, if you eat something that does not agree with you, you may experience vomiting or diarrhea, that is your body flushing the toxin out of it.  That is an extreme example of your body taking care of toxins, but other things can be considered minimally toxic, or not nutritionally relevant, and they can just pass through your gut without being absorbed, and are then eliminated in your stool.  Large particles of food that cannot be used by your body are then passed through your bowl movements along with other metabolic waste from your liver.  The idea behind leaky gut is that systemic inflammation in your bowels caused by food allergies, alcohol, sugar, constipation, infections, etc. damage your guts micro-biome and thus causes the cells that line your gut to become diseased.  The damaged cells can cause microscopic holes in the lining of the gut, where toxic substances from your gut, or larger food molecules pass through into your blood stream.  Think about it this way, if you put lotion on your skin that is toxic, you might break out in a rash.  If you continue to use that lotion the rash will get worse, redder, maybe it will blister, the blisters can then break causing actual lesions in your skin.  The lesions can then allow bacteria from the external world in, and the wound can become infected. If you let the infection fester, poisons can enter your blood which can be life-threatening. This happens because the natural barrier of your skin has been compromised.  Well the idea is that the same thing can happen in your gut.   This process causes systemic inflammation throughout the entire body, your liver and kidneys have to work harder to filter the blood which compromises your body’s detox pathways, and it causes your body’s immune system to react to foods that you eat regularly.  Leaky gut can be attributed to symptoms or diseases such as: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS), autoimmune disorders, food allergies, malnutrition, obesity, gastric reflux, generalized systemic inflammation, severe bloating all to name a few.

 How to repair the gut?

The gut can be repaired through diet and lifestyle, and luckily, holistic practitioners are great resources for helping patients heal their gut. In some extreme cases where leaky gut has manifested as an extreme case of inflammatory bowel disease, people will need to work closely with a doctor and potentially use medication to manage severe symptoms. However eating a very clean diet with no processed foods, getting on a supplement regimen that is specific for your needs, drinking enough water, and getting on a proper exercise and stress management routine can help the majority of people who are experiencing digestive upset caused by leaky gut.

Some main foods to avoid, because they are highly inflammatory or common allergens are: Dairy (cultured plain dairy is an exception), corn, soy, wheat / gluten, peanuts, sugar, and alcohol.

Things to definitely incorporate into a gut healthy diet are: bone broth, vegetable broth, meat broth, cultured foods such as sour kraut and kefir.

Some supplements that can benefit everyone are: Collagen (this is a big part of bone broth), cod liver oil, blue green algae such as spirulina or chlorella, and perhaps the biggest of all a probiotic and prebiotic either in a blend or taken separately.

Want to learn more about gut health, schedule a consultation with me! I love to help people heal their digestion so that they can feel their best. E mail: contact@zenspacepdx.com to book.


 Danielle Reghi is a licensed Acupuncturist, and holds a Masters in traditional Chinese medicine from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and a soon to be Doctorate of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine from Pacific College of Health and Science. She is the owner of Zen Space Wellness, and Cupping Studio where she currently practices. She is originally from Hawaii, but is living in Portland Oregon with her husband, two dogs, one cat, and studio baby. Feel free to follow Danielle on Instagram at: @cuppingqueenpdx , @zenspacepdx , or @cuppingstudio . Her business webpages are: www.zenspacepdx.com, and www.cuppingstudio.com.