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With Leaky Gut, It’s Not a Matter of If, It’s a Matter of When: Understanding Intestinal Permeability from a Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Perspective

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on June 22, 2023

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the concept of "leaky gut," also known as intestinal permeability, within the field of naturopathic and functional medicine. Leaky gut refers to a condition where the lining of the intestines becomes more permeable, potentially allowing harmful substances to enter the bloodstream. While the medical community has not universally accepted leaky gut as a clinical diagnosis, research suggests that it may play a role in various health conditions. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of leaky gut, its potential causes, associated health issues, and strategies for addressing it from a naturopathic and functional medicine perspective. (1)

Understanding Leaky Gut: The intestinal lining consists of a tightly regulated barrier made up of cells held together by tight junctions. This barrier serves as a selective gateway, allowing nutrients to pass into the bloodstream while keeping harmful substances, such as toxins and undigested food particles, out. In cases of leaky gut, this barrier becomes compromised, leading to increased permeability and potential health consequences. (2)

Causes of Leaky Gut: Several factors can contribute to the development of leaky gut. Chronic inflammation, which may result from conditions like Crohn's disease or celiac disease, can damage the intestinal lining and compromise its integrity. Imbalances in gut microbiota, commonly referred to as dysbiosis, have also been associated with increased intestinal permeability. Other factors, such as chronic stress, poor diet, certain medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and environmental toxins, can contribute to the disruption of the intestinal barrier. (3)

Health Issues Associated with Leaky Gut: Leaky gut has been linked to a range of health conditions, although more research is needed to establish causal relationships. Some conditions that have shown associations with leaky gut include autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto's thyroiditis), allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), food sensitivities, and even mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. It is important to note that leaky gut is not solely responsible for these conditions but may contribute to their development or exacerbation.

Approaches to Addressing Leaky Gut: Naturopathic and functional medicine practitioners often adopt a holistic approach to address leaky gut and its associated health issues. The following strategies may be utilized:

  1. Dietary Modifications: A nutrient-rich, whole foods diet emphasizing anti-inflammatory foods, such as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins, is commonly recommended. Eliminating potential food triggers, such as gluten, dairy, and processed foods, may also be beneficial for some individuals.
  2. Gut Microbiome Support: Balancing the gut microbiota through the use of probiotics and prebiotics can help optimize gut health. These beneficial bacteria assist in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal barrier.
  3. Nutritional Supplements: Certain supplements, such as glutamine, zinc, and quercetin, have shown promise in supporting gut barrier function and reducing inflammation. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before initiating any supplementation.
  4. Stress Management: Chronic stress can contribute to leaky gut. Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and adequate sleep can help manage stress levels and promote overall well-being.
  5. Lifestyle Modifications: Avoiding environmental toxins, regular physical activity, and smoking cessation can help support gut health and reduce inflammation.

While leaky gut is a concept that is still evolving within the medical community, naturopathic and functional medicine practitioners have been exploring its potential


  1. Schoultz I, Keita ÅV. The Intestinal Barrier and Current Techniques for the Assessment of Gut Permeability. Cells. 2020 Aug 17;9(8):1909. doi: 10.3390/cells9081909. PMID: 32824536; PMCID: PMC7463717.
  2. Camilleri M. What is the leaky gut? Clinical considerations in humans. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2021 Sep 1;24(5):473-482. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000778. PMID: 34138767.
  3. Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019 Aug;68(8):1516-1526. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318427. Epub 2019 May 10. PMID: 31076401; PMCID: PMC6790068.

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