What Is Leaky Gut? How to Understand and Repair the Damage

by JJ Virgin on June 22, 2016

Fast food, instant messaging, express lanes, high-speed Internet: We live in a non-­stop, do-­it-­now kind of world. While lightning-quick is convenient, the pace and stress of modern life challenges your body in ways you might never recognize.

You are bombarded daily with pesticides and GMO crops, not to mention the pressure of being online 24/7. The Standard American Diet (SAD) includes more sugar and inflammatory foods than ever, and folks seldom push exercise or quality sleep to the top of their to-do list.

It’s no coincidence that most people have also learned to live with sore joints, gut discomfort, skin trouble, or headaches. We weigh more and sleep less—then we ignore our fatigue or treat it with another venti latte. Wrinkles and a growing waistline are now considered normal signs of aging.

However, this version of “normal” isn’t normal at all… and national health statistics prove it.

Almost 70% of Americans are overweight or obese.1 Record numbers now suffer from diabetes, autoimmune disease, depression, and anxiety disorders.2-4 As a nation, we’re more sick, fat, and stressed than ever before.

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Why Your Gut Health Matters

While those facts might be a wake-up call, here’s an even more startling one: Every one of those issues can be caused by poor gut health. Imbalances in your gut microbiome can cause:

  • weight gain and trouble losing it (especially around your middle)
  • increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic disease
  • higher rates of autoimmune disease
  • mood issues, including anxiety and depression
  • trouble with focus and memory
  • a host of other symptoms, ranging from joint pain and headaches to rashes and fatigue

(For more details about why, check out this post.)

If your stress and diet are continually out of balance, the result may be leaky gut syndrome.

The Science Behind Leaky Gut

“Leaky gut” is exactly what it sounds like.

The cells of your intestinal lining are supposed to be pressed up tightly against one another, sealed by what are known as tight junctions. These junctions keep partially digested food securely inside your intestines, where it belongs.5

The gatekeepers in charge of regulating those tight junctions are proteins, including zonulin.6  While it may sound like the leading character in a sci-fi movie, zonulin is actually crucial for preventing leaky gut and autoimmune disease. With the right zonulin levels, your tight junctions remain sealed and secure.

However, years of poor gut health brought on by chronic stress and the typical American diet can impact zonulin levels.6-7 The result is that those tight junctions begin to weaken and allow particles of partly digested food, waste, and toxins to escape into your bloodstream. That’s leaky gut.

But the results don’t end there. As leaky gut allows particles to travel where they shouldn’t be, prompting your body to treat them as foreign invaders and launch an attack.8

As a result, you release a cascade of inflammatory chemicals, which also wreaks havoc on your intestinal lining. Soon, you have a harder time absorbing nutrients, and that can make you crave food and gain weight.

Even worse, over time, those undigested food particles and antibodies form immune complexes that circulate through your bloodstream until they’re deposited in other areas of your body, where they create localized inflammation.

That’s how you end up with symptoms like rashes, joint pain, headaches, and fatigue. And as that inflammation continues, it can trigger system-wide reactions, including allergies and autoimmune disease.6-8

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How to Heal Your Gut

Leaky gut has long been linked to inflammatory foods, including gluten. Recently, scientists have shown that those with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease (the complete inability to digest gluten) have extremely high levels of zonulin.9 That means there’s finally a diagnostic tool to help identify those who are at an increased risk for leaky gut.

But you don’t need a blood test to take back your health! If you suspect that your diet and stress levels put you at risk for leaky gut, there are concrete steps you can take to repair your gut and feel better again. They include:

  1. Change your diet.

A negative reaction to certain foods can trigger inflammation, compromising your intestinal lining and causing a host of issues like faster aging and stubborn weight gain. If your goal is to become lean and healthy, it’s important to uncover your food intolerances.

As explained in my New York Times bestseller The Virgin Diet , there are 7 foods most likely to cause food intolerance and the nasty symptoms that go along with it. Those 7 offenders include gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, peanuts, and sweeteners.

The easiest way to determine your food sensitivities is to eliminate the 7 highly reactive foods for 21 days, then test to find out which of the 7 foods you can add back to your diet long term.

This will give you a head start on preventing and healing leaky gut.

  1. Address your stress.

Chronic stress and poor sleep can change your gut’s nervous system, decreasing your digestive enzymes and helpful gut flora. It’s hard to say no to over-committing, but putting your health first actually means more time and energy for the people and activities you love.

If you’re over 30 and/or have chronic stress, you may not be making sufficient digestive enzymes… which means you’re not breaking down and absorbing food as well as you need to be. We’ve combined digestive enzymes and select botanicals in Protein First Enzymes, a digestive enzyme that helps you break down carbs, protein, and fat like a rock star.* You can buy Protein First Enzymes here

So, make relaxation a priority. Spend time on your favorite hobby, exercise, or prayer and meditation. Trade late-night reruns and work emails for 7–9 hours of quality sleep every night. Healing requires rest! (Need help with sleep? Check out this post.)

  1. Take smart supplements.

Let’s be real: No supplement in the world will cancel out an awful diet, high stress, and no sleep. But if you’re ready to make a change, adding back what your body is missing may support a healthy gut.*

A quality probiotic, digestive enzyme, and gut support formula may be a great place to start.* Each works in its own way to support a healthy gut lining and to promote nutrient absorption, immunity, and hormonal health.*

The signs and symptoms we so often attribute to normal aging may actually be leaky gut. It’s time for a new normal!

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The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


1 https://stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview/

2 https://www.aarda.org/who-we-help/patients/questions-answers/

3 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

4 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18832585

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21248165

7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12404235

8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22731712

9 https://www.ueg.eu/press/releases/ueg-press-release/article/ueg-week-zonulin-in-the-spotlight-as-researchers-find-new-link-with-non-coeliac-gluten-sensitivity/