Stress and Leaky Gut

By Lynda Buitrago;

We know that stress can affect your digestion, but that's just the beginning of the story of what stress can do to your intestines.

Stress from inside and out can lead to leaky gut

Stress can come from within, as a reaction to everyday pressures, which raises our levels of stress hormones. Chronic high cortisol stress prolonged daily leads to adrenal burnout. Adrenal burnout results in low cortisol and DHEA levels, which translates into low energy. Other internal stressors include low stomach acid, which allows undigested proteins to enter the small intestine, and even low thyroid or sex hormones (which are related to cortisol levels, too).

Stress also comes from external sources. If you eat a food to which you're sensitive (you may be sensitive to a food and not realize it), this will cause an inflammatory reaction in your body. Common food sensitivities include those to gluten, dairy, and eggs. Other stresses come from infections (e.g., bacteria, yeast, viruses, parasites) and even from brain trauma (like that concussion you got when you fell off your bike as a kid). Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and antacids also put stress on your small intestine.

What is Leaky Gut?

These are some of the internal and external causes can contribute to leaky gut. So just what is "leaky gut," anyway?

In a healthy digestive system, once the protein in your meal is broken down by stomach acid, the stomach contents, called chyme, pass into the duodenum (upper section of the small intestine). There, the acidic chyme is mixed with bicarbonate and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, along with bile from the gallbladder. As the chyme travels down the small intestine, enzymes secreted by intestinal cells digest carbohydrates. In the small intestine, food is broken down into glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids, which pass into the bloodstream to nourish your body's cells.

In a leaky gut (actually, a leaky small intestine), proteins, fats, and/or carbohydrates may not get completely digested. Normally, the cells that make up the intestinal wall are packed tightly together to keep undigested foreign particles out of the bloodstream. The sites where adjacent cells meet are called "tight junctions." Tight junctions are designed to let nutrients into the bloodstream but keep toxins out.

Over time, as the tight junctions become damaged because of various stresses to the gut, gaps develop between the intestinal cells, allowing undigested food particles to pass directly into the blood. This is leaky gut.

Why should I be concerned about leaky gut?

Undigested food that passes into your blood is seen by your immune system as a foreign invader, and soon you make antibodies to gluten, or egg, or whatever particles happened to pass through. A normal immune process creates inflammation. If you keep eating the offending food, this inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation has health consequences of its own, which I'll tell you more about in a future post.

Leaky gut can lead to autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It also plays an important role in many cases of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, inflammatory bowel disorders, brain fog, chronic yeast infections, and sensitivity to chemical odors - and this is only a partial list of issues related to leaky gut.

Food sensitivities, intestinal infections, and leaky gut are far more common than you think. It's estimated that 30% of people who seem otherwise healthy have leaky gut; while up to 80% of people with health issues have it.

If you have multiple symptoms, I highly recommend you start a gut repair protocol. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and how long you've been living with them, it should take anywhere from 10 to 90 days to feel significant improvement. Further healing takes more time, but is well worth the effort. Find a reputable natural practitioner who will balance your adrenal function before embarking on a gut repair program.

Your question: Do you suffer from leaky gut? (post your comments below)

About the Author: Lynda Buitrago, MS is a clinical nutritionist and wellness counselor. She'd love to hear your feedback on healthy ways you deal with stress at her Facebook page. If you're interested in finding out how to help you get your body back in balance, contact Lynda for a 20-minute complimentary phone consultation.


  1. Hello there,
    Just wondering how one would recognise if they had this syndrome? I have found the following symptoms of it and as usual I have some things that relate: abdominal pain, heartburn, eczema, insomnia, fatigue, bloat, stress, anxiety, irritability, food intolerances, malnutrition and muscle cramps.
    So if I, or anyone, has some of these conditions, how would we know if it is Leaky Gut or just related to a potential 5000000 other things?

  2. Hi Jordan and Kyla,
    I'm not in the habit of Googling myself (oh, my!), but I just did today and discovered that you shared my article on your blog. Thank you so much!


  3. Dear Lynda, Thanks for writing such great articles. We are excited to share great pieces such as these. Much love and light to you!


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