Leaky Gut

And its link to eating disorders by Jenny Tomei

What is leaky gut?

Our gut lining is made up of a barrier of tight junctions, like little doors that open and close to control what gets into our bloodstream.

It allows the passage of the good guys (for instance, nutrients to feed your body) and keeps out the bad guys (disease-causing nasties, or pathogens and toxins such as lipopolysaccharides, produced by certain bacteria).

The gut is the body’s first line of defence. It’s the reason we’re not all bedridden and defeated by infection every time we eat or step outside.

Sometimes these tight junctions can become weak or loose, allowing potential pathogens to sneak across the intestinal wall. Scientists call this intestinal hyperpermeability; otherwise known as ‘leaky gut’.

Stress, too, is a common trigger. A study by the university KU Leuven in Belgium in 2014 looked at students before and after public speaking and found that those who were more nervous and stressed (as measured by the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva) were the ones whose guts became leaky.

Who gets leaky gut?

We all experience a slightly more permeable or ‘leaky’ gut lining temporarily especially after intense exercise, without any health consequences. The problem is when someone starts to get symptoms of a possible “leaky gut” (bearing in mind it’s NOT A DIAGNOSIS) e.g. brain fog, severe IBS, thyroid issues, depression, imbalanced hormones, inflammation in the gut especially after exercise.

People with Coeliac Disease find that eating gluten can cause the gut to become leaky for a longer amount of time. Once you take the gluten out, the leakiness starts to resolve itself.

A leaky gut can also happen when we drink too much alcohol all at once, and because of stress. Some athletes can experience a high level of intestinal permeability due to the consistent stress levels created from heavy training loads, which may ‘temporality’ cause leakiness to the gut.

More stress can happen if someone is ‘diagnosed’ with leaky gut! De-dress = A happy gut.

Dysbiosis and leaky gut.

The imbalance in intestinal microbiota alters the tight intercellular junctions (TJ) that allow access to pathogens and toxins. Additionally, it induces stimulation of mucosa-associated lymphatic tissue (MALT) with the activation of the inflammatory cascade (leukocytes, cytokines, and TNF-α). This then triggers off inflammation and may cause tissue damage.

The composition of the microbiota changes continuously throughout life, due to many factors. It is affected by diet, age, genes, drugs ingested, and environmental, physical, and psychological stress.


Your gut can recover when you take away the cause e.g., gluten with coeliac disease or dealing with stress in your life.

A GAPS eating plan reducing sugar and grains was proposed as a solution, but it does not seem to have any health benefits. There are some studies suggesting L-glutamine modulates the expression of tight junction proteins.

Probiotics, vitamins A and D, fibre and short chain fatty acids have all shown a significant benefit with helping to support a healthy gut lining.

Leaky gut and eating disorders.

Restrictive diets can starve your body and your good gut bacteria.

One study, published in the journal Nature in 2018, showed that a low-gluten diet followed by healthy people reduced some beneficial gut bacteria — demonstrating that cutting out foods can have adverse knock-on consequences. (If you do choose to forgo gluten for whatever reason, just make sure you’re still including plenty of non-gluten wholegrains such as quinoa, buckwheat and popcorn.)

For a strong gut lining and good gut health, the goal is diversity, not restriction.

Jenny’s story:

I worked with Megan Rossi who explained my gut was very leaky due a history of over exercising, under eating and high cortisol levels. I was put on the low-fodmap diet for 10 weeks, and a high dose of L-glutamine for 6 weeks at 6g a day, as there was a study showing it helped to support and repair the gut lining. Reducing my overall stress levels and doing less intense form of cardio, helped my stressed-out gut!

I had to power walk instead of run because my gut was so bad, I couldn’t even run a mile without experiencing inflammation! I had hormone imbalances, sleep issues, brain fog, constipation, increased anxiety, and depression. It took a year to heal my gut, which was a long time, but my situation was made worse by emotional stressors and unresolved trauma. I was referred for trauma treatment – (I was told trauma can be stored in the gut too, makes sense as when I get stressed or I feel anxious it all goes to my gut!)  I now know that stress and emotions are stored within my gut!

I also did a stool test with Nordic laboratories which showed an imbalance in my gut bacteria (dysbiosis) and my Zonulin marker was also raised. (marker for intestinal permeability). I went on a anti – microbial protocol for 3 months, and I was very shocked to see improvements in my overall gut health after this. I no longer had inflammation from my training. I do still occasionally have flare ups when my stress levels are too high!

Here are some references if you want to learn more: