Leaky Gut: Why It Happens and What To Do About It

Leaky Gut: Why It Happens and What To Do About It post image

There are toxic substances in grains that will cause Leaky Gut Syndrome. Many people react to these irritants and do not know that they are setting the stage for autoimmunity. Others react, even after proper preparation of grains through soaking, sprouting and/or sourdough. There have been several studies that show — scientifically — that certain components in grains are detrimental to digestion and to good health. Let me show you the research.

Zonulin opens the door to leaky gut

We know that a substance called zonulin opens up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining. That normally occurs, in order for nutrient and other molecules to get in and out of the intestine. However, when leaky gut is present, the spaces between the cells open up too much and this allows the larger protein molecules to get into the bloodstream where an immunologic reaction can take place. Once that happens, the body is primed to react to those proteins each and every time they appear.

What causes the zonulin to do this?

We know that gliadin (the prolamine in gluten) causes zonulin levels to increase in people with the genetic pre-disposition to celiac disease.  As zonulin levels go up, the tight junctions become lax, widening the space between the cells of the lining and increasing gut permiability. Now the gut membrane has spaces which allow large food particles into the body that shouldn’t be there. These are noticed by the immune system and targeted as foreign.

An immune response ensues and the worse it gets, the more damage to the enterocytes (cells of the intestinal lining) occurs. The more damaged the enterocytes, the leakier the gut gets and so on, in a vicious cycle. As more aspects of the immune system get involved (various cytokines involved in the cellular and innate immune systems) the worse things get, and in the process, the micro villi are damaged and eventually flattened. That is a condition that makes it very difficult to absorb nutrients.

Zonulin is activated by gliadin

Gliadin is a protein in wheat, that like gluten, is a trigger for people with the autoimmune disease celiac. However, this study published in the Scandiavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2006 clearly showed that gliadin can affect zonulin even in people without the genetics for celiac. The researchers concluded that,

Based on our results, we concluded that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules.

This is extremely significant because it means that anyone who eats food containing gliadin is at risk for developing leaky gut from this food. What foods contain gliadin?

Grains contain gliadin.

The gluten-free diet is conventional treatment for celiac. Some people do very well with this but there is research that shows that only 66% of celiacs fully heal on the gluten-free diet after 5 years.


Lectins are manufactured by plants as a way to protect themselves from predators. They are most concentrated in the seed. Here again, soaking sprouting and sourdough may eliminate much of the lectins, but let’s face it — most people eat bread products that have not been properly prepared. Therefore they are at risk for digestive irritation and the resulting leaky gut.

A particularly harsh lectin called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is present in our modern day wheat (Triticum aestivum) and is very problematic. It is implicated in many reactions that cause cell death and stimulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

The WGA is actually more concentrated in whole wheat because it is located in the bran. It has been found to stimulate antibodies specific to to WGA with some ability to cross-react with other proteins.

This study published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology in 1995 showed that immune reactive molecules (IgA and IgG) were higher when exposed to WGA as well as gliadin. They found that,

…levels of IgA and IgG to WGA as well as gliadin were significantly higher in celiac children on a gluten-containing diet, compared to children on gluten-free diet and reference children. These findings lend support to the concept that WGA is a biologically significant component of gluten.

Lectins have also been found to decrease the levels of something called “heat shock proteins” which protects the enterocytes of the gut lining from harmful substances taken in through food.

This study from Gut, in 2000 found that,

… WGA decrease(d) levels of stress proteins in rat gut and enterocyte-like Caco-2 cells, leaving these cells less well protected against the potentially harmful content of the gut lumen.

Phytic Acid

This organic acid is present in the bran or hulls of all seeds (this includes all grains and nuts as well as soy) and blocks the uptake of critical minerals like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Phytates have been studied extensively and findings show that phytates contribute to widespread mineral deficiencies in third world countries.

Analysis shows that calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are present in the plant foods eaten in these areas, but the high phytate content of soy and rice based diets prevents their absorption.

Phytic acid also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food. These include pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. It also inhibits trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.

Clearly, eating foods high in phytic acid will reduce your body’s ability to digest and assimilate your food.

There are many causes of leaky gut syndrome

Gliadin, lectins and phytic acid are just three of the substances that may cause leaky gut to develop. Other causes include damage to the intestinal lining from antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDS, imbalance in gut bacteria, yeast overgrowth or dysbiosis, etc.

The Solution

The solution is to go grain-free and eat a real food diet that includes foods that are very easy to digest and assimilate. Unprocessed, traditional foods without the anti-nutrients found in grains are full of the nutrients so desperately needed.

Get Started Today


You may already be on the GAPS diet, or SCD (Specific Carbohydrates Diet), the Paleo, Primal diets or other healing diet. You may be on a gluten-free diet and are still not feeling better — or you may be thinking about starting.

In this 12-week class I share with you everything you need to know to get going. From the basics — learning how to make basic condiments and staples such as coconut milk, coconut milk yogurt, homemade mayonnaise, coconut butter and soaked nuts — to making fermented foods and bone broth — to breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

In this class, I will share snacks and desserts that are healthy enough to eat as part of the meal!

What You Get in This Class

You’ll get lifetime access to 12 weeks of classes including:

  • Over 80 video tutorials
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Leave a Comment

  • JT October 3, 2012, 6:29 am

    This Grain Free series has been very informative! You explain things very well!

  • GW October 3, 2012, 6:30 am

    I’m a bit confused to be honest 🙂 . First you say that gliadin is a prolamine in gluten and then you say that grains in general contain gliadin. So, if I understand this correctly, it’s not only gluten-containing grains that contain gliadin but also other non-gluten-grains? And does soaking, sprouting and fermenting decrease the amount of gliadin?

    • Jill October 3, 2012, 8:27 am

      Hi GW,
      Gliadin is found in all gluten containing grains. Preparation by soaking, etc. will decrease the amounts but there are also other substances in grains that are a problem as noted above. Soaking will also decrease these but some people cannot tolerate them in spite of this.

      • GW October 3, 2012, 4:40 pm

        Thanks for your answer! 🙂

  • Allie October 3, 2012, 7:37 am

    Is there a specific test to diagnose Leaky Gut?
    Why is this such a contemprary problem? People have been eating grains for thousands of years with minimal problems. It seems gut issues are rampant today.
    Also, if one tests fine for gliadin will there still be an issue causing leaky gut if grains are consumed?

    • Jill October 3, 2012, 8:30 am

      Hi Allie,
      Yes there are tests for leaky gut — also if IGg allergy testing is done and the person is reactive to MANY things — most of the foods they are eating, it indicates leaky gut.

      Thousands of years in evolutionary terms is a second, and our digestive systems have not caught up. We used to eat meats, vegetables, nuts and fats.

      Additionally the wheat of today is totally different from the wheat of just a few hundred years ago.

  • Solveig October 4, 2012, 1:00 am

    How about Wasa Rye Crisps or Flatbread(as they are called here in the US)? They are made in Sweden and are 100% rye and are eaten at every meal, from youngsters to older folks. That has no gluten in it. Also Norwegians are quite healthy and many I met were of advanced age and you’d never guess it. Also 4 of the flatbreads will give you healthy elimination every day. So, I take their diet isn’t doing much harm to their digestive system but starting young like they do there is the key. Most American children would absolutely not touch the stuff, claiming it’s too hard. I’ve eaten it since I was a child because I saw my father eating it and he lived to be 90.

  • Raf October 4, 2012, 3:10 pm

    So you’re suggesting not to eat nuts or seeds, as well as avoid rice?

    • Jill October 4, 2012, 3:24 pm

      Hi Raf,
      I’m suggesting that grains are the worst offenders. Seeds and nuts, when properly prepared are fine. Rice needs to be soaked as well.

      • Raf October 5, 2012, 5:21 am

        Hi Jill,

        I soak nuts and seeds overnite (in rice milk!) along with oats. Hopefully that removes the phytates?

        Also, how long would you recommend soaking rice before cooking it?


  • Jill October 5, 2012, 10:17 am

    Hi Raf,
    You would be better off separating the nuts and seeds from the grains. Nuts and seeds need an alkaline water such as saltwater. Grains need an acidic liquid — kefir or yogurt would be good for grains.

  • Theresa ~ SCD Griddle October 5, 2012, 11:56 am

    Very interesting- thank you!

  • Leaky gut research December 31, 2012, 2:32 am

    Very good summary of the condition. Important is to completely avoid alcohol which is strong gut irritant and have adequate vitamin D level. Occasional fast helps too.

  • Bing.com September 25, 2014, 10:15 am

    What’s up to all, the contents present at this website are actually amazing for people experience, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

  • Richard Freer February 22, 2015, 7:43 pm

    Is there any chance that grains, rice and nuts phyitc acid would interact with meat protein negatively and cause a leaky gut?

    • Jill February 23, 2015, 10:51 am

      Hi Richard,
      It’s not about the meat protein or reacting with it. It’s about the anti-nutrients in grains and nuts when not properly prepared.Eating without proper preparation can definitely contribute to leaky gut.