What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome? And Do Antacids Make It Worse?

Health & Wellness

“Leaky Gut” conjures up grotesque images from a horror movie: the contents of a victim’s bowels oozing out the stomach. 

But leaky gut syndrome may have real-world nightmarish consequences for those that have it. 

In this article, we’ll explore what leaky gut syndrome is, what causes it, the symptoms associated with the condition, and if antacid pills contribute to it. Finally, we’ll take a look at some ways to repair leaky gut syndrome. 

What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Before defining what leaky gut syndrome is, let’s take a step back and review what the gut actually consists of…

The gut, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract is an organ system. Most people associate the gut with the stomach. But the stomach is just one organ within the GI tract. The GI tract starts with your mouth and also includes your esophagus, intestines and colon. 

The function of your gut is to digest food, absorb the food, transform the food into nutrients, and drive the waste into the elimination system. 

Your intestines contain a lining that protects you from harmful bacteria such as E. Coli and other pathogens. This lining also prevents food particles that have been broken down by stomach acid from escaping the intestines and leaking into the bloodstream. 

But with leaky gut, tiny holes form in the millions of cells that form the intestinal lining. When this occurs, the undigested food particles float freely outside of the intestines.  Your body’s immune system then recognizes the particles as harmful substances. Consequently, your inflammation response goes into hyper overdrive, which can cause autoimmune disease.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

According to Harvard Health, poor dietary choices, particularly excess sugar, alcohol, refined grains and other processed foods are a common culprit. Infections, genetics, taking too many NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and age may be factors as well. (Unfortunately, part of the aging process is a weakening of the gut’s structural integrity.)

Why Hasn’t My Doctor Told Me About Leaky Gut?

Also referred to as ‘increased intestinal permeability,’ leaky gut is a diagnosis you most likely won’t receive from your regular doctor. That’s because the condition is not recognized by mainstream medicine as a health condition; there is no official diagnostic code for leaky gut. 

Does Leaky Gut Really Cause Disease?

Despite not having an official medical diagnosis, many articles and studies on leaky gut or intestinal permeability have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. 

Take for instance, this research article in Frontiers in Immunology, which confirms how serious having leaky gut may be:

“Multiple diseases may arise or be exacerbated due to a leaky gut, including autoimmune diseases.” 

Examples of these diseases include: 

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Type 1 diabetes 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus

If you have one of these autoimmune conditions, your doctor probably will not tell you that leaky gut is to blame. However, an increasing number of healthcare professionals are turning to integrative and functional medicine to improve patient outcomes. These disciplines explore the root causes of disease. 

Leaky Gut & Gut Dysbiosis

In addition to leaky gut, gut dysbiosis is a term you may also come across. Gut dysbiosis is when you don’t have enough friendly bacteria and/or an overgrowth of yeast. 

The article in Frontiers In Immunology says that several diseases have been associated with gut dysbiosis and intestinal barrier dysfunction (leaky gut). 

Other diseases not listed above include Alzheimer’s, ALD, and cancer as well as other autoimmune disorders. 

Some researchers (like this one) question whether it’s worth trying to repair the gut’s lining for the sake of improving disease states. They argue that there is not yet any conclusive evidence linking the weakening of the mucosal barrier to diseases. (The mucosal barrier forms the central protective barrier around the intestines.)

Is there enough proof that leaky gut is the cause of a disease rather than a symptom? At the moment, there is insufficient evidence that leaky gut is the root of all GI problems and autoimmune diseases. But in many autoimmune diseases, gut permeability is present.  

Moreover, considering a sizable chunk of the human body’s immune system is located within the mucosal barrier of the gut, it makes sense that gut function and overall health are connected. Increasingly, this theory is becoming more accepted by researchers. 

Symptoms of Leaky Gut

Some of the most common signs you may have leaky gut, besides having an autoimmune disease, include:

  • Fatigue
  • Foggy brain (can’t think clearly)
  • Joint pain
  • Headache
  • Skin problems such as acne and eczema
  • Bloating or other digestive problems

Can Antacids Cause Leaky Gut? 

Are you one of the millions of Americans who frequently use antacids to stop heartburn or other symptoms of acid reflux? If so, the temporary relief you get from it may not be worth the long-term consequences. 

There are two major problems with using prescription or over-the-counter antacids. First, some brands, including Zantac, contain an active ingredient, ranitidine, which may produce a carcinogenic compound called NDMA. 

Lawsuits have mounted against the manufacturer of Zantac (Sanofi). The lawsuits allege that Sanofi failed to properly warn the public about dangers posed by NDMA. (As of February 2020, 140 cases were pending in a multi-district litigation.)

The second problem with antacids relates to how they make the problem that they are supposed to treat even worse. A healthy stomach requires enough acid to break down food, especially protein. Antacids work by lowering stomach acid, when the true cause of heartburn may very well be insufficient stomach acid in the first place.

As Registered Dietician, Ali Miller, explains here, “Poor digestion is the main culprit behind acid reflux yet it is also a side effect of the drugs used to treat acid reflux symptoms.” 

Miller adds that the fermentation of excess yeast in the gut (caused by consuming too much sugar) creates constant pressure of gas. Like a bubbling geyser, this gas from yeast fermentation rises up into the esophagus along with stomach acid. This is what causes acid reflux. 

When this occurs, Miller says, “The addition of antacids to the mix would only decrease the stomach’s digestion ability….” 

There is no direct evidence linking antacids to the erosion of the gut lining. In fact, antacids are often recommended for gastritis, which is inflammation, irritation or the erosion of the gut lining. 

But considering that antacids may, with long-term usage, significantly lower stomach acid, thereby causing inadequate digestion, which causes leaky gut, you may want to ask for a second opinion. 

What May Repair Leaky Gut? 

Vitamin D 

In this study, supplementing with vitamin D acts as an “intestinal permeability protector.”

Eat More Fiber

This research suggests a low-fiber diet triggers more mucus-degrading bacteria in the gut. 

Cut Down on Saturated Fat

Diets high in saturated fat have been shown (as in this study) to greatly decrease a beneficial strain of bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus. Saturated fats also increase a potentially-harmful bacteria called Oscillibacter. “These changes were correlated with significantly increased permeability in the colon,” the researchers found. (In other words, the higher the saturated fat in the diet, the worse the gut leaks.)

Limit Alcohol

A study in Alcohol Research suggests that heavy alcohol consumption can disrupt intestinal barrier function. 

Take Acidophilus

Studies (such as this one) say that Lactobacillus acidophilus strains can decrease bacterial overgrowth and restore mucosal integrity of the intestine. Fermented foods are natural sources. Taking probiotic supplements with Lactobacillus acidophilus is a convenient way to consume this friendly bacteria that may help repair the gut. 

Bone Broth & Collagen

Collagen is the body’s most abundant type of protein. Your gut lining is structurally supported by collagen protein (as well as many other parts of your body such as the skin). Collagen peptide supplements that are derived from animals such as cows as fish have been shown in small studies (like this one) to at least prevent further damage to the gut lining. 

Bone broth, which contains bones from cows or chickens that have been simmered for at least 24 hours, thereby breaking down the bones long enough to leach collagen protein, may also help support gut lining. 


There are many supplements which may help prevent the further breakdown of your gut’s lining, or may very well help repair it. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that may help intestinal cells grow

Is There A Leaky Gut Test?

Again, if you ask your family doctor, the likelihood he or she will recognize leaky gut as a medical condition is small, let alone test you for it. However, as mentioned earlier, more and more doctors do recognize the connection between the integrity of the gut lining and diseases. 

One test that you can request measures the levels of a protein called zonulin in your body. If levels of zonulin protein (also referred to as “properdin”) are high in the blood, it correlates with abnormal intestinal permeability. 

If you suffer from one or more of the common symptoms of leaky gut listed above, you may choose to skip the test—there’s a good chance you have a leaky gut. For best results, consult an integrative medical doctor or functional medicine doctor.

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