Yes, Leaky Gut Can Make You Fat, Sick + Inflamed

JJ Virgin
11 min readOct 7, 2021


An immune overreaction, inflammation, autoimmune disease, weight loss resistance + more can result from leaky gut.

Most probiotic supplements don’t make the grade… so I created my own! Microbiome Balance combines a proprietary blend of 7 strains of probiotics + probiotic-supporting prebiotics… all in one easy-to-take capsule.*

In The Virgin Diet, I discuss how seven highly reactive foods are often responsible for digestive problems but also aches, pains, and soreness that occur throughout the body.

When people pull these seven foods, seemingly miraculous results occur. They feel better, they don’t suffer post-meal miseries, and symptoms like headaches and brain fog disappear.

One reason those improvements occur: When you pull those highly reactive foods and replace them with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, healing foods, the gut begins to heal.

To be fair, it isn’t just foods that create gut disharmony. Chronic stress, antibiotics, and environmental toxins are other obstacles that can contribute to dysbiosis.

When I say a healthy gut, I’m talking about the amazing roles that the gut performs including digestion and detoxification.

But all of those roles depend on the trillions of bacteria that live within the gut. These hardworking bacteria regulate the immune system, derive energy from food, prevent pathogens from hijacking your immune health, and so much more.

When these trillions of bacteria fall out of balance, a condition called dysbiosis can result. Dysbiosis impacts the gut, but eventually, that damage creates havoc that goes beyond the gut. (1)

One repercussion from dysbiosis is leaky gut syndrome, also called increased intestinal permeability or simply leaky gut.

“Between the antibiotics, eating the wrong foods that feed the bad organisms, the toxins you are exposed to in your environment, and the resulting dysbiosis, over a period of days to months you develop a leaky gut,” says Vincent Pedre, MD, in Happy Gut.

Leaky gut is pretty much what it sounds like. The cells that line your gut should be tightly packed together, creating what we call tight junctions.

Tight junctions keep partially digested food within your gut. When the gut barrier becomes damaged, however, partly digested food slips out of your gut into your bloodstream. Other problematic stuff can get out, too, including microbes, waste, and toxins.

Your body doesn’t know what the heck these things are, so it sees them as foreign invaders and attacks. Your immune system releases a cascade of inflammatory chemicals designed to neutralize the threat, which can also wreak havoc on your gut.

When these bacteria, toxins, and other things slip into the bloodstream, they don’t just evaporate or disappear. Nope, your body has got to do something with them. Unfortunately, they often get deposited in your joints and other tissues, where they create localized inflammation.

A vicious cycle emerges. Yes, chronic inflammation contributes to leaky gut, but when you have leaky gut, you get… more chronic inflammation.

What Causes Leaky Gut to Develop?

Many, many things can contribute to leaky gut, including:

  • Chronic stress
  • A processed diet
  • Highly reactive ingredients including fructose and gluten
  • Certain medications (especially aspirin, pain medicine, and antacids)
  • ​Chronic inflammation ​
  • Lactose intolerance
  • A low-fiber, high-sugar diet, which lowers your levels of stomach acid and contributes to leaky gut ​
  • Poorly digested food, which may be caused by speed-eating or stress eating
  • Antibiotics
  • Exposure to heavy metals, molds, and toxins

Consider chronic stress, which impacts nearly everyone these days. Stress doesn’t just come from a hectic work or home situation. Long-duration endurance exercise, abusing prescription or non-prescription drugs, and eating unhealthy foods that may deplete healthy nutrients can also be stressors on the body. (2)

Chronic stress can also impact gut motility (how well food and nutrients move through your digestive system) and inhibit the digestive enzymes secreted to break down food. The end result is an increased risk of intestinal permeability. (3)

Food Intolerances Cause Leaky Gut, But Leaky Gut Also Causes Food Intolerances

Any of the seven highly reactive foods that I discuss in The Virgin Diet can contribute to leaky gut, but gluten is an especially big offender. This problematic protein, found in wheat bread, pasta, and other processed foods, stirs up your gut and wrecks your digestion.

How? By damaging the walls of your small intestine, by triggering the release of a protein called zonulin. Under normal conditions, zonulin regulates the permeability of your intestines.

When too much zonulin is set free, however, it opens the tight junctions that make up your intestinal wall, making it more permeable.

As a result, proteins, undigested food particles, and toxins slip into your bloodstream.

Your immune system sounds the alarm. The ensuing battle can trigger inflammation, weight gain, and cravings for the very food that’s hurting you.

“[E]ach time you eat gluten, the immune response it triggers can last up to six months,” says Dr. Pedre in Happy Gut.

Yikes. One reason why: Gliadin, the main protein in gluten, looks like thyroid proteins.

According to Dr. Pedre, when a person has a leaky gut and eats gluten, gliadin makes it through the holes in the gut wall. The immune system identifies this protein as a foreign substance. But the body confuses its attack against gliadin and instead attacks the thyroid gland.

In other words, every time you eat gluten, your body will also attack your thyroid.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a term to describe people not affected by celiac disease or wheat allergy, but have symptoms when they eat gluten: gut symptoms, but also symptoms that go beyond the gut. These symptoms tend to improve when that person eliminates gluten. (4)

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is characterized by symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloating. Its effects, however, go beyond the gut and include tiredness, “foggy mind,” headaches, and anxiety.

These symptoms disappear quickly when someone adheres to a gluten-free diet, such as the Virgin Diet. Oftentimes, when people challenge gluten in Cycle 2, those symptoms reappear… with a vengeance. (5)

To be fair, other foods besides those containing gluten can contribute to leaky gut, too.

Lectins in grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and other plants are a kind of binding protein. They can also bind to your intestinal lining, which contributes to leaky gut and altered gut flora, causing you to store more calories as fat.

There are two things that you can do to reduce the lectin and phytate content in grains and legumes: soak them or sprout them. These processes reduce the antinutrient loads and make grains and legumes somewhat healthier and much easier to digest.

Eating a crappy diet can contribute to leaky gut. One animal study found that a processed diet drives intestinal barrier permeability and contributes to chronic disease (in this case, chronic kidney disease), whereas a diet with high-resistant fiber had the opposite effect and maintained gut barrier integrity. (7)

Leaky Gut Eventually Goes Beyond the Gut

Leaky gut can lead to other gut issues, such as Candida and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). But what starts in your gut, impacts nearly everything.

“It’s well documented now that when your intestinal barrier is compromised, you are susceptible — through increased inflammation — to a spectrum of health challenges,” says David Perlmutter, MD, in Brain Maker.

Dr. Perlmutter provides a list of some of those challenges, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Food allergies
  • Asthma
  • Eczema
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • HIV
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Autism
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

Researchers have also found that leaky gut can contribute to autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes. (8)

Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system overreacts and attacks specific tissues such as the thyroid or pancreas, which it mistakes as foreign invaders and potential threats to the body.

“We can’t 100 percent definitively say that leaky gut causes all autoimmune disease,” says Josh Axe, DC, in Eat Dirt. “But we can clearly see that leaky gut makes these conditions worse…So whether leaky gut is the chicken or the egg, it really makes no difference — healing it may help reduce, solve, or even prevent autoimmune issues.”

Over time, that inflammation in your gut can increase intestinal permeability… as well as the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. A permeable gut impacts how the brain works, which we call a leaky brain. Eventually, a leaky brain can lead to problems including anxiety, depression, and memory loss. (9)

“Chronic inflammation leads to not only increased gut permeability but blood-brain barrier destruction as well,” says Will Cole, DC, in Ketotarian. “When this protection is compromised, your immune system ends up working in overdrive, leading to brain inflammation.”

Healing Leaky Gut: Start with Your Fork

Leaky gut is very common but commonly undiagnosed. Why? Because symptoms can be delayed for hours or even days and exacerbated by stress and other obstacles.

How can you determine whether you have leaky gut? One way is to notice post-meal problems, such as running to the bathroom, gas, and bloating. However, those issues beyond the gut can include joint pain, immune issues, brain fog, anxiety, and depression.

When you drop the top seven high-FI foods and load up on healing foods, you provide powerful medicine to heal leaky gut. I want you to load up your plate with healthy, healing foods like:

  • Wild-caught seafood, which is anti-inflammatory
  • Coconut milk, which contains gut-supportive caprylic acid
  • Apples, which contain gut-supportive pectin
  • Garlic, which lowers inflammation and kills off bad bacteria

You’ll find lots more gut-healing foods in The Virgin Diet. Beyond what you eat, these strategies will complement those foods and optimize gut healing.

  1. Get great sleep. Research shows that sleep efficiency and sleep time — how much you sleep, but also the quality of your sleep — can impact total microbiome diversity. (10) If you’re not getting 8–9 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night, you’re doing a serious disservice to your gut and overall health. In this podcast, I explain why sleep is the missing link for fat loss, immune health, and so much more.
  2. Manage stress levels. “The major cause of leaky gut… is stress because it causes your gut to become more permeable,” I wrote in The Virgin Diet. You could be eating fabulously, getting great sleep, and exercising like a rock star… but if your stress levels are out of control, your gut is going to suffer. “What do you do about stress?” Hear my answer in this podcast.
  3. Take the right nutrients. Studies show that specific nutrients can help repair the gut. A few of my favorites include L-glutamine (to heal the intestinal lining), vitamin D, zinc, and Omega-3 fatty acids. You’ll also want to repopulate your good gut bacteria with probiotic supplements.* (11) “Probiotics not only protect against pathogens by inhibiting or neutralizing their activity, they also help reduce the “leakiness” of the gut and bolster our immune system in ways that help protect us,” says Dr. Pedre in Happy Gut.

I’ll talk more about probiotics in an upcoming blog. I couldn’t find a probiotic supplement I liked, so I created my own… that combines 5 million CFUs of probiotics and four carefully selected prebiotic strains. Learn more about Microbiome Balance here. *

In Eat Dirt, Dr. Axe beautifully sums up how healing the gut can have a far-reaching impact on our overall health.

“Through diligent attention to increasing our diversity — in our food and supplement choices, reduced stress and medications, increased probiotics and prebiotics — we now know we can start to change our microbiome (and thereby start repairing our leaky gut) in as little as twenty-four hours,” he says. “Doing so may just be the golden ticket to a world with less obesity and diabetes, fewer autoimmune conditions, less Alzheimer’s and autism — even less cancer.”

If you suspect you have food intolerances that lead to leaky gut and other problems, The Virgin Diet is custom-tailored to improve your situation! Order your copy here.

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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. Singh R, Zogg H, Wei L, Bartlett A, Ghoshal UC, Rajender S, Ro S. Gut Microbial Dysbiosis in the Pathogenesis of Gastrointestinal Dysmotility and Metabolic Disorders. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2021 Jan 30;27(1):19–34. doi: 10.5056/jnm20149. PMID: 33166939; PMCID: PMC7786094.
  2. Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019 Aug;68(8):1516–1526. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019–318427. Epub 2019 May 10. PMID: 31076401; PMCID: PMC6790068.
  3. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591–9. PMID: 22314561.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Cardoso-Silva D, Delbue D, Itzlinger A, Moerkens R, Withoff S, Branchi F, Schumann M. Intestinal Barrier Function in Gluten-Related Disorders. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 1;11(10):2325. doi: 10.3390/nu11102325. PMID: 31581491; PMCID: PMC6835310.
  6. Snelson M, Tan SM, Clarke RE, de Pasquale C, Thallas-Bonke V, Nguyen TV, Penfold SA, Harcourt BE, Sourris KC, Lindblom RS, Ziemann M, Steer D, El-Osta A, Davies MJ, Donnellan L, Deo P, Kellow NJ, Cooper ME, Woodruff TM, Mackay CR, Forbes JM, Coughlan MT. Processed foods drive intestinal barrier permeability and microvascular diseases. Sci Adv. 2021 Mar 31;7(14):eabe4841. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abe4841. PMID: 33789895; PMCID: PMC8011970.
  7. Mu Q, Kirby J, Reilly CM, Luo XM. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017 May 23;8:598. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598. PMID: 28588585; PMCID: PMC5440529.
  8. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017 Sep 15;7(4):987. doi: 10.4081/cp.2017.987. PMID: 29071061; PMCID: PMC5641835.
  9. Smith RP, Easson C, Lyle SM, Kapoor R, Donnelly CP, Davidson EJ, Parikh E, Lopez JV, Tartar JL. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS One. 2019 Oct 7;14(10):e0222394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222394. PMID: 31589627; PMCID: PMC6779243.
  10. Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019 Aug;68(8):1516–1526. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019–318427. Epub 2019 May 10. PMID: 31076401; PMCID: PMC6790068.

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.



JJ Virgin

Celebrity Nutrition Expert and Fitness Hall of Famer. Podcaster, blogger, media personality & author of 4 New York Times Bestsellers.