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Healing Leaky Gut Helps the Body and Brain

Jun 03, 2024 ● By Carrie Jackson
Woman holding her fingers in a heart shape over her gut.

Our digestive system works around the clock to transform the food we eat into molecules our body can use. However, more than 60 million Americans regularly suffer from symptoms of digestive issues, which can range from uncomfortable to debilitating. Some of these ailments are now being tied to leaky gut syndrome (LGS), a condition that occurs when the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is damaged and becomes loose.  

Dr. Meena Malhotra is the medical director at Heal n Cure, an integrative facility in Glenview that specializes in functional medicine. She says that doctors are developing a greater understanding of LGS, including causes and treatments. “GI research is an evolving field, with new advancements being made all the time. It used to be believed that symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, cramping and constipation were only caused by an ulcer or colitis or bundled into an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) diagnosis. While endoscopies would show that everything looked normal, even biopsy can come back normal. This leads to a functional diagnosis. But at the cellular level, damaged glycocalyx and enterocytes are the at root of these symptoms,” Malhotra explains. 

LGS is primarily caused by chronic exposure to nutrient-depleted and synthetic foods, stress and excessive alcohol consumption, which Malhotra says all disrupt the healthy gut flora. “Alcohol can promote bad bacteria and increase bile production in the liver, contributing to GI discomfort. Emulsifiers, sorbates and other synthetic additives found in highly processed foods can further damage the GI tract. And the evidence tying depression with gut permeability and microbiota composition is piling up, suggesting that there is a strong gut-brain connection. If you have a leaky gut, toxins are permeating and producing inflammation that causes anxiety, depression and memory issues,” says Malhotra.  

Fortunately, there are a number of proactive steps people can take to strengthen the gut biome and reduce or eliminate LGS symptoms. “L-glutamine, an amino acid found in high-quality protein such as eggs, chicken and fish, has been shown to heal a damaged GI tract. Consuming a diverse array of fruits and vegetables rich in prebiotics, probiotics, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients and phytochemicals may reduce oxidative stress, support the liver to promote efficient biotransformation and detoxification, and boost overall immune system function,” says Malhotra. 

Malhotra stresses that while they might be common, symptoms of leaky gut are not normal, and people should work with their healthcare professional to get to the root cause of the problem. “People don’t need to settle for living with uncomfortable symptoms, when diet and lifestyle changes can make a big difference. The body is an amazing machine, and we need to take care of it,” she says.  

For more information, call 847-686-4444, email [email protected] or visit

Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect at