Is It Leaky Gut Or Is It Something Else?

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Carla Oates The Beauty Chef Founder & CEO

Bloating, cramps, distension, wind, constipation, urgency... Unfortunately, many of us are familiar with the uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing symptoms of gastrointestinal upset.  
If you experience digestive discomfort on a regular basis, you’re probably looking for answers or at least guidance on how to manage the symptoms. However, gastrointestinal disorders can be very difficult to diagnose. This is because many of the symptoms overlap between a host of different conditions. (Whatever you do, avoid self-diagnosing. Always speak to a qualified medical practitioner who can assess your individual symptoms and provide tailored medical advice.)

First Things First: What Is Leaky Gut?

Also known as intestinal permeability, leaky gut syndrome is a condition which is closely linked to a number of skin and health issues. 

As with its causes, symptoms of leaky gut can be complex, many and varied. Common symptoms include heartburn, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea, food allergies or sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, and skin manifestations, such as rashes, acne, psoriasis or eczema. 

But what causes leaky gut? Well, when the typically tight junctions in our delicate gut lining become loose or are damaged, bacterial-derived lipopolysaccharides (LPS), a type of endotoxin, among other compounds, such as proteins, food antigens (or undigested food particles) can pass through the gut wall, and ‘leak’ into the bloodstream. These harmful substances circulating subsequently triggers an immune response from our body—and low-grade inflammation. 

While the causes of leaky gut can be complex—and vary in nature due to an individual’s genetics and unique microbiome and balance of gut microbiota—common triggers include poor diet, excess stress, some medications (such as NSAIDs) and antibiotics, excess alcohol, parasites and/or yeast overgrowth—which can all damage the intestinal barrier.

Conditions With Symptoms That Are Similar To Leaky Gut


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most diagnosed disorders with as many as one in five Australians experiencing its uncomfortable symptoms. But before you assume it’s IBS, there are a handful of other conditions to know about as well. 

IBS represents a group of symptoms—and its underlying cause remains somewhat of a mystery. For some, IBS can be triggered by gastrointestinal infections such as gastroenteritis, food allergies or intolerances, dietary factors such as insufficient fibre intake or an excess of spicy, sugary or processed foods, stress and some medications. If your doctor suspects you may have IBS, they will likely request a few tests to rule out other more serious conditions. 
Some of the most common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, constipation, diarrhoea, gas, bloating and food intolerances. Stress could also play a role. Due to the close link between our gut and our nervous system, it is unknown whether IBS symptoms are a physical expression of anxiety and stress—or whether the psychological distress of dealing with IBS worsens existing anxiety, heightening stress levels. This vicious cycle means that for many sufferers, the stress of dealing with IBS can trigger further digestive discomfort—and vice versa. 


While not as common as IBS, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition with very similar symptoms, including bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, gas and regular feelings of fullness. It could also lead to unexplained weight loss. Acne and rosacea are also 10 times more prevalent in people with SIBO. 
SIBO happens when there is an increase in the bacterial population in the small intestine—including bacteria that shouldn’t normally reside in that part of the digestive tract. This build-up of bacteria causes pain and can change bowel habits, and in more extreme cases it can lead to malnutrition, as the bacteria feeds on the body’s nutrients. 


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to a group of disorders that cause chronic inflammation in the bowel and intestines. The term refers to two conditions: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. If left untreated, IBD can be serious and can damage the gastrointestinal tract.  
Some of the more common signs of IBD include unexplained and persistent diarrhoea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, weight loss, anaemia and fatigue. Studies show that up to 40 per cent of people who have IBD also experience skin complaints.  
If your doctor suspects that you may have IBD, you will be referred to a gastroenterologist, who can diagnose the condition via an endoscopy (for Crohn’s disease) or a colonoscopy (for ulcerative colitis). This is a chronic condition that will need to be managed with professional medical help. In some cases, it is possible to go into long-term remission.