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Probiotics & Supplements for Leaky Gut Syndrome

By Bonnie Singleton

Leaky gut syndrome is a digestive disorder that’s hard to identify, let alone treat. It has been linked to a variety of health conditions with wide-ranging symptoms beyond the most common complaint of diarrhea. One of the therapies often recommended to treat this syndrome is the use of dietary probiotics. Although they’re not necessarily a cure, probiotics may be able to provide substantial relief.


Leaky gut syndrome, also called intestinal hyperpermeability, is a condition linked to disease processes in colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac, irritable bowel disease, arthritis, liver disease, pancreatitis, allergies and more. Your small intestine has to maximize nutrient absorption from food while simultaneously protecting your body from absorbing toxins that could make you sick. Since two-thirds of your immune system lies within your small intestine, anything that upsets its digestive balance can have major repercussions. In Leaky gut syndrome, the lining of your gut, composed of one layer of intestinal absorptive cells called enterocyte cells, develops gaps that allow toxins to slip through into your bloodstream, leading to disease.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms similar to the more than 500 species of friendly bacteria that ordinarily inhabit your intestinal tract and help keep it healthy. The most common come from two bacterial groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Although humans have been using probiotics naturally in yogurt for millennia to treat digestive problems, interest has increased to the point where Americans spent triple the amount on probiotic supplements from 1994 to 2003, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

E.coli Nissle 1917

A strain of probiotics called E. coli Nissle 1917, or EcN — not to be confused with the harmful Escherichia coli bacteria -- has been sold as Mutaflor in Europe to prevent infectious diarrhea and to treat functional bowel disorders. Its effects have been investigated in several studies, such as one published in the journal “PLoS One” in December 2007. That study tested EcN on the stabilization of the intestinal barrier in laboratory mice with colitis and found EcN was able to provide significant protection against intestinal barrier dysfunction in the leaky guts of the afflicted mice.

Other Probiotics

Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri were given to children with atopic dermatitis, an inflammatory chronic skin disorder that also causes gastrointestinal problems and may be linked to a leaky gut. The findings, published in the “Journal of Pediatrics” in 2003 showed that the probiotics improved the intestinal mucosal barrier in the pediatric subjects and relieved symptoms. Lactobacillus plantarum was found to reduce intestinal permeability in biliary obstruction, a blockage in the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine, in a study published in “Letters in Applied Microbiology” in 2006. Lactobacillus casei is another probiotic that prevented impaired barrier function in intestinal epithelial cells in research reported in “APMIS” in January 2011.


Probiotics are widely available in a variety of supplement forms and combinations in drug and grocery stores. Many of these haven’t been widely tested in humans, however, and many of the types of probiotics that have been studied aren’t readily available. Probiotics are also regulated as foods and not drugs, meaning the quality of the supplements could vary from one manufacturer to another. Although generally considered safe, check with your doctor before using probiotics, especially if you are elderly or have a compromised immune system or are taking other medications.

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