‘Leaky Gut’ has become a household term, at least from the clients walking into my door.  A gut’s leakiness is can be linked to mental/emotional issues, behavioral issues, auto-immune issues, and virtually any disruption in the body’s intelligent expression.

But the elephant in the room is that it’s hard to quantify.  You’re convinced there is a gut issue but you just don’t know to what extent.  There’s good news, labs are getting better and better at quantifying a leaky gut.

A newer test to me, maybe it’s old news to you, is the Advanced Intestinal Barrier Assessment from Dunwoody labs.

What Does It Test?


I have written about zonulin in the past.  Zonulin is a chemical that aids the in the opening of small intestinal tight junctions.  Zonulin sounds like a bad thing but I would challenge you in labeling anything good versus bad within the body.  Gap junctions allow various molecules and ions to pass freely between cells.  Zonulin helps this happen.  When regulated well, the gap junctions will allow for essentials to pass through and clamp down when non-essentials are present.

If zonulin is always stimulated, this leaves those gaps open longer than desired and the passage of the non-essential and potentially harmful to go where they shouldn’t.  As a result, this will trigger an immune response.  Two large burdens that cause an over production of zonulin are gluten and SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth).


You’re familiar with histamine if you have experienced the symptoms of allergies like congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itching, hives, and headache.  Some other symptoms of a high histamine load that may not be on your radar are: gas, painful menstruation, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps.

The problem is that traditional therapies attack histamine by blocking it and not the reason histamine is high in the first place, which goes back to that gut barrier.  If that barrier is compromised, then we have leakage of the potential harmful substance into the bloodstream.  The release of histamine from your mast cells (white blood cells) doesn’t wait around to see if what it’s attacking is actually harmful or a false alarm.  Shoot first, ask questions later.

Functional Medicine Colorado Springs

Another reason histamine can elevate is that we are eating histamine rich foods while being histamine intolerant.  Many of the foods that have the highest histamine content are often the foods that we have been told to consume to heal a gut.  Those very high histamine foods include: aged or fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt or kefir, kombucha, aged cheese, alcohol of any kind, vinegar, and cured meats. Fish and seafood will have high histamine contents, especially canned or smoked fish.

Does this mean you should stop eating these foods?  It depends.  What does it depend on?  It depends on histamine’s checks and balances with a chemical called Diamine Oxidase (DAO).


If there is ample DAO to keep histamine in check, these will balance each other out and you shouldn’t suffer.  It’s all about the ratio of DAO to Histamine.  DAO is produced in the microvilli of the small intestine.  When DAO gets low, it means histamine won’t be broken down sufficiently.  Drugs block histamine, DAO helps to degrade it.  As histamine goes unchecked, it sets up the system to be on hyperimmune alert.

Many people coming in have suspected that they have a gut issue.  Through trial and error they have limited their food intake to things that don’t seem to illicit a reaction.  Then, all of a sudden, they start reacting to the the foods that were on the ‘good’ list.  A low DAO or low DAO:Histamine ratio could be a reason why someone starts reacting to foods that have never been a problem previously.

Functional Medicine Colorado Springs

From a genetic variance level, some people can have a SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) at the HNMT gene (Histamine-N-methyl-transferase).  But regardless if you have a SNP or just a low DAO, it can be supported nutritionally.  For those more familiar with MTHFR, your research may have come across nutrients that are methyl donors.  In other words, histamine needs to have a methyl group added to it to aid in the degradation of it.

What could be a reason for that high histamine or high DAO:Histamine ratio?


LPS stands for LipoPolySaccharaide.  LPS is the portion of the outer cell of certain types of bacteria (mostly gram-negative) that elicit an immune reaction.  If the gut barrier is strong, LPS stays in the gut and you get rid of it.  When the gut barrier is compromised, LPS can pass from cell to cell as well as through those cells and into the bloodstream.  These are definitely not welcomed signals and the attack happens.  With the gram-negative bacteria, these are often the culprits in food borne illnesses.

It’s really intelligent to have a histamine reaction for these bugs because the sneezing, coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, etc are your body’s attempt at expelling the buggers.  We get exposed to these bugs all the time and therefore should have some LPS present.  But whether LPS is high or low, I would argue it’s not-so-much the bug that is creating havoc but the body’s ability to manage the havoc that can make life miserable.  In other words, how strong is your gut barrier?

Functional Medicine

Figuring out the main culprits behind the development of the leaky gut is what’s important.  It could be childhood trauma.  It could be antibiotic use.  It could even stem back from your infant days when your gut was intelligently leaky so mom’s antibodies could escape the gut to provide a primitive immune response until your gut matured.  There can be offending foods.  You may be a busy junkie.  The point is that I could line up 10 people with leaky gut and all 10 have potentially different paths that got them there so the what works for one person may not work for another.

You can ask your doctor for a leaky gut test but chances are they have no idea what to order or they think leaky gut is a sham diagnosis.  If you’re hitting roadblocks, you know how to find me.


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