Patient Perspective

What Does "Gut Health" Mean?

By Carla Alpert, NBC-HWC, FMCHC, FDN-P, Well Humans

Gut health is important for your overall health, including your vestibular system. Like some of you reading this, I unfortunately learned this the hard way after my own experiences with BPPV and vestibular migraines. In this blog, I’m going to talk about a few of the reasons why gut health may be one missed healing opportunity for many of you and explain the connection between your gut and other parts of your body. 

Leaky Gut

Did you know that what happens in your gut doesn’t always stay in your gut? Leaky Gut (also known as Intestinal Permeability) can cause bacteria and food particles to get through the gut lining and into your bloodstream where they don’t belong. 

Picture the lining of your small intestine like cheese cloth allowing water and nutrients to pass through into the bloodstream. That’s what you do want. Now imagine if the cheese cloth is ripped. That means larger food particles, bacteria, and toxins can now leak through these holes into your bloodstream where they don’t belong. Your immune cells see them as foreign invaders and begin to attack them. This sets off a cascade of symptoms in your body, which can be felt in your gut, brain, metabolism, immune system, skin, thyroid, and sleep patterns. Leaky gut creates inflammation, an imbalanced microbiome, malnutrition, neurotransmitter issues, and food sensitivities.  As documented in this research article, leaky gut has even been connected to Meniere’s Disease.

Leaky gut can contribute to the following sources of many chronic symptoms.


Inflammation can affect all systems in your body, from your skin and joints to your brain. Brain symptoms can show up differently for each person. Some may experience brain fog, ADHD, memory issues, and depression, and others have migraines or vestibular disorders. For example, vestibular neuritis may have a direct connection to inflammation of the cranial nerve, as discussed in this study

Because of the immune’s response in leaky gut and systemic inflammation, some people can develop autoimmune diseases. There has been more recent interest in the connection between this inflammatory immune response and vestibular function (see research).

Imbalanced Microbiome

Your gut is home to lots of good and bad bacteria, collectively called the microbiome. Having a diverse microbiome is essential for optimal health. Research has suggested that the gut microbiome may influence various aspects of brain function, including mood, cognitive function, vestibular function, and certain neurological conditions.

To have a diverse microbiome it is also essential to have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria, which helps to make sure the bad guys don’t overgrow. Overgrowth of these opportunistic bacteria not only can be a contributing factor to leaky gut itself, but some bacteria can inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and some can be a driver of excess histamine. 

For example, an overgrowth of H. Pylori which is a bacteria found in your stomach, can block absorption of vitamin B12 and iron (source). Deficiencies in one or both of these can contribute to vertigo and dizziness (source). Both H.Pylori and inflammation have also been linked to migraines (source). Ironically, many people who have heartburn or Gerd (both symptoms of H.Pylori) take over the counter antacids or prescription PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) to block acid and treat the symptom. Many times, they actually have an unknown overgrowth of H.Pylori causing the symptoms. Unfortunately, taking these acid blockers contributes to leaky gut and malabsorption and blocks stomach acid, which is needed for healthy digestion and absorption.

Other bacteria can produce histamine. Histamine in excess can potentially affect the vestibular system and contribute to vestibular disorders. Two of the many symptoms of excess histamine are migraines and dizziness. Excessive histamine levels may lead to inflammation and affect the function of the inner ear, which is a major component of the vestibular system. This can result in symptoms like vertigo and balance issues. Although there is still ongoing research to understand how and why antihistamines help vestibular disorders, currently they are prescribed with success in managing symptoms of vertigo, Meniere’s disease, and vestibular migraines (source). 

If you understand these concepts, you can understand another reason why restoring gut health and balancing the microbiome may also help with vestibular symptoms.


Because leaky gut also creates an issue with absorption, you may be deficient in vitamins and minerals that are essential for mitochondrial function, energy, and brain health. For example, magnesium helps reduce vertigo attacks and severity as well as migraines. Vitamin D acts like a natural steroid in your body and a deficiency may be connected to BPPV (source). B vitamins like B3 and B6 are also very important for nerve health. B3 has been used for treating migraines and dizziness. B6 may help with dizziness caused by decreased blood flow or a nerve issue and can also reduce tinnitus. Both have been helpful in supporting people with vestibular disorders (source).


Another important thing to note is that your gut produces feel-good neurotransmitters for your brain health. Because Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA are made in your gut as well, if your gut is out of balance, it’s likely your mood, energy, and vestibular system may be out of balance too. 

More specifically, GABA helps to calm and relax the nervous system. We know that benzodiazepines medications like Valium are commonly used to treat vestibular disorders. These medications enhance the effects of GABA (source).

Additionally, serotonin receptors are present in the regions of the brain involved in processing vestibular information. Changes in Serotonin levels may influence how the brain processes those signals and may contribute to symptoms of imbalance.

Gluten And Your Gut

Finally, I want to mention gluten and its role in Leaky Gut as well as its direct correlation with brain symptoms.

Whether you’re diagnosed with Celiac or have NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity), gluten is a major contributor to leaky gut. In sensitive people, gluten can cause the cells of the gut to release zonulin, which is a protein that can break the tight junctions between cells of the wall of the digestive tract apart. Once these junctions get separated, you now end up with a leaky gut. Remember the cheese cloth example I explained earlier?

Once the barrier breaks apart, toxins get into your blood and your immune system starts to attack. Included are food particles from gluten, which create inflammation in other parts of your body, including your brain (source). It’s also important to understand that not everyone feels digestive distress from gluten sensitivity. Many people get brain symptoms like depression, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, and even vestibular dysfunction (source), as well as gait issues in some more progressive diseases like MS (source).

What You Can Do About It


Functional testing can be a helpful opportunity to investigate some of the imbalances, overgrowths, and deficiencies mentioned in this article. When I work with myself and my clients, I use various tests to uncover healing opportunities so I can create a personalized recovery plan and help rebalance your digestive system. 

Here are a few tests I use:

  • Vibrant Wellness Wheat Zoomer: This blood test is used to determine Celiac or NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity) as well as leaky gut and LPS (Lipopolysaccharides).
  • GI MAP: This stool test evaluates your microbiome and your digestion.
  • Micronutrients: This is a blood test for nutrient deficiencies on a cellular level.
  • Organic Acids (OATS): This urine test looks for candida, neurotransmitter balance, mold, and more.
  • SIBO Breath Test: This breath test is used to detect small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
  • Mycotoxins: This is a more detailed urine test for mold exposure.
  • Environmental Toxins: This urine test looks for environmental toxins.
  • Glyphosate: This urine test is used to detect the harmful toxins in the herbicide Roundup.

There are many direct-to-consumer labs where you can purchase tests online, although it’s best to work with a skilled Functional Medicine Practitioner who can educate you on your results and support you on a targeted course of action.