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Can Quercetin Help Heal a Leaky Gut?

by Kelsey Kinney, RD

Last updated on

quercetin leaky gut, quercetin histamine
Quercetin, a nutrient found in foods like these apples, is great for healing leaky gut.

Digestive health is a hot topic these days. Problems in the gut not only play a large part in digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome or reflux, but the gut has an effect on practically every part of our body.

Imbalances in the gut can create rashes, exacerbate joint pain and even cause depression – it’s no wonder we all want to learn how to keep the gut healthy!

One of the most pressing concerns regarding the gut is something called intestinal permeability, often referred to as “leaky gut”. The barrier of the gut plays an important role in maintaining our health by protecting us from the many things we’re exposed to from the outside world. If you think about it, our digestive tract is technically not “in” our body, it’s outside.

Think about your body as a donut and the digestive tract is the donut hole – technically, not “in” the donut. It’s easy to see now that our gut lining is exposed to everything we swallow – food particles, bacteria, dust, etc – and has to decide what to do with all that material! Think of the gut barrier as the decision-maker: some particles are allowed to pass through, while others are told to move on through.

When functioning normally, the gut barrier keeps us healthy by keeping out potentially hazardous materials and letting nutrients and water in. But when it starts to become more permeable (or “leaky”) than normal, we run into problems.

Of course one of the most important things for preventing excessive intestinal permeability is to eat a Paleo diet that works for you (a la Your Personal Paleo Code; The Paleo Cure in paperback). However, there are definitely other nutritional components that can help, quercetin being one of them!

Mast Cells = Leaky Gut?

Researchers have discovered that mast cells play a part in developing leaky gut. While it’s been known for a long time that severe physical stress (i.e. trauma or surgery) causes intestinal permeability, newer research has shown that chronic stress also has this effect. (1) Interestingly, researchers determined that it is the mast cells in the intestine that are responsible for the increase intestinal permeability in these stressful situations. (2)

You may have heard of mast cells before as the cells responsible for allergy symptoms like congestion, runny nose, etc. This is because when mast cells “degranulate” or become “unstabilized”, they release histamine, the chemical that causes allergy symptoms. But you have mast cells in your gut, too and when they “degranulate” or become “unstabilized” there, they cause leaky gut.

Quercetin for Leaky Gut

Quercetin is one of the most abundant flavonoids present in our food supply, found in high amounts in onions, kale and apples. (3) It is well-known for many things, including its anti-allergy properties, anti-cancer effects, and as an antioxidant. But did you know that it can heal leaky gut, too?

Given that intestinal permeability is caused (at least in part) by unstabilized mast cells in the gut, it makes sense that quercetin would have this effect. This is because quercetin stabilizes mast cells and prevents the release of histamine and other chemicals from these cells. (4) When researchers breed rats to have no mast cells in the gut (thus they are unable to have unstabilized mast cells that release histamine), they no longer develop intestinal permeability. (5)

Quercetin has also been shown to enhance gut barrier function by having a “sealing” effect due to its role in the assembly and expression of tight junction proteins. (6) Tight junctions regulate our intestinal permeability by connecting intestinal cells, thus only allowing the nutrients that we need in and keeping everything else out.

In rats given DSS (a substance that causes colon damage), treatment with quercetin restores barrier integrity and partially heals colitis. (7) Rats given another substance to cause colitis and treated with quercetin preserved normal fluid absorption (which is altered by colitis), counteracted glutathione (our “master antioxidant”) depletion and ameliorated colonic damage at two days. (8)

I’d say that’s some pretty good news for those suffering from leaky gut!

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Quercetin in the Diet

Now that we know quercetin is healing substance for a leaky gut, how do we get enough?

Well, the good news is that on a Paleo diet, you should be getting quercetin by eating your fruits and vegetables. Remember that a Paleo diet can, and for most people, should be a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which naturally contain quercetin. But if you’d like to add some extra quercetin to your diet (or you can’t tolerate many fruits and vegetables), a quercetin supplement is also an option.

There is limited data regarding the amount of quercetin in our food, but below are the estimates available. (9) Your best bet is to just eat a wide variety and a lot of plant matter for optimal intake and consider supplementation if needed.

  • Fruits: 2 – 250 mg/kg
  • Vegetables: 0 – 100 mg/kg (onions are especially high at 200 – 600 mg/kg)
  • Tea: 10 – 25 mg/L
  • Fruit juice: 2 – 23 mg/L
  • Red wine: 4 – 16 mg/L
It’s also important to note that other flavonoids such as naringinen seem to have similar healing effects on leaky gut, so including a wide variety of plant matter to increase your intake of many different polyphenols is a great idea. (10) Not to mention that polyphenols improve your gut bacteria, too!

Here’s the take-home message: eat your fruits and veggies for your daily dose of quercetin, or consider a supplement if you can’t tolerate much plant matter or if you’ve got a severely leaky gut. If you’d like to go the supplement route, aim for 800 mg twice a day or 400 mg three times a day for a total of 1,200 – 1600 mg per day. It’s very difficult to get these levels from food, so a supplement is a good choice.

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Kelsey Marksteiner
Kelsey Kinney, RD

Kelsey Kinney, RD, is devoted to helping the world achieve great digestive health through her blog, private practice, and prebiotic & probiotic drink mix company Gut Power Drinks. Check out her blog, Gut Power Drinks website, or visit her on Facebook for more.

Kelsey is a registered dietitian specializing in digestive and hormonal health. She graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and went on to complete her dietetic internship at Milford Regional Medical Center in Milford, Massachusetts. She also has a Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine from the University of Western States.

Kelsey loves helping people find their unique, personalized diet that will help them heal, not anyone else. She has always been interested in nutrition and health, and is honored to now help people find a diet that brings them happiness and longevity.

Professional website: https://kelseykinney.com

Gut Power Drinks website: https://gutpowerdrinks.com

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Join the conversation

  1. After having about 4-5 bouts of antibiotics prior to some itchy breakouts. All hell broke loose in the coming months.
    So it’s been about 18 months now and what started out as a mild itchy rash and which I thought it was tinea at the time on my hands and feet just got worse.
    Looking back now my diet was high in histamines and could eat anything always.
    I searched the web on other people experiencing the same rash developing welts hives and dermographism. I decided to educate myself only just recently, literally, all of about 4 weeks ago. I had had enough !!
    With the help of our health professionals in health shops here in Australia (naturopaths). I AM A NEW WOMAN !!! Long story short.
    Went on low histamine diet.
    Took the right supplements to heal the gut as well as a Liver tab. (details below)
    Am now on Quercetin as of today.
    Even before today, when I go do my test on my arm (scratching it like a cat) the dermographism line disappears in 5 mins as opposed to lingering and sometimes going into a welt up to 3-4 hours sometimes longer. This has occurred over the last 3 weeks and gets better each day.
    Stinging nettle tea has been absolutely fabulous, cleaning the blood.
    Gut Relief powder, Adrenilan tab, multi, D3, B complex, C and Fish oil and also take Zypan 2 in the am as my reflux was unbearable before.
    I now feel fabulous no more aches in my joints which is a major symptom of leaky gut and no more ashma or serious reflux and no more chronic welts and itching,, still early days as I have only concentrated on this for 3 weeks but I am 85-90 percent improved. Hope this helps someone.
    Gotta get to the cause it’s ok to aid the symptoms but the low histamine diet and no gluten is working well…I do have a glass of wine maybe two on the weekend but I always take a zyrtec before indulging (not a great move but eh)..I’m yet to experiment with this a little, not taking a zyrtec this coming weekend and lets see how good the Quercetin is, don’t really want to take this step backwards but want to see how it goes ( alcohol being one of the highest histamines, white being better than red) but I don’t want to miss out on life either. I just want to get back to normal as we all do. But so impressed with what I have achieved, diagnosed and hopefully, I think, have almost conquered. Interesting to see how I am in a couple of months. But for the moment pretty bloody good I have to say !

  2. I so wanted this to work I tried 250 mg Quercetin and it made me very nauseous. Of course it may be because I have gastroparesis also. I tried it a couple of times. Even the PAleo diet is hard for me to do because of the gastroparesis diet I am on. If anyone has any advice I would love to hear from them.

    • Paula, I am not sure if I agree with Kelsey. Not that I have any issue with most of her advice, which for most part is just common sense, especially for people who have been thinking paleo for quite some time already and have come to realize that a more ancestrally oriented diet has tremendous benefits over the long haul. I emphasize long haul, because too few people realize that a life time of wrongs may need quite a bit of time of adjustments to get the desired results. To give a simple example. Going on a three day fast (just water and electrolytes) may cause quite a burden of toxic release (dying bacteria, toxic residue), etc. It may be advisable to begin with two days and slowly build. Switching from glucose burning to fat (ketones) could cause some other headaches. All passing but nevertheless.
      The slow emptying of stomach contents is not of genetic origin as far as I know, though there could be a predisposition which could give rise. Vitamin C is generally considered a motivator of a lot of immune activity. Liposomal VitC is often recommended when higher doses are required .
      T-cells as well microglia benefit. Recent research into especially the latter show how detrimental an overload of polyunsaturated fats is for a proper functioning system.(ROS overload) Microglia have been indicated as our super brain. Only very recently have we been able through different forms of imaging to get a bit of a picture. They are literally everywhere, and they are always on the move, and (!) they communicate wirelessly. So to answer your question, I don’t really think it is quercetin at all. That seems more like fighting the symptoms. It does not get at the underlying cause, or dysfunction. Whether that be diseased mitochondria or over-activated or dysfunctional microglia.
      The first thing I would get out of my diet is the margarines and seed oils, second anything wheat, since most wheat now has glyphosate in it (they desiccate wheat just before harvesting). since glyphosate is a chelator, it binds minerals. That in includes all the crackers and cookies and sauces. Unless organic. I am not a medical doctor, just a researcher into the biochemistry and physics of our metabolism .
      And if you still eat GMO corn, forget all I said.

      • Hi James. I still find conflicting information regarding grains. Are amaranth, millet and quinoa considered grains, therefore taboo in grain free diets?

      • Many disorders cause slow emptying. Collagen disorders are a big one. Mast cell issues usually coalign

    • You may have taken the Dihydrate form of Quercetin. Dihydrate has all sorts of horrible side effects including, but not limited to: nausea, abdominal pain, allergic reaction, trouble breathing, hives. Also, on the bottle of one supplement it mentioned: Don’t take if you have *or if you have a family history of any of the following* (and believe me the list was longer than this): hypertension, thyroid disease, asthma… and the list went on and on. I don’t honestly know who *can* take the Dihydrate form of Quercetin.

      This article is on leaky gut so not mentioning the many warnings and side effects of the Dihydrate form is a huge oversight. This is an article specifically for people with severe problems in their digestive tract, who are already highly allergic / reactive individuals. They’re already suffering with severe allergic reactions including brain swelling from leaky gut. They already live with most of the problems commonly associated with taking Dihydrate even before they start to use it. It would be good to alter this article to call attention to the warnings – especially since the author is an educated professional. I’m just a regular person and if I can find it within 15 minutes of looking into buying Quercetin I know it is information that is easy to find and share before publishing an article that can never be retracted – once it’s online it’s out there as is and shared as is regardless if the author amends the original article.

      Apparently apples are one of the foods high in Quercetin. Onions are, too, but it seems there are many people reacting to them including me. I’m currently looking into a whole apple supplement to add to eating apples every day. I did find ‘Apple Boost’ online as the first thing that came up – again just started researching so this is just giving a heads up. I’ve just started doing research so I don’t know where this will lead. I hope you all find what you need to be as healthy as you can.

    • Nauseousness is a sign of low stomach acid so I’d say take a stomach acid supplement as well as some b6 to help break down histamine (Doa contributor)

  3. So, with leaky gut you can easily develop sensitivities by consuming certain foods too much (without rotating). Does that mean it’s possible to develop a sensitivity to a Quercetin supplement, since it comes from a food source?

  4. Leaky gut is everywhere, look at all those bloated, pale people all over North America. I think the main reason is corn. It is in everything we consume, the BT variety from Monsanto contains a toxin designed to kill the corn root worm. It causes Leaky Gut in the insect, why could it not do the same to us.

    • Jeff – you are soooo right. the GMO crops are a huge problem. Both from the BT toxin (no it is not the same as hybridization as Monsanto likes to claim, it is not normal to put the genes of a bacterium or virus into a plant!), and also glyphosate which is then sprayed on these crops and become systemic and cannot be washed off. Our FDA or Ag dept just blessed an INCREASE in acceptable residues of glyphosate in 2014. Roundup has led to resistant SuperWeeds, of 21 varieties over millions of our farm acres, so now they have Enlist Duo, which is Roundup + dicamba weed killer. they have pending patents for seeds resistant to FOUR weedkillers simultaneously. Monsanto and Dow chemical. Where does the insanity end? Google MIT Seneff Glyphosate, and see some eye opening charts about the increasing use of glyphosate in pounds over time and the occurance of all sorts of autoimmune diseases. Perfect correlation. Startling. buy organic. Period. Non-gmo unfortunately is not enough, because they can still spray it at harvest time to kill the plant to ease harvesting.

  5. Quercetin can induce dispair / depression. mice study.

    Anecdotal evidence: 500-1500mg a day does induce it in me.

    There is more anecdotal evidence on the net.

    I guess the only way to see if quercetin is for you is to try it and being aware of this side effect, and find a dosage where this does not happen… (there was none for me, unless in amounts its in apples)

  6. Does anyone know if it’s ok to take Quercetin together with Monolaurin and Lactoferrin?

  7. All I know is from my N of 1. I have terrible seasonal allergies but I become symptom-free when I take quercetin with bromelain. I don’t think I even want to know if there are potential side effects because I feel so much better when I am taking these supplements.

  8. This is an interesting article.

    Intestinal permeability can be caused by elevated stress hormones and quercetin has a beneficial effect by stabilizing mast cells and reducing histamine release, thus potentially reducing intestinal permeability. Yay!

    On the other hand, quercetin is reportedly a MAO inhibitor and a COMT inhibitor and these are enzymes that breakdown stress hormones, including histamine. Yikes?

    • And stress hormones (cortisol) need to be produced to deal with histamine reactions. It’s such a complex relationship!

      Personally I only use quercetin and vitamin C for acute reactions. They’re not perfect but they allow me to function and not be crippled by histamine when neccesary.
      I do much better without them though.

  9. Hi Kelsey,

    my question does not belong directly to this discussion but perhaps you are able to help: A relative of mine suffered from colitis and had a colostomy.. Her lab tests for Vitamin C are terribly, she doesn’t seem to resorb the ascorbic acid anymore. Do you know of any forms or methods how to ingest usable amount of Vitamin C into the blood?

    Actually infusions are the only solution but they are not really practiable and can be given only sporadic whereas the Vitamin C in the serum will be cleaned very fast. So any hint is appreciated. Thank you!

    • I send Frasier’s suggestion for Liposomal C. The DIY (do it yourself) version may be more emulsified than encapsulated but this still seems to lead to a much greater bowel tolerance, suggestion it’s being digested possibly as a lipid via the lymph peyer’s patches rather than solely in the ordinary way, so even if that is the case, it’s still much better than standard oral intake (and way, way cheaper than buying it).

      Onion soup is said to be a rather absorbable form of vitamin C compared to other foods and supplements. Not sure if it’s true, just passing that along.

    • Patchmd.com sells a transdermal Vit c patch, amongst other TD vitamin patches. I just started wearing one so I don’t know how effective they are but my DO recommended them. It’s worth a shot for your friend!

  10. I also wonder about toxicity of Quercetin: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18756631?dopt=Abstract for example). “We detected a time-dependent action of quercetin and distinguished an early protective effect from a late toxic one. In addition, we revealed a narrower therapeutic dose-range of quercetin than previously reported in the literature, demonstrating that the toxic effects of quercetin occurred at a concentration only 2-fold higher than the one that produced the greatest protection.”

    So, I suppose 1.200 – 1.800mg is a “safe” dosage then? And for how long should one supplement to prevent a toxic effect due to long-time exposure?

  11. This is all very interesting, would leaky gut cause migraines.I have food sensitivities and react to all alcohol, some fruit and some veg. Apples and sometimes onions are a problem. Headaches and migraines are almost a daily problem. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • A problem with different amines (histamine being one) can indeed cause migraines.

    • I suggest you try DAO enzyme. You can get it on Amazon. Several brands. Take 2-3 caps before each meal, depending on the size of the meal. Avoid high histamine foods also, red wine, chocolate, avocado, pork, shellfish, pineapple, citrus, vinegar, anything fermented or aged. you can also get 23andme test for the DAO low functioning gene. This will tell you if you have a genetic predisposition to low DAO. Even if no gene defect you can get low DAO from gut issues or medicines.

  12. Kelsey – thanks for your article.

    Do you think Quercetin could help heal a Coeliac sufferer’s gut? My Dad (age 83) has recently been diagnosed Coeliac after histology evidence of damaged villi. He’s following a 100% strict no gluten diet but not seeing any improvement – his weight is still falling. I’m desperate to help his gut to heal so he can start absorbing food and regain muscle and body fat. He has a great appetite and eats lots of fruit and veg but isn’t absorbing it.
    Your advice would be much appreciated,

    • As a fellow Celiac, I must say that gluten free wasn’t enough for me to see improvement. I had to go full on auto-immune paleo to avoid problems with cross contamination and other issues related to leaky gut. Auto-immune paleo means no grains or legumes, PLUS no night shades, eggs, limited nuts, etc. It has not been easy, but when I’m faithful to the diet, the changes are dramatic

      • Thanks for your post. I too have leaky gut. Awaiting til my daughter to be done with nursing so I can begin the diet. Question for you: since leaky gut causes one not to obtain all the nutrients, would this apply to supplements as well? I wondered if I should wait til my gut is healed to get my money worth from supplements. TIA!

    • Ruth 142 Try the Auto-Immune Protocol Diet (AIP), or the GAPs Diet for your dad. These diets helped me to heal after my diagnosis of Celiac, and eliminating gluten alone didn’t really help.

    • There are a lot of things that can affect healing. First, of course, is being absolutely sure the diet is gf. After that, someone who is 83 is not going to be producing normal stomach acid and digestive enzymes. He can try HCl with pepsin with any meal that has protein (ie, not with just veggies and fruit alone), as long as he doesn’t have an ulcer or is taking NSAIDs that leave the stomach prone to ulcers. Digestive enzymes should be fine for him to take, with every meal and snack. Probiotics are essential, just build up slowly. Collagen (bone broth, quality gelatin powder) and glutamine are gut healers. If none of this helps, he may have other food sensitivities irritating the gut, so an autoimmune paleo protocol would be good. Also (but hopefully not), he should talk to his doctor about refractory celiac disease, where even a gf diet doesn’t heal the gut. Good luck to him.

  13. Great article thanks : ). Do u think quercitin is safe for a 3 year old , and if so what dose ?

    • I wouldn’t be giving a 3 year old supplements. Lots of fruit and veg would make alot more sense…

      • Thanks Penny. The problem we have with our daughter is that she is sensitive to a lot of fruit and veg- histamine , oxalates, nightshades, cur cubits and the birch cross reacting foods! So leaky gut is definitely an issue and looking for safe things to help heal her gut.

    • Marcel,
      Orthomolecular Nutrition has a great chewable kids quercetin that is called D-Hist, it does have other ingredients combined – I don’t have it in front of me but I believe it might have nettles, bromelain, NAC, and vitamin C. There is an adult version that I use with great benefit. I use the chewable one with my son.

  14. What does one do if they are reactive to sulfur? There is sulfur in quercetin. I need to know of another supplement I can take.

    • Really? I too am sensitive to sulfa drugs (they make me vomit), but I hadn’t realized that it was present in quertecin! The more you know and all that

  15. Thank you, Kelsey, for this article. For the past ten years, I have taken two to four 175mg Nettle Quercetin supplements daily as was recommended to me for moderate to (sometimes) severe hay fever symptoms which subsided to a tolerable level over time. I only learned about leaky gut in the past year. A year ago, I changed my eating habits to Paleo-type (80/20) and believe eliminating most inflammatory foods particularly dairy products made the difference. I have recently stopped taking the supplements and have had only two days of sniffles so far this year, an incredible improvement from years past. It seems Quercetin or the combo nettle-quercetin helped before I changed my dietary plan. It’s possible I no longer need supplementation because I get sufficient quercetin through food.

  16. What if the leaky gut response is somehow beneficial (i.e. an evolutionary strategy to somehow dispense with toxins faster)? Querecetin is just another plant toxin that I’d be suspicious of using long-term.

  17. What causes mast cells in the gut to degranulate? Normally an antigen has to crosslink IgE that is bound to the mast cell in order for it to degranulate and release histamine and other mediators. What would the antigen be in this case?