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Story at a glance

  • Heenam Stanley Kim, Ph.D, from Korea University’s Laboratory for Human-Microbial Interactions, in Seoul, published a study which reveals how one’s gut health determines the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.
  • An altered gut microbiota can cause severe symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting in a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • The gastrointestinal track is a direct pathway to the bloodstream, which could cause pathogens to invade other organs as well.
  • The Wellness Way provides testing and treatment regarding the GI tract’s immune functions.

Research Summary

Heenam Stanley Kim, Ph.D, from Korea University’s Laboratory for Human-Microbial Interactions, in Seoul, published a study which reveals how one’s gut health determines the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.

The study was published in mBio, a journal published by the American Society for Microbiology, on January 12, 2021.

One of the key messages stated through the publication is that, “…accumulating evidence supports the hypothesis that an altered gut microbiota and an associated leaky gut may contribute to the onset of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)-related gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and, in severe cases, multiorgan complications.”(1)

Through extensive research, Kim was able to conclude that COVID-19 patients with altered gut microbiota were more likely to experience severe gastrointestinal symptoms, even though they were diagnosed with a respiratory disease.

Making the connection

Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting are all common symptoms of a COVID-19 diagnosis. However, since COVID-19 is categorized as a respiratory disease, these factors indicate that the GI (gastrointestinal tract) is another site of infection.

Kim says, “…Gut health at the time of infection may be critical for symptom development.” (2)

The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are especially prone to experiencing severe GI symptoms if diagnosed with COVID-19. This is because they are more likely to have a compromised level of microbiota in their gut.

A study from late 2020 found that 20% of COVID-19 patients only experienced gastrointestinal symptoms.

An unhealthy gut microbiome puts other organs at risk

When the microbiome in one’s gut is altered, their gut barrier integrity is disrupted. A gut barrier consists of a layer of cells which aid in the prevention of pathogens entering the bloodstream.

Disruption of this layer often occurs when inflammation occurs due to altered microbiota. The inflammation can then cause the layers to become permeable, which would allow the pathogens to pass from the GI tract and directly into the bloodstream.

If pathogens somehow escape or pass through the gut barrier and make it into the bloodstream, this gives them the opportunity to then invade other vital organs.

The key to strengthening your gut’s microbiome

Kim’s research reinstates the understanding that our gut health is key to controlling our susceptibility against viral pathogens.

In order to strengthen your gut’s microbiome, it is important to stay away from your body’s triggers that cause inflammation. Primarily, this can be done by observing your diet.

At The Wellness Way, we urge our patients to not only be mindful of their food intake but to also strive for eliminating common processed foods that can contain a wide variety of toxins. We understand that 70-80% of our immune system is housed in our gut. (3)

The most efficient way to determine your gut’s health and its limitations is to simply start with a food allergy test. Food allergies can cause responses like headaches, abdominal bloating/swelling, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and lead to chronic inflammation. This type of testing is a service offered through our clinic(s) and is widely recommended. Be sure to check with your Wellness Way doctor to find out if additional testing to assess gut health may be needed.


(1-2) Kim, HS. (2021). Do an altered gut microbiota and an associated leaky gut affect COVID-19 severity? mBio. 12:e03022-20.

(3) The Wellness Way, “The Wellness Way Approach to GI Health.” (2019). Pg 19.


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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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