Your digestive system is a complex system that is designed to help absorb nutrients, break down food, and expel waste. Stretching about 30 feet from mouth to anus, your alimentary canal is an essential part of the digestive system that supports good health. For instance, your gut plays a key role in fighting off foodborne pathogens by “sterilizing” everything you eat with the active enzymes and acids it secretes. Your gut also is in constant conversation with your immune system via receptors throughout the digestive tract, triggering the release of hormones and other cells that can help to promote general immune functions. One of the key components in your gut is the microbiome, comprising a community of bacteria intended to help fight disease and promote overall health.
Unfortunately, your gut can succumb to a whole host of potential diseases and disorders based on your diet, everyday stress, and a wide range of other factors. Leaky gut syndrome is one of the more common conditions affecting the digestive system. Let’s take a closer look at leaky gut syndrome, the leaky gut diet, and other ways to help you better manage symptoms and maintain good gut health.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Your intestines are lined with an extensive, intricate lining of tissue that covers over 4,000 square feet of surface area when spread out. Normally in a healthy intestine, this lining forms a tight barrier that manages what gets absorbed into your bloodstream and what gets passed along to the large intestine and excreted as waste.
Leaky gut syndrome, also sometimes known as increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability, is characterized by an unhealthy gut lining that may be full of holes, cracks, or other openings. These fissures allow partially digested food, bacteria, toxins, and other harmful microbes to “leak” into the deeper tissues of your intestine and your bloodstream.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome
When the contents of your stomach and intestines leak into the rest of the body, the result is an inflammatory response (inflammation) by the immune system and an alteration in the gut flora. Studies on leaky gut syndrome are still fairly new and constantly expanding, but there’s an understanding that inflammation and changes to your gut’s bacteria can lead to some serious effects in your digestive tract and beyond.
Leaky gut syndrome is a rapidly growing condition that millions of people are struggling with and don’t even know it. From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut syndrome only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can lead to many other health conditions.
According to research, the cause of your food allergies, low energy, joint pain, thyroid disease, autoimmune conditions and slow metabolism could be leaky gut symptoms progression.
In this article, I will outline specifically how you can heal leaky gut syndrome and break through the health problems you’ve been struggling with.
How Do You Know If You Have Leaky Gut?
One of the biggest warning signs that you may have leaky gut — I recommend that you take a leaky gut test — can be that you’re experiencing multiple food sensitivities. Partially digested protein and fat can seep through your intestinal lining, making their way into your bloodstream and causing an allergic response.
This allergic response doesn’t mean you’ll break out in a rash all over your body, but it can lead to various symptoms:
- Food sensitivities
- Thyroid conditions
- Joint pain
- Skin issues like rosacea and acne
- Digestive problems
- Weight gain
If left un-repaired, it can lead to more severe health issues like inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, muscle pain and chronic fatigue.
Lectins and Foods that Cause Leaky Gut
Lectins are found in many foods, not just grains, and consumed in smaller amounts, your body will do just fine with them. But foods that have large amounts of lectins are more problematic. Some of the lectins and foods that cause leaky gut include wheat, rice, spelt and soy.
Sprouting and fermenting grains reduces phytates and lectins, making these foods easier to digest. GMO and hybridized foods tend to be the highest in lectins since they have been modified to fight off bugs. Also, gluten-containing grains may damage your intestinal lining and potentially cause leaky gut syndrome. Once your gut is healthy, you can add back in grains that have been fermented and sprouted to eat occasionally.
Conventional cows milkis another food that can cause leaky gut. The component of dairy that will harm your gut is the protein A1 casein. Also, the pasteurization process will destroy vital enzymes, making sugars like lactose very difficult to digest. For this reason, I only recommend buying raw dairy and from A2 cows, goats, sheep or buffalo.
Sugar is another substance that will wreak havoc on your digestive system. Sugar will feed the growth of yeast, candida and bad bacteria, which will further damage your gut. Bad bacteria actually creates toxins called exotoxins that damage healthy cells and can eat a hole into your intestinal wall.
The Leaky Gut Diet + the 4-Step Plan to Heal Leaky Gut
The good news is there’s a solution to successfully healing leaky gut. There is a four-step process that includes:
- REMOVE foods and factors that damage the gut
- REPLACE with healing foods
- REPAIR with specific supplements
- REBALANCE with probiotics
This is the protocol I used with my patients while practicing functional medicine that helped them see incredible results.
1. Remove certain foods and factors that damage the gut
It’s essential to remove allergens and inflammatory foods such as un-sprouted grains, added sugar, GMOs, refined oils, synthetic food additives and conventional dairy products. The top toxic exposures to eliminate are tap water, pesticides, NSAIDS and antibiotics — but remember to always consult with your physician if he or she has prescribed these for you.
2. Replace gut-damaging foods with gut-healing foods
If you suffer from leaky gut syndrome, you’re overdue to consider adopting a leaky gut diet. Such a diet contains foods support healing because they are easy to digest and can help repair the lining of the intestines.
Here is the leaky gut diet food list:
- Bone Broth — bone broth contains collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that can help heal your damaged cell walls. I’ve had many of my patients do a bone broth fast for three days to help heal leaky gut and autoimmune disease.
- Raw Cultured Dairy — contains both probiotics and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that can help heal the gut. Pastured kefir, yogurt, amasai, butter and raw cheese are some of the best probiotic foods.
- Fermented Vegetables — contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH and probiotics to support the gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi and kvass are excellent sources.
- Coconut Products — all coconut products are especially good for your gut. The medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut are easier to digest than other fats so they work well for leaky gut. Also, coconut kefir contains probiotics that support your digestive system.
- Sprouted Seeds — chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds that have been sprouted are great sources of fiber that can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria. But if you have severe leaky gut, you may need to start out getting your fiber from steamed vegetables and fruit.
- Healthy fats — consuming healthy fats in moderation like egg yolks, avocados, ghee and coconut oil are easy on the gut and promote healing.
- Omega-3 Fats — anti-inflammatory foods like grass-fed beef, lamb and wild-caught fish like salmon benefit a damaged gut.
- Fruit – Consuming 1–2 servings of fruit daily is good on a leaky gut diet. You can steam apples and pears to make homemade apple sauce or fruit sauce. Fruit is best consumed in the morning and not later on in the day and keep fruit intake in moderation.
3. Repair your gut with certain supplements
In a leaky gut treatment plan, there are many supplements that support your digestive health as well as protect the gut lining from further damage. I believe the six most beneficial leaky gut supplements are probiotics, digestive enzymes, l-glutamine, licorice root, shilajit and marshmallow root.
- Probiotics (50-100 billion units daily) — This is the most important supplement to take because it helps replenish good bacteria and crowds out bad bacteria. I recommend getting probiotics in both food and supplement form. By only following part of the protocol in healing leaky gut syndrome by removing the damaging irritants, you may fail to re-inoculate the gut with beneficial bacteria that will keep bad bacteria at bay. Look for strains like Bacillus clausii, Bacillus subtilis, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans. (2, 3, 4, 5)
- Digestive enzymes (1–2 capsules at the beginning of each meal) — these ensure that foods are fully digested, decreasing the chance that partially digested foods particles and proteins are damaging your gut wall.
- L-Glutamine — critical for any program designed to heal leaky gut. Glutamine powder is an essential amino acid supplement that is anti-inflammatory and necessary for the growth and repair of your intestinal lining. L-glutamine benefits include acting as a protector: coating your cell walls and acting as a repellent to irritants. (6)
- Licorice Root — an adaptogenic herb that helps balance cortisol levels and improves acid production in the stomach. Licorice root supports the body’s natural processes for maintaining the mucosal lining of the stomach and duodenum. (7) This herb is especially beneficial if someone’s leaky gut is being caused by emotional stress because of the way it can help improve the way you produce and metabolize cortisol. (8)
- Shilajit — A tar-like medicinal herb used frequently in Ayurvedic medicine, shilajt can protect from stomach ulcers as well as reduce inflammation triggered or exacerbated by leaky gut. (9, 10)
- Marshmallow Root — The antioxidant and antihistamine properties of marshmallow root make it a great addition to any natural medicine cabinet, particularly for those struggling with leaky gut. (11)