A leaky gut is a serious condition, which may be the underlying cause of many health problems. Yet it’s rarely talked about at the doctor’s office or in the media. For that reason, many people may have a leaky gut and not even know it!
Although practically ignored by mainstream medical professionals, there is overwhelming evidence that the leaky gut is very real and dangerous. That is why alternative and integrative medicine practitioners have been working for decades on gut healing as an initial step to treat many chronic diseases.
What Is Leaky Gut?
A leaky gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability. The extensive intestinal lining, which we all have inside us is meant to act as a guard, which keeps away harmful toxins and bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
A healthy digestive tract breaks down food and absorbs nutrients and water through tight junctions in the intestinal walls, allowing them to be circulated around the body via the bloodstream. When the junctions become loose, the gut becomes “leaky” (more penetrable), and harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation, weakening the immune system, and creating malabsorption of vitamins and nutrients.
Leaky Gut Symptoms
As the intestinal lining remains damaged, and we continue to introduce harmful bacteria and undigested foods that make their way into the bloodstream, an autoimmune response occurs in the body. The damaged cells in your intestine don't produce the required enzymes for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. This can lead to multiple problems, including hormone imbalance and a weakened immune system.
Some symptoms of a leaky gut include:
We become more sensitive to allergens in foods and topical products since the underlying gut dysfunction stimulates allergic pathways (1).
Headaches and migraines can be caused by the inflammatory immune responses due to the increased intestinal permeability.
An unhealthy intestinal barrier has been implicated in the development of inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome (2).
These can include eczema, acne, and other conditions. When we don’t absorb the proper nutrients from foods, it usually shows first on the skin since the body drives the limited nutrients it receives to essential organs like the heart. Therefore, various skin conditions are a very common cause of a leaky gut.
The harmful bacteria and gut-derived inflammation have been directly linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) (3).
Rheumatological conditions have long been associated with abnormalities of intestinal function.
Poor gut health can suppress thyroid function and trigger Hashimoto’s disease.
Leaky Gut Causes
There are several factors that can lead to the damage of gut walls. Our diet certainly is a big one. Nutrient deficiencies, processed foods, excessive sugar, and alcohol consumption all harm the barrier function, create inflammation and lead to intestinal permeability. Chronic stress also plays a huge role. Certain medications, such as ibuprofen for example, and antibiotics have been shown to contribute to a leaky gut as well (4).
However, it all comes down to a lack of helpful bacteria in the gut. When your gut flora is damaged by the above factors, and there are not enough helpful bacteria in the gut, it can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria, causing the gut walls to become damaged. Many harmful bacteria alter the tight junctions, presumably to enhance their own growth requirements. Thus a leaky gut is an outcome of an unhealthy gut microbiome.
A good gut-healing plan will surely include a quality probiotic supplement. A quality probiotic supplement will recolonize your gut with billions of beneficial live bacteria, thereby restoring a favorable gut environment and repairing the walls of your intestine.
Probiotics have been shown to be effective in both of these functions (5), and are therefore essential to your healing process. In addition, probiotics help you break down foods in order to absorb their nutrients and break down fiber into beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which is very beneficial for your gut lining. They also prevent the development of candida, with all the accompanying symptoms of that, which means that you will likely lose the cravings for the bad foods and sugar that contributed to the leaky gut in the first place.
Recommended Dosage: Although the recommended dosage will vary based on the specific probiotic strains and the state of your gut, a good probiotic supplement should contain billions (not millions) of CFU (colony forming units). And in order to repair a leaky gut, I would say the CFU count should be around 20 billion.
Zinc has been shown to act positively on gastrointestinal tight junctions and barrier function (6). Zinc is essential in the activity of enzymes, it assists the thyroid, it is imperative for proper immune function in the body, and helps produce the active form of vitamin A, among other things. Zinc is present in all muscles, organs, and tissues of the body, and it is an essential micronutrient.
Recommended Dosage: Currently, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc in the United States is 8 milligrams (mg) a day for women and 11 mg a day for men (7).
Omega-3 is known for its ability to combat inflammation, which is one of the causes of a leaky gut. The best way to get Omega-3 is from fatty fish. You can also take a fish or krill oil supplement.
Recommended Dosage: Although there is no recommended daily allowance currently, your supplement should contain a minimum of 500 mg combined EPA and DHA, and you should take it daily.
Curcumin, derived from turmeric, can prevent and repair chronic inflammation in the body and may prevent tissue damage along the digestive tract. It also may improve your immune system.
Recommended Dosage: 1,000-2,000 mg of curcumin daily can be used to limit inflammation
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in many foods and plants. It can be helping by supporting a proper immune response in the body and improving the tight junction barriers in the digestive tract. It may also control oxidative damage to tissue. Quercetin may prevent the release of histamine from cells associated with inflammation and systemic reactions which may manifest as allergies.
Recommended Dosage: Most people should take 500-1000 mg per day.
Ginger can improve the production of stomach acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes. These digestive “juices” help reduce inflammation that causes leaky gut. Ginger works to slow an upset GI tract, thereby preventing nausea. It is also effective in treating gastrointestinal infection. The gingerols, which are the active compounds, help the body release enzymes that aid in the breakdown of food.
Recommended Dosage: As a supplement, you should take about 550 mg per day.
7. Pea Protein
Pea protein is a vegan protein, whose protein content is comparable to those derived from animals. It is especially great for those with an autoimmune disorder or food sensitivities. The pea fiber acts as a prebiotic to help the development of healthy bacteria. It also may raise the production of short-chain fatty acids in the gut, reducing inflammation.
Recommended Dosage: The recommended dosage is about 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
8. Butyric Acid
It is present in butter and ghee, and your body produces it naturally. It is a saturated short chain fatty acid that has numerous benefits, including digestion and supporting the health and healing of cells in the small and large intestines. Short chain fatty acids like butyric acid can help keep the gut lining healthy and sealed, which can help prevent and repair leaky gut syndrome.
Recommended Dosage: Dosage recommendations can vary by product. Some suggest taking one capsule up to three times daily with meals, a few hours before medications. It’s best to follow the recommendations on the product labels and consult your doctor if you feel unsure.
9. Licorice Root
Licorice root is an adaptogenic herb and can help the way you produce and metabolize cortisol, which may benefit those in whom a leaky gut is caused by chronic stress. It also supports the body’s natural process of maintaining the mucosal lining of the stomach.
Recommended Dosage: The recommended dosage for those with a leaky gut is about 760 mg daily.
10. Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated Linoleic Acid is an Omega-6 fatty acid found in full-fat dairy and grass-fed meat products. Contrary to popular misconceptions that Omega-6 fats are bad for us, they are actually essential to our immune, hormone, digestive and nervous system functions.
An experimental scientific study testing CLA’s effect in intestinal permeability found that “CLA reduced intestinal permeability, bacterial translocation, and biomarkers of inflammatory response besides minor damage to ZO-1 and occludin with maintenance of the integrity of the intestinal epithelium and a favorable balance between the inflammatory and regulatory cytokines.” (8)
Recommended Dosage: average daily intake is approximately 152–212 milligrams
When fiber is fermented by the gut flora, it creates a short-chain amino acid called butyrate, which improves the lining of the digestive tract. A recent study (9) found that good bacteria in the gut relied on fiber as a nutritional source to maintain a healthy mucous layer in the colon. This layer protects against gut permeability.
Recommended Dosage: The RDI of fiber in the United States is 25g for females and 38g for males.
12. Collagen Peptides
Collagen peptides are a more digestible and bioavailable form of collagen, which is a protein found in almost every tissue of the body. Studies show a positive effect of collagen peptides on preventing further breakdown of the intestinal lining (10).
Recommended Dosage: When taking a collagen peptides protein powder, 1-3 scoops per day should be sufficient.
Berberine is a yellow alkaloid found in plants such as Tree Turmeric, Goldenseal, and Barberry. It has been used to treat digestive issues for centuries. And research shows that it reduces the permeability of the gut barrier and impacts the gut microbiome very favorably by somehow multiplying the beneficial gut bacteria.
This means that when supported by berberine supplementation, probiotics can establish colonies faster and with greater efficiency (11). In other studies, berberine has been shown to weaken candida fungal structures, making them easier to kill. This helps healthy probiotic bacteria in establishing strong colonies to fight fungal microbes (12).
Recommended Dosage: About 500 mg of supplemented berberine per day should suffice to deliver the above-mentioned benefits.
14. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes help us absorb nutrients from foods and ensure that foods are fully digested, decreasing the chances that partially digested foods particles and proteins damage your gut wall.
Recommended Dosage: It is recommended to take 1-2 capsules with every meal.
Glutamine powder is an essential amino acid supplement that is anti-inflammatory and necessary for the growth and repair of your intestinal lining. Glutamine acts as a protector, coating your cell walls and acting as a repellent to irritants. Glutamine is also partly broken down into proline which is essential for collagen production and ultimately contributes to fortifying a strong gut barrier.
Recommended Dosage: 40 grams daily usually works best
Your Gut Healing Diet Plan
A healthy diet is a fundamental building block of a healthy gut. Foods that are rich in fiber, polyphenols, healthy fats, and beneficial bacteria can help you boost your gut health, repair the intestinal lining, and get you on the road to feeling your best.
Include healthy fats such as fish, coconut, avocado, and olive oils
Not all fats are created equal! Highly processed fats, such as processed meats, junk food, refined vegetable oils, and baked goods can contribute to chronic disease and weight gain because they contain artery-clogging trans-fats and create inflammation in the body. Steer away from those at all costs. However, foods that are naturally high in fat can actually lower cholesterol and protect the gut.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are considered good fats. When it comes to polyunsaturated fats, there are two kinds: Omega-6 and Omega-3. Our bodies need both! However, our diet should consist of a 1:1 ratio of those, while the American diet typically consists of a ratio of 20:1, which is why you might have heard the warnings regarding Omega-6. Omega-6 fats from full-fat dairy products and organic grass-fed meats are essential to our bodies. However, they should be consumed in moderation, and it’s important to keep the ratio of 1:1.
Butter and ghee from grass-fed animals are good sources of both Omega-6 and Omega-3. Avocados and avocado oil are good sources of monounsaturated fats, protein, Vitamin E, folate, and fiber that our gut bacteria can metabolize to create short-chain fatty acids, making it one of the best foods you can eat.
Avocado oil is also great for cooking as it has a high smoke point and a mild taste that won’t overpower your foods. Extra-virgin olive oil is another great source of monounsaturated fats. Although it is not recommended for cooking, its health benefits are tremendous. It contains a high amount of antioxidants, which protect your cells from damage and prevent inflammation.
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for your body to digest and which provide cellular energy almost immediately (13). The antioxidants contained in coconut oil make it anti-inflammatory, so it is great for your gut and your joints. And it too has a high smoke point, so it’s great for cooking if you like the coconut flavor.
Omega-3 foods like fatty fish are great as well. A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports states that people whose diets include more Omega-3 fatty acids have more diversity in their guts, which contributes greatly to their overall health (14). Omega-3 fats are also extremely beneficial for the heart and eyes. They can fight depression, auto-immune disorder, prevent fat from being stored in the liver, and reduce inflammation in the body. Nuts and seeds also contain omega-3.
Add apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is packed with nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and acid to help your gut, making it the healthier vinegar out there. Many others are loaded with yeast and fungal byproducts, so they may not be the best choice. Apple cider vinegar’s acetic acid has been found to lower blood pressure and blood sugar (15) (16), and aid in the absorption of nutrients (17).
Raw organic apple cider vinegar will contain a dark murky mass, which is called “the mother.” The mother is loaded with probiotics, enzymes, and trace minerals, which may improve your gut’s health if consumed regularly. Apple cider vinegar also contains prebiotics, which can help balance your gut microbiome. It may help with candida overgrowth as well. Sip a beverage of diluted apple cider vinegar of ratio 1:1 to water before meals to help digestion. Include apple cider vinegar in your meals by using it in salad dressings and other recipes.
Make some bone broth
Use beef marrow bones to prepare a delicious and super-healthy bone broth. Bone broth contains a protein called collagen, which unfortunately is rare in the American diet, but which holds everything together in your body. It is miraculous in repairing the gut and has tons of beneficial nutrients.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and limit sugar
Artificial sweeteners can adversely affect your gut microbiome and lead to numerous health problems. Avoid them at any cost. As far as simple sugars like fructose and glucose (both of which are found together in sucrose, white table sugar, which is especially harmful), there was a recent study that showed that they can keep good bacteria from colonizing in your gut (18). Replace sucrose (white sugar) with honey, stevia, or coconut sugar, and limit your intake as much as possible.
Cut out processed foods
Processed foods contain unhealthy fats and additives that have been shown to increase intestinal permeability (19). Be cautious with anything that comes in a box or can, deli meats, margarine, ketchup, fast food, instant foods like ramen, sausages, bacon, factory farmed meat, imitation crab meat, low-fat, fat-free, and sugar-free products. Watch out for terms such as dextrose, maltose, trans fats, and hydrogenated oil, anything “artificial,” and anything else with which you would not cook at home.
Include Fermented Dairy and Vegetables
Fermented products contain powerful probiotics, which are great for your gut! The fermentation of dairy also eats up the sugar lactose, improves the nutritional content, and makes dairy easier to digest. Sourkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, cottage cheese are great power foods that should be included in one’s diet.
Diet Recommendation 7: Limit Alcohol
Alcohol is addictive and toxic. Too much drinking can lead to dysbiosis and inflammation of the liver, as well as numerous other problems. Drink in moderation and choose red wine, if possible. Of all alcoholic beverages, red wine has the most health benefits (20) (21). Due to the polyphenol in red wine, one or two glasses per day can actually be beneficial for the gut (22). However, irrespective of the chosen beverage, heavy drinking leads to serious health problems.
I hope you find this article and the advice contained within helpful in treating or preventing a leaky gut and improving the quality of your life. For further help achieving a state of homeostasis in the gut, I encourage you to try my probiotic product, which contains 50 billion live healthy bacteria with 12 of the most effective, clinically-proven probiotic strains, an organic prebiotic, and L-Glutamine to increase absorption and repair a leaky gut. It contains zero fillers, allergens, animal products, soy, gluten, or GMO’s. I stand by it 100% as the best probiotic supplement on the market today.