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What is Leaky Gut, and How Do You Heal It?

Are you having symptoms such as bloating, brain fog, fatigue, and food sensitivities?  Symptoms such as these could be an indication that you have a leaky gut. Your gut lining is very strong and is a barrier that decides what should and shouldn’t be absorbed into your bloodstream. A healthy gut lining will not allow bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles.   A leaky gut is often found in people with gut lining weaknesses that can be caused by a variety of factors. Leaky gut can be healed through a combination of dietary and lifestyle approaches.

What is leaky gut syndrome?

Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is when our intestinal or gut lining isn’t working correctly because it has been compromised. When your gut lining is unhealthy, it can allow bacteria and toxins to pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. When this happens, it triggers gut inflammation and changes to our gut flora can occur (beneficial bacteria in our gut). 

Leaky gut can cause many conditions, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), lupus, diabetes (type 1), chronic fatigue syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, acne, and multiple sclerosis. Your immune system’s job is to protect you from intruders, and your gut lining’s job is to keep those intruders from entering your bloodstream.

What causes a leaky gut?

It is believed that a combination of factors may be the cause of leaky gut, including genetic disposition, digestive sensitivities, infections, low stomach acid, food sensitivities, food allergies, imbalances in gut microbiota, and modern lifestyle and diet. These can result in gut inflammation and trigger the body’s immune response, according to research.

Leaky gut symptoms

How do you know if you have a leaky gut?

Your functional medicine practitioner may suggest a food sensitivity test that will help diagnose a leaky gut. This test will look for the three markers of leaky gut: a sensitivity to Candida, elevated Zonulin levels (a protein synthesized in intestinal cells and liver cells), and multiple food sensitivities. It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 100 percent of food intolerance sufferers have increased intestinal permeability.

How do you heal a leaky gut with functional medicine 

If your doctor has told you that you have a leaky gut syndrome, it can feel scary – but do not despair; there are ways to repair your gut health and your intestinal wall. The functional medicine approach offers dietary and lifestyle alternatives that will reduce gut inflammation and support gastrointestinal function. 

Think of your leaky gut as a warning system. Your gut tells you that there is an imbalance and that it needs you to help get it back into balance and wellness. A functional medicine practitioner can help you develop healing habits that will heal your leaky gut. They will create an individualized strategy for your needs and create a comprehensive plan to guide you to healing your gut. 

Foods that support healing a leaky gut or intestinal permeability

Dietary approaches to healing a leaky gut

Traditional diets tend to be low in fiber and high in sugars and saturated fats in America. Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to poor gut health, and some foods can also trigger inflammatory responses, and it may be best to avoid certain foods. Often an elimination diet is recommended to pinpoint which foods you are most sensitive to.

Elimination Diet

An elimination diet is not a diet in the widespread sense of the word, but a guided eating plan that eliminates specific foods to help you uncover food sensitivities or intolerances and the cause of your symptoms. This process is done strategically, carefully omitting certain foods and then re-introducing them. This method is very effective at checking for the top eight allergens, which account for over 90% of all food allergies in America.  The top eight allergen foods include milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean.

Foods to pay attention to 

Foods that increase Zonulin protein in the body increase the chance of intestinal permeability. Adopting a gluten-free and gliadin-free diet is helpful, including omitting wheat, barley, rye, kamut, and spelt. 

Other foods that contribute to gut inflammation include:

  • Alcohol
  • Dairy foods
  • FODMAPs (fermentable carbohydrates)
  • Some processed foods
  • Sugars.

Foods that are supportive of gut health

Eat a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods to reduce inflammation and heal the gut with nutrition. 

Foods that help heal the gut include:

  • Bone broth – supports intestinal and connective tissue healing
  • Collagen – benefits your gut lining
  • Fermented foods – full of diverse good bacteria, fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut
  • Fiber – feeds beneficial bacteria
  • Fish oil – supports healthy cell membranes
  • L-Glutamine – helps repairs the gut lining
  • Prebiotics – feeds beneficial gut flora and supports short-chain fatty acid building
  • Probiotics – restores the gut mucous layer with beneficial bacteria.

Heal your gut by reducing stress and improving sleep

Healing your gut with lifestyle changes

Food isn’t the only thing that can affect your gut. Stress, poor sleep, and antibiotic use can also be contributing factors. 

Reduce Stress

The stress hormone cortisol is increased when we experience stress. Chronic stress can lead to many health problems, including leaky gut syndrome. Reducing stress can help heal your gut, some ways to do this include:

  • Reduce your stress triggers – learning how to say no, making your needs a priority, and scheduling time to practice self-care are all good ways to create resilience to stressful situations.
  • Meditation or other relaxation practices will help you manage your stress through breathing exercises, visualizations, and mindfulness techniques.
  • Yoga and Tai Chi are both great ways to be active and encourage stress reduction. However, all physical activity can be an excellent way to say goodbye to stress –pick your favorite and exercise regularly.

Get better sleep

Not getting enough sleep or poor sleeping can negatively affect your gut health and contribute to intestinal permeability. Talk to your healthcare professional if you are experiencing insomnia or other sleep difficulties. Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Different ways to improve your sleep quality include:

  • Go to sleep at the same time at night and wake at the same time in the morning.
  • Put away your phone at least an hour before you shut your eyes, the blue light can distort your circadian rhythm (how your body decides when to sleep and when to be awake) and cause sleep issues.
  • Your bedroom should be focused on sleep. You do spend one-third of your life sleeping! Make sure the temperature is comfortable, the atmosphere is dark and quiet, and you have calming activities such as a book or journal at hand.

Antibiotics, medications, and more

  • Antibiotic use can lead to a leaky gut because it can cause an imbalance in the bacteria in your gut. In addition, according to studies, NSAIDs and aspirin have been shown to increase leaky gut syndrome.
  • A few other ways to give your gut a break is through intermittent fasting, moderate physical activity, and reducing alcohol consumption

What’s the next step to healing intestinal permeability?

Taking the first step to healing your gut is best done with a functional medicine practitioner who can help you figure out if you have a leaky gut, the root cause of your issue, and create a comprehensive plan to heal your gut.