Leaky gut is a little understood digestive issue, likely because the name turns people off from learning more about it. A leaky gut occurs when the mucosal barrier, a single layer of cells that isolates the gut and the rest of the body, becomes permeable.
This barrier should only be a little permeable to allow nutrients to pass from the gut into the bloodstream. However, a problem occurs when this membrane becomes inflamed and then develops “holes”, which allow things into the body that wouldn’t normally.
This “leaking” is what gives this condition the name leaky gut.
What causes leaky gut?
Leaky gut is usually caused by dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of the bacteria in the gut. This imbalance will cause a greater number of bad bacteria which can then cause irritation and inflammation, which leads to the tears which form the holes that cause leaky gut.
This imbalance is often caused by negative lifestyle choices, such as eating processed and high-sugar foods, but it can also be caused by medications.
How is leaky gut detected?
Leaky gut is usually detected by food sensitivities. When food is allowed to pass through the gut into the bloodstream, our bodies often react with an immunoglobulin G response (IgG).
Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is a type of antibody that the body produces in response to infection. Measuring the levels of IgG is an important diagnostic tool and can allow us to discover that the permeability of the gut is compromised.
So, by testing the blood for the presence of IgG, we can assess whether food may be passing inappropriately from the gut into the bloodstream. This can mean that even healthy foods we could normally eat without a reaction causes a food sensitivity reaction. Fortunately, when we heal the leaky gut, the food sensitivity also usually goes away.
What are the symptoms of a leaky gut?
The problem with leaky gut is it can go unnoticed for some time. Symptoms include:
Multiple food sensitivities
Early in the condition, you’ll notice your symptoms around the times you eat, with an ease in the symptoms during times of fast, but later you may see skin issues, fatigue, and depression arise as your body fails to get the nutrition it needs.
How to Improve and Heal Leaky Gut
1. Cut Out the Foods Causing the Intolerance
The first stage, once evidence of multiple food sensitivities has been found, is to remove the foods causing the inflammation, cutting them out of your diet completely. In many cases, you’ll be able to return to these foods in the future when you have fully healed, but you cannot heal until these foods have been cut out. This why it’s important to seek medical advice and food sensitivity testing if you suspect you have leaky gut
2. Increase Natural Anti-Inflammatory Sources
Secondly, increase your intake of anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, curcumin, and omega-3 fatty acids. These natural anti-inflammatory sources will help reduce inflammation in the gut and allow the membrane to heal.
3. Increase Fiber Intake
Increasing the fiber in your diet by eating more fruit, vegetables, and whole foods can lead to a big improvement in your leaky gut. Fiber is a prebiotic that will allow the probiotics you take to flourish and build the healthy microbiome your gut needs to function optimally.
4. Take a Probiotic
Taking a probiotic will help rebalance your microbiome to prevent further damage. You can take too many probiotics, so increase slowly, over the course of weeks, and refer to your doctor for advice.
5. Decrease Sugar Intake
You also need to reduce your sugar intake along with inflammatory food, dairy, and, especially, processed foods. Processed foods are very convenient for a fast-paced lifestyle but are bad news for your gastrointestinal tract. Changing to having far more fresh produce in your diet may be difficult at first, but you’ll soon find the benefits outweigh the additional effort. If your budget allows, look into healthy meal delivery services in your area.
6. Consider Taking Supplements
Taking supplements can help your body get the nutrition it needs to heal. Here are some of the supplements I recommend to my patients:
Both zinc and glutamine have been shown to help improve the lining of the gut, accelerating the healing of the mucosal barrier.
Protein contains the amino acids that the body uses to repair the gut lining, so if you don’t get enough protein through your diet, consider taking a gentle protein powder.
Curcumin, the active ingredient found in turmeric, is an anti-inflammatory that improves the environment in which the lining can heal. Turmeric is easy to add to almost any recipe, thanks to it’s mild taste, but you can also take it in capsule form.
Berberine, an active compound extracted from plants, is known to decrease the bad bacteria that could be contributing to your leaky gut. It can also help reduce blood sugar levels, and has been linked to weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
Fiber can help a leaky gut and improves the stool environment.
Probiotics can help increase the gut’s good bacteria and promote resolution of the leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky Gut Can Reoccur
I always tell my leaky gut patients that even though it is possible to resolve their leaky gut and stop the harmful effects of multiple food sensitivities, if they return to a diet high in sugar, dairy, gluten, and processed foods, they will almost certainly trigger a return of the leaky gut and its symptoms. It’s important that you correct your behavior that led to leaky gut in the first place, and change your lifestyle.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.