Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Leaky gut is when the intestinal wall develops small gaps, which causes systemic inflammation and an immune response.
The best strategy to heal leaky gut is to reduce gut inflammation and support overall digestive health.
Leaky gut is an indicator of the need to improve your gut health.
The right diet, habits, and nutrients can help improve leaky gut by reducing gut inflammation.
Reducing chronic stress and increasing sleep and exercise can help heal leaky gut.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut, also called “intestinal permeability” or “gut
permeability”, is when the tight junctions
between the cells that line your small
This allows bacterial fragments and undigested food particles
to enter your bloodstream, potentially causing an unwanted immune
Leaky gut syndrome has been implicated as a factor in many medical conditions, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and some autoimmune diseases, though whether it is a cause or consequence of those diseases remains unclear .
When your digestive tract is inflamed by food sensitivities, bad bacteria, or dysbiosis, your protective mucous layer breaks down [2, 3]. This inflammation is thought to be one of the main contributors to leaky gut. What this means is that doing the simple gut healing work I’ll talk about here, you can resolve your leaky gut and the symptoms that go along with it. To learn more about what leaky gut is, see What is Leaky Gut?
How Long Does Healing Leaky Gut Take to Heal?
timeline for healing leaky gut will be
different for everyone. That said, with the right support, many gut conditions,
including leaky gut can improve in a
matter of a few weeks.
For example, several studies with various populations on the use of elemental diets, show a decrease in intestinal permeability in a matter of weeks [4, 5, 6, 7, 8].
Generally, you can suspect leaky gut if you have any of these symptoms shown in this chart. While the research evidence makes the strongest association between Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and leaky gut, preliminary evidence suggests an association for the following leaky gut symptoms listed here.
Leaky gut is thought to be more
of a side effect of other digestive issues,
rather than a specific disease.
A number of diet and lifestyle factors contribute to leaky gut.
Understanding what these are can help you take steps to avoid them.
Here are some of the possible underlying causes of leaky gut that
need to be addressed to resolve it.
Poor Diet and Inflammatory
Sugar, alcohol, and some processed foods generally increase
inflammation and intestinal damage, or may feed existing dysbiosis,
which can lead to increased gut damage and leaky gut. And though these foods are
often inflammatory, any food that you have a food sensitivity or food allergy
to can continue to encourage leaky gut.
Gluten and gliadin, the proteins in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and kamut have been shown to increase zonulin in celiac and non-celiac people alike [43, 44, 45]. Because zonulin increases intestinal permeability, a gluten-free diet may be helpful for reducing leaky gut [46, 47].
Stress increases cortisol and other stress hormones which can contribute to leaky gut. Chronic stress can make it difficult to resolve your leaky gut and other gut health issues [48, 49]. This includes chronic stress from over-exercising or over-training .
Too little or poor sleep can impact your gut health and lead to intestinal permeability . It’s one thing to stay up late occasionally, but if you’re frequently going to bed late, waking up early, or have chronic insomnia, your leaky gut will likely be worse than if you’re getting enough rest.
The use of antibiotics can negatively affect your beneficial bacteria populations, which can lead to leaky gut, and can leave you vulnerable to opportunistic infections . The negative effects increase if you are someone who used repeated courses of antibiotics, even if they were a long time ago.
Alcohol, NSAIDs, and
Regular alcohol consumption, use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and aspirin, and some prescription medications have been shown to increase intestinal permeability [53, 54, 55].
Zonulin is a protein created in the small intestine and liver that when elevated loosens the tight junctions of the cells of the small intestine, and is currently the only identified biochemical driver of leaky gut . The main contributors to elevated zonulin levels are gut dysbiosis and eating foods containing gluten or gliadin.
Intestinal Dysbiosis, Pathogenic Infections, and Low Beneficial Bacteria
Intestinal dysbiosis, whether from an overgrowth of bacteria (like SIBO), or parasites or fungi, are a well-recognized contributor to leaky gut by triggering the release of zonulin, and reducing the protective mucous layer in the large or small intestine [57, 58, 59, 60]. Poor diet, chronic stress, frequent antibiotic use, and regular lack of sleep have all been shown to contribute to dysbiosis as well.
Similarly, decreased beneficial bacteria in the gut are also associated with leaky gut, because beneficial bacteria help maintain the healthy mucous membrane in the gut and keep pathogens in check .
How to Heal Leaky Gut
strategy to support and restore the digestive
system will indirectly address leaky
Here is a comprehensive review of leaky gut diet strategies to support healing of intestinal permeability and leaky gut:
How to Eat for Leaky Gut
Cleaning up your diet can really help heal your leaky gut
because some foods you’re eating may inflame your gut.
there are many possible healing diet options, the most important strategy for
using diet as a therapy is to focus on real foods and to listen to your body,
not what everyone else is saying.
That said, the following diets may be supportive for you
while healing leaky gut:
How it Heals Leaky Gut
Decreases zonulin and FODMAPs.
Low FODMAP Diet
Decreases fermentable carbohydrates that may be irritating your gut by feeding gut bacteria.
Decreases processed foods, dairy, sugar, and carbs. Emphasizes a whole-foods, low-carb diet high in veggies, healthy fats like coconut oil and avocado, and healthy proteins.
Gives your gut a rest to decrease inflammation and allow healing.
Gives your gut a rest to decrease inflammation and allow healing.
Supportive Foods for Leaky Gut
You may want to experiment with several foods known to be
supportive for healing leaky gut. As with all dietary advice, it’s
important to make sure these foods agree with you before using them frequently.
Here is a quick list of
supportive foods and their benefits:
Supports health of skin tissues . While data are still preliminary (in animal & cell studies), we can infer that collagen is beneficial to your gut lining [63, 64, 65].
of intestinal lining and connective
broth or gelatin
Support healing of intestinal lining and
Fiber and prebiotics
Feed good bacteria and support formation of
short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)
Provide diversity and a small quantity of good
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