How To Heal Leaky Gut

Simple strategies to repair your gut health.

Key Takeaways

  • 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 intestine loosen.

This allows bacterial fragments and undigested food particles to enter your bloodstream, potentially causing an unwanted immune response.

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. [1]

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?

The 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]

If you follow the strategies here, and in Leaky Gut Diet Plan and Leaky Gut Supplements, you’ll likely be feeling better in a matter of weeks.


Leaky Gut Symptoms

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.

Body System Leaky Gut Symptoms Research
Digestive Bloating, abdominal pain, IBS, colitis, Crohn’s, IBD 9,10,11,12
Brain/Neurological Mental Health Conditions such as Depression, Anxiety, Brain fog, Pain syndromes 13,14,15,16,17,18, 19, 20, 21, 22
Energy Production Fatigue (especially after meals), chronic fatigue 23,24,25
Joints Joint pain, inflammation 26,27,28
Skin Acne or lesions 29,30,31,32
Immune System Autoimmune disorders like Thyroid, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac, Fibromyalgia, Food Allergies 33,34,35,36,37,38,39
Cardiovascular Arterial inflammation 40
Blood History of Anemia 41,42

Underlying Causes of Leaky Gut

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 Foods

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

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. [50]

Poor Sleep

Too little or poor sleep can impact your gut health and lead to intestinal permeability.[51 ] 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.

Antibiotics

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. [52] 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 Prescription Medications

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]

Increased Zonulin

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. [56] 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, 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. [61]


How to Heal Leaky Gut

Any strategy to support and restore the digestive system will indirectly address leaky gut.

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.

Though 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:

Diet How it Heals Leaky Gut
Gluten-Free Diet Decreases zonulin and FODMAPs.
Low FODMAP Diet Decreases fermentable carbohydrates that may be irritating your gut by feeding gut bacteria.
Paleo Diet 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.
Fasting/Intermittent Fasting Gives your gut a rest to decrease inflammation and allow healing.
Elemental Diet 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 leaky gut supportive foods and their benefits:

Food Benefit
Collagen Supports health of skin tissues.[62] While data are still preliminary (in animal & cell studies), we can infer that collagen is beneficial to your gut lining. [63, 64, 65]
Fish Support healing of intestinal lining and connective tissue.
Bone broth or gelatin Support healing of intestinal lining and connective tissue.
Fiber and prebiotics Feed good bacteria and support formation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)
Fermented foods Provide diversity and a small quantity of good bacteria.

For more on this topic, see Leaky Gut Food List.

Foods to Avoid

That said, here are some key foods that you may want to remove or reduce, at least temporarily while you work on healing your leaky gut:

Food Why It’s Inflammatory
Gluten Increases zonulin, high in FODMAPs
FODMAP Foods (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) High in fermentable carbohydrates that can irritate your gut.
Artificial or Processed Foods Can irritate your gut, often high in FODMAPs
Dairy Products High in Lactose, a FODMAP

For a more thorough discussion on using diet to help heal leaky gut, check out Leaky Gut Diet Plan, Leaky Gut Food List, and Leaky Gut Recipes. Also check out Leaky Gut Diet Shopping List.


Supplements and Nutrients to Heal Leaky Gut

Particular supplements can speed the repair of an inflamed and irritated gut.

Here is a summary of the most researched supplements that can help heal leaky gut.

For a much more thorough discussion of supplements to help heal leaky gut, including digestive enzymes, see Leaky Gut Supplements.

Nutrient Why it Helps
Probiotics Good bacteria that help restore the gut mucous layer and treat dysbiosis. [66, 67, 68]
Prebiotics Helps feed your good gut flora. [69]
L-Glutamine Amino acid that helps repair the gut lining. [70, 71, 72, 73]
Vitamin D Affects the gut immune system, and supports the gut microbiome. [74, 75, 76, 77]
Zinc carnosine Stabilizes the gut lining. [78, 79]
Fish Oil Healthy fats, like DHA and EPA fatty acids support healthy skin and cell membranes.
Fermented Foods Foods like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut provide an additional source of healthy probiotics.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to the diet and supplements that help heal leaky gut, the following lifestyle changes can help speed the leaky gut healing process along, and promote a healthy gut.

Here is a summary of the lifestyle modifications that may have an impact on leaky gut:

Lifestyle Modification Why It’s Important
Regular Moderate Exercise Over-exercise can increase leaky gut [80, 81], while regular moderate exercise has been shown to decrease inflammation. [82]
Increase Nightly Hours of Sleep Decreased sleep is associated with increased intestinal permeability. [83]
Improve Your Stress Management Psychological stress has been shown to increase leaky gut.[84, 85]
Reduce Alcohol Consumption Alcohol consumption can increase leaky gut. [86, 87]
Chew Your Food Well Complete chewing decreases stress on your digestive system, and promotes more complete digestion.
Use Alternatives to NSAIDs and Aspirin Several studies clearly demonstrate that NSAIDs and aspirin increase intestinal lining damage and leaky gut. [88, 89, 90]
Use Alternatives to Birth Control Pills for Contraception Birth control pills may negatively affect the gut microbiome, and increase the risk for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and other digestive problems. [91]

In Conclusion

Though it can seem like healing leaky gut is complicated, you should know that with some simple, basic supports, your gut will be able to heal. In summary:

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that’s right for you;
  • Incorporate supplements and nutrients to speed healing and restore your gut lining; and,
  • Exercise, reduce stress, and get enough sleep.

More About Leaky Gut:

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Discussion

I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!

3 thoughts on “How To Heal Leaky Gut

  1. Hi Dr. Ruscio,
    How can I improve my sleep? I try and exercise (Cycling and Walking), I don’t go on my phone maybe and hour before bed, I don’t have any fluids after 6pm, I try not to eat after 7pm, the most I sleep without waking is about 4 hours, I then sleep light waking up every hour maybe 2 at the most until its time to get up. when I do have a good nights sleep I feel so different during the day, revived, alert, active. When I sleep (what has become normal for me) during the day I feel dizzy, light headed, anxious, stressed out, i can feel the pulse in my throat pumping away as though its going to burst, I just want to sleep a full 8 hours.
    What am I doing wrong?
    Jason UK

    1. Hi Jason,

      I’m sorry to hear you’re not sleeping well, I know how miserable that is. If you already have your sleep hygiene dialed in (google ‘sleep hygiene’ and it’ll be easy to find a list), some other things to consider could be:

      -Try having a snack before bed. Sometimes low blood sugar can actually wake us up.
      -Evaluate your diet and try playing around with adding more carbs.
      -Consider gut health – it can definitely cause sleep problems. Dr R’s book “Healthy Gut, Healthy You” has a comprehensive plan to improve gut health that has definitely improved sleep issues for some (you can find it here: https://www.drruscio.com/getgutbook)
      -Do a sleep study / consider sleep apnea. Also check out this podcast: https://drruscio.com/sleep-effects-everything/

      Hope this gives you a starting place. Good luck!

    2. Possibly light exposure outside or with a high lux specialized light right after awakening, time restricted eating, and blocking blue light at night (can order cheap blue blocking glasses).Something like tart cherry juice may help as well because of the melatonin content, it’s ability to lower kynurenine (a metabolite of tryptophan and a possible cause of insomnia) and a couple small scale studies showing that it lessened the severity of certain aspects of insomnia

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