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.
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?
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.
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|
|Blood||History of Anemia||41, 42|
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 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 Prescription Medications
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.
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:
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.|
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:
|Collagen||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].|
|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.
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|
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 .|
|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.|
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 .|
|Increase Nightly Hours of Sleep||Decreased sleep is associated with increased intestinal permeability .|
|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 .|
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:
For help with healing leaky gut and other gut conditions, schedule an appointment at our center for functional medicine.
Work with our qualified team and start feeling better today.Become a Patient
Improving your gut health is one of the most effective things you can do to improve your overall health because your gut affects every other part of your body. So how exactly do you improve your gut health? This involves a practical, personalized series of steps including optimizing your diet and lifestyle factors, balancing your gut microbiome, repairing any damage to your gut lining, and more.
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During your initial consultation, you’ll connect with one of our highly trained intake specialists to review your case and individual circumstances in preparation for your doctor visits. Our team will focus on the key pieces of information that our doctors use to make decisions: your history, symptoms, labs, and response to previous treatments.
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Improving your gut health naturally requires considering a variety of lifestyle factors. These include diet and nutrition, the amount of sleep you are getting on a consistent basis, the status of relationships in your life (with friends, family, and community), exercise, stress, mental health, and many other key elements.
Beyond diet and lifestyle factors, there are many natural treatments that can help to support a healthy gut. The key is knowing where to start, and how and when to use these treatments.
Dr. Ruscio and his team will listen to your concerns and create a customized plan that is proven and effective to help restore your gut health naturally.
On the surface, gut health refers to the health of your digestive system, including the balance of bacteria living in your gut microbiome, the integrity of your intestinal lining, the presence of inflammation, and more.
But gut health also plays a crucial role in your overall health. Research points to several important connections between the gut and virtually all other organs and systems, from the brain to the heart to the thyroid to the immune system. That’s why an imbalance, infection, or other issues in your gut can (and often do) lead to seemingly unrelated symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, anxiety, hypothyroidism, and more.
Focusing on your gut health can help you to resolve these and other symptoms naturally, and get you back to living your healthiest, happiest life. At the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, our experienced gut doctors can help you start feeling better. Speak with a gut health specialist today.
At the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, we focus on minimally invasive, scientifically validated, predominantly natural solutions for gut health. We improve your gut health through diet and lifestyle changes and other natural treatments, all introduced at the right time, and personalized to you.
Our recommendations come from a combination of real-life experiences with patients and a dedication to scientific research. Our holistic gut health doctors and care team look beyond symptoms and treat the root cause so you can restore your gut health and feel better, faster. Get competent care today.
We’ve found that a surprising number of symptoms and problems resolve when the gut is healed. This includes symptoms of brain fog, anxiety, food digestive issues, female hormone imbalances, and many more uncomfortable symptoms patients report experiencing. Research shows that your gut has the power to influence your cognitive function, mood, energy levels, heart health, thyroid function, hormonal balance, and more. In other words, having a healthy gut means you can have a healthy life.
There are many simple steps you can take to improve your gut health, including determining your ideal diet, reducing stress levels, optimizing sleep, and supporting your microbiome with tools like probiotics or antimicrobials as needed.
Although these steps are not necessarily complicated, getting your gut health where you want it to be on your own can be a challenge. Our team of gut health experts can support you in figuring out exactly what needs to be done to improve your symptoms. Our patients typically experience the following:
The best doctor to see for improving gut health is one who takes a whole-person, holistic approach to addressing your concerns and improving your health. Our team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine has spent years interviewing experts, analyzing scientific data, and organizing the most effective treatments that consistently help our patients. Ready to see a doctor for gut health? Work with our qualified team today.
In order to truly heal your gut and improve your symptoms, it’s important to work with a doctor who looks beyond just your lab results, and identifies practical solutions for you, specifically.
The team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine are motivated and determined to help you feel better and get your gut to a healthy state. Focusing on simple, cost-effective, minimally invasive strategies first, we take pride in being able to treat even the most challenging cases by looking at the big picture, finding areas or treatments that may have been overlooked, and helping you implement them.
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