10 Tips for Healing Leaky Gut
The leaky gut syndrome is a condition by which the lining of the intestine becomes damaged, leading to increased intestinal permeability. The intestinal lining is one of the immune system’s major lines of defense against infections, toxins, and other threats that are introduced into the body through food and drink.
Normally, the intestinal epithelial cells sit together closely and are joined by tight junctions that form a barrier to prevent unwanted substances from passing through into the bloodstream. The intestinal barrier can become damaged from a variety of factors, including:
• A poor diet, such as the Standard American Diet that is high in processed carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils
• Food sensitivities
• Certain gut-irritating foods, such as grains, legumes, dairy, and alcohol
• Low stomach acid
• Chronic stress
• Hormonal imbalances
• Medications, such as NSAIDS , antibiotics, steroids, contraceptives, and chemotherapy drugs
• Chronic endurance exercise and overtraining
• Environmental toxins
• Infections and parasites
• Imbalance of the gut flora.
What is Leaky Gut?
When the lining of the intestine is damaged, the junctions between the cells are widened and begin to allow substances into the bloodstream that usually would not be permitted to pass through the barrier.
These substances include undigested food particles, toxins, microbes, waste, and larger-than-normal macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats).
When these substances pass directly into the bloodstream, it provokes an immune response that can lead to food sensitivities, systemic inflammation, autoimmunity, and a variety of diseases.
Conventional medicine recognizes that increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) exists, but it does not recognize the role that it plays in overall health and the development of the disease.
Healing Leaky Gut Syndrome
Unfortunately, there is not a simple, quick way to heal a leaky gut. Because so many different causative factors can be involved, healing a leaky gut requires an individualized approach and takes commitment, time, and effort.
Although each gut healing journey may differ, the following tips will help you address the root cause of the leaky gut syndrome, instead of masking the symptoms. Here are 10 tips for healing leaky gut:
1.) Eat a whole food, nutrient-dense diet that excludes foods that irritate the gut: It is critical to eliminate all processed foods and eat real food, nutrient-dense diet that eliminates foods that are known to irritate or damage the lining of the gut.
Foods that irritate the intestinal barrier and can lead to inflammation include grains, legumes, dairy products, processed foods, refined sugars, and alcohol. The Paleo diet is a great framework for a whole food, nutrient-dense diet, as it eliminates these irritating and inflaming foods.
I usually start with a Paleo nutrition template and then build upon it to suit the needs of my client. If a client is having autoimmunity issues, I may recommend the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol.
Depending on the client’s symptoms, I may suggest a modified version of the GAPS diet. With any healing dietary approach to the leaky gut syndrome, I do not recommend the popular “80/20” approach to healthy eating because your commitment needs to be 100% in order to allow the lining of the intestine to heal.
2.) Make sure digestion is working: You can eat a perfect Paleo diet, but if you aren’t digesting food appropriately, it is not going to help you much. You are not just what you eat, but you are what you eat and are able to digest. Supporting digestion often involves addressing low stomach acid and ensuring healthy liver, gallbladder, and pancreas function.
3.) Discover and eliminate underlying food sensitivities: The best way to discover food sensitivities is to eliminate a suspected food for a period of time (I usually recommend at least 30 days) and then try to reintroduce it.
Often, transitioning to a regular Paleo diet will be enough to discover common underlying food sensitivities. However, if people are still experiencing issues on the Paleo diet, the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol can help to identify additional sensitivities to nightshade vegetables, egg, nuts, seeds, and all dairy (including the ghee and butter that is often included on the Paleo diet).
The GAPS diet is a strict elimination diet that can help to determine sensitivities to many different foods if used appropriately. In particularly challenging cases in which clients do not respond to dietary elimination techniques, mediated-release testing (MRT), a type of food sensitivity blood testing that is able to pinpoint which foods may be causing a subtle immune response in the body, may help.
4.) Find ways to reduce and eliminate stress: Finding methods to reduce and eliminate stress is a priority for healing a leaky gut. I tell my clients to find a little bit of time every day and spend it doing something that they enjoy doing for themselves. Prayer, meditation, yoga, moderate exercise, adequate sleep, regular massage, and acupuncture also help with stress relief.
5.) Consume gut healing foods and nutrients: If you have a leaky gut, I recommend drinking bone broth daily. Bone broth is a superfood that contains numerous minerals and amino acids that provide the building blocks for replenishing intestinal cells and help to calm inflammation in the digestive tract.
Other gut-healing nutrients include Vitamin A (especially high in organ meats), Vitamin U (found in sauerkraut), and glutamine (an amino acid).
6.) Balance the gut flora: To promote healthy gut flora, I recommend including appropriate amounts of fermented foods in your diet each day. At times, it may be appropriate to include a probiotic supplement, but I usually start by recommending a whole food approach first. For people that have severe gut dysbiosis that does not respond to other approaches, I believe that fecal transplants are worth investigating.
7.) Discover and eradicate gastrointestinal infections: Gastrointestinal infections sometimes result from an imbalance of gut bacteria. There are natural, holistic ways of eradicating some gastrointestinal infections, but I recommend working with a practitioner that has experience in this area.
8.) Consider the use of gut-irritating medications: Any prescription and over-the-counter medications should be evaluated for their potential to have a negative impact on the intestinal lining. Before stopping the use of any prescription medication though, you should first consult with the prescriber.
9.) Reduce exposure to environmental toxins: There are several steps you can take to reduce the toxins you are exposed to on a daily basis. A few ideas include avoiding second-hand cigarette smoke exposure (or quitting smoking if you are a smoker), choosing organic foods instead of conventional, replacing conventional cleaning products with homemade or “green” products, using glass food storage containers instead of plastic, buying BPA-free canned products, and using natural beauty and skin care products.
10.) Get enough sleep and avoid overtraining: The body views both lack of sleep and overtraining as a type of chronic stress. It’s important to ensure that you are getting enough sleep for your body, meaning that you should wake to feel rested and alert. Also, avoid overtraining and replace chronic endurance activities with weight lifting or high-intensity interval training, which has less of a negative impact on the intestinal lining.
The bottom line is that healing a leaky gut is not a simple process and it does require a multi-faceted approach. However, if you are committed and willing to put in the time and effort, you will be rewarded with improved health!