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Updated on July 19, 2022
Leaky Gut Syndrome: Signs, Symptoms, and the Best Diet for Feeling Better
What do allergies, autoimmune disease, and brain fog all have in common?
They can all be caused by the same cuprit: Leaky gut syndrome.
More and more research indicates that the gut truly is the gateway to health. If you’re not paying attention to the health of your gut, the consequences can go far beyond digestive issues. And thanks to our modern-day lifestyle and environment, the prevalence of leaky gut syndrome is reaching epidemic proportions.
Millions of people are suffering from the effects of leaky gut syndrome without even knowing it. Given that leaky gut syndrome can wreak havoc on your health in a number of unexpected ways, it’s important to understand what it is, what causes it, and most importantly—what you can do about it.
What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Also known as “increased intestinal permeability,” leaky gut syndrome is exactly what it sounds like…
When you ingest something, the lining in your digestive tract acts as the ultimate barrier. Its job is to keep everything that’s supposed to be inside your gut in while keeping all the unwanted substances out. But when you have leaky gut syndrome, your intestinal lining lets these unwanted substances “leak” out.
You see, your intestinal tract is lined with a thin layer of cells linked together by proteins known as “tight junctions” (1). These tight junctions act as the gateway for nutrients to pass from the intestines into the bloodstream. They are a filter, allowing certain substances to pass into the bloodstream and others to remain in the intestines to be excreted.
But when these tight junctions are compromised, the “gaps” that allow nutrients to pass through get bigger and bigger, and tiny particles never meant to enter your bloodstream start squeezing their way through. Your intestinal lining covers more than 4,000 square feet of surface area (seriously!), so as you can imagine, this malfunction can have some serious implications (2).
Signs You May Have Leaky Gut Syndrome
Since leaky gut syndrome originates in your gut, it’s no surprise that it can show up as a number of different digestive disorders.
For a detailed description of the symptoms, check out my explanation of it in the video below:
Some of the ways leaky gut may show up in the form of digestive issues include (3):
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Frequent digestive disturbance like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas
- Gastric ulcers
But leaky gut syndrome can also show up in less obvious ways. Some other issues known to co-occur with leaky gut syndrome include:
- Allergies (3, 4)
- Asthma (5)
- Chronic heart failure (6)
- Inflammatory skin conditions
- Obesity, weight gain, or difficulty losing weight (7)
- Mood issues (depression, anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, irritability) (8, 9)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (10)
- Thyroid problems
- Metabolic conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease (11)
- Autoimmune disorders (Type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s, psoriasis) (12)
Unfortunately, leaky gut syndrome is not always readily recognized or acknowledged by doctors. Because it can also manifest in a number of different ways, diagnosing leaky gut syndrome is not always easy.
What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Often, the reason you have trouble with your intestinal lining is a combination of several factors. Some of the most common factors include:
- Chronic stress
- Toxin overload
- Imbalanced gut bacteria
- Chronic infections
- Poor diet
The common thread between nearly all of these factors is that they cause low-level chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can have devastating effects on your health and is believed to be one of the root causes of nearly all chronic disease. Understanding that inflammation is one of the root causes of leaky gut syndrome is important if you want to reverse it.
How to Fix a Leaky Gut in 4 Steps
When determining how to fix a leaky gut, the main goal is to minimize inflammation and give your body the tools it needs to recover. A multi-faceted, holistic approach to healing is best. While some factors—like your diet—tend to have a greater impact, other factors can also add up to make a positive difference.
1. Minimize Stress
Stress is double-trouble for a leaky gut. Stress not only releases inflammatory hormones, but those same hormones essentially shut down your gut. The stress hormones that send your body into “fight or flight” mode send signals that are the total opposite of the “rest and digest” approach that your gut needs. This means that if you’re chronically stressed, your digestive system is frequently in survival mode. And when your gut is in survival mode, your body is directing all of its resources at the perceived threat, rather than at healing your gut.
2. Reduce Exposure to Toxins
Toxins are all around us. Toxins from food, water, and the environment can cause inflammation throughout your body and exacerbate leaky gut.
Some common substances that have been found to impact intestinal permeability include:
- Heavy metals
- Herbicides, such as glyphosate
3. Re-Balance Your Gut Microbiome
Gut bacteria plays an important role in both managing inflammation and maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining. Studies have found that an imbalance in the ratios and types of microorganisms that reside in your gut can break down your gut lining, dysregulate hormones, and cause systemic inflammation (14, 15).
One way to rebalance your gut microbiome is by taking a probiotic daily. (More on this in the section about supplements).
4. Clean Up Your Diet
Since leaky gut is a malfunction of your gut lining, it only makes sense that changing your diet is one of the most effective strategies for healing. By focusing on nutrient-dense, non-inflammatory healing foods, you give your body the tools it needs to begin healing.
What Foods Cause Leaky Gut? Does Gluten Play A Part?
Your diet plays a significant role in inflammation. A nutrient-poor, pro-inflammatory diet is one of the biggest culprits behind leaky gut syndrome. Not all foods are created equal, and some have an inflammatory effect on the body. When it comes to inflammatory foods, one of the biggest offenders is gluten.
Gluten is a family of proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. It’s responsible for that sticky “glue-like” consistency when you add water to flour.
While celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, many people have gluten sensitivity. But regardless of whether you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, gluten is a pro-inflammatory food and has negative effects on your digestive tract. Studies have found that gluten contributes to gut irritation, increases intestinal permeability, and promotes atrophy of intestinal villi (13).
Other foods that have been shown to cause inflammation include:
- Refined and processed foods
- Grains and pseudograins (this includes cereal grains like wheat, rye, corn, and barley as well as pseudo grains like quinoa and buckwheat)
- Legumes (although legumes with edible pods are okay)
- Refined oils (vegetable oils like canola oil, safflower oil, or corn oil)
- Refined sugars (high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown rice syrup)
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.)
- Food additives (like emulsifiers and dyes)
- Trans fats
What Foods Support Healthy Gut Lining?
The Paleo diet is an amazing prescription for healing the gut lining and reversing leaky gut syndrome. This is because it minimizes inflammation and irritants, while flooding the body with the nutrients it needs to begin repairing tissue.
Paleo- approved foods include the following:
- Vegetables of all kinds (corn doesn’t count as a vegetable)
- Fruit of all kinds
- Quality meat including organ meats (preferably grass-fed and pasture-raised meats when possible)
- Fish and shellfish (preferably wild-caught)
- Eggs (preferably organic and pasture-raised)
- Nuts, nut butters, and seeds (peanuts are considered a legume)
- Healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, fatty cuts of meat and fish, avocados)
- Probiotic and fermented foods (kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, coconut milk yogurt)
- Herbs and spices
- Natural sweeteners, such as honey or blackstrap molasses (consume in moderation to minimize sugar intake)
The Paleo diet is similar to how our Paleolithic ancestors ate—which is why it’s also called “the Caveman Diet.” The theory is that cavemen weren’t chowing down on Twinkies and pizza, so we shouldn’t be either. Our modern-day, highly-processed diet has become the root cause of numerous health issues including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
5 Supplements That Support Healing Leaky Gut
While diet is one of the most influential components in healing leaky gut syndrome, supplements can be an excellent way to give your body an extra dose of nutrients to speed up healing. The best supplements for healing leaky gut include:
Collagen is rich in amino acids that work to essentially “seal and heal” your intestinal lining by healing damaged cells and creating new tissue. NativePath Collagen Peptides are sourced from pasture-raised cattle and are always 100% pure grass-fed.
Since your gut bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of your intestinal lining, it’s nearly impossible to heal leaky gut without balancing your gut flora. Taking a high-quality probiotic helps introduce beneficial bacteria and crowd out the “bad” bacteria. NativePath’s Probiotic Blend is specifically designed to support digestive and immune health.
It doesn’t do you any good to flood your gut with healthy bacteria if they aren’t able to survive once they get there. Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fiber used as a fuel source by the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics work together with probiotics to maintain diverse and thriving gut flora. There are prebiotic supplements available on the market, but you can also get plenty of prebiotics through a healthy diet.
Some good sources of prebiotics include:
- Underripe bananas
- Dandelion greens
- Raw or cooked onions
- Jicama root
Glutamine is an essential amino acid that your cells use as fuel. Furthermore, it helps repair the soft tissues in your intestinal tract. Glutamine also helps reduce inflammation and can play a particularly important role in restoring the integrity of your gut in leaky gut syndrome.
One scoop of grass-fed collagen contains nearly 1,050 milligrams of glutamine.
5. Digestive Enzymes
In leaky gut syndrome, your ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients is impaired. Digestive enzymes mitigate this by helping to break down the starches, proteins, and fats you ingest. This makes food easier to absorb and reduces inflammation caused by improperly broken down particles.
Aim for a full spectrum enzyme that contains:
The Bottom Line
Leaky gut occurs when toxic substances leak out of your gut and into your bloodstream. This results in digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and other digestive disorders. While leaky gut syndrome can be tricky to diagnose, your diet is a powerful tool in combating and reversing its effects.
The Paleo diet is backed by extensive research and countless personal testimonials of healing not only leaky gut syndrome but many other health concerns. In addition to a whole food diet, supplements are important too. Reach for grass-fed collagen powder and a probiotic to get your gut on the right track.
If you or someone you know is suffering from leaky gut syndrome, seek out an experienced healthcare professional for further guidance.
As a doctor of Physical Therapy, Senior Wellness Expert, and co-founder of NativePath, Dr. Walding has helped millions of people improve their quality of life from the inside out—by speaking, writing, and educating others on how to live life a little more #OnThePath.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.