Paleo & Leaky Gut: How to Know, What to Do
Do You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome? How to Know and What to Do About It
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
June 13th, 2019
What do allergies, autoimmune disease, and brain fog all have in common? They can all be caused by 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. It’s job is to keep everything that’s supposed to be inside your gut in and all the unwanted substances out. But in 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 act as 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. This malfunction can have some serious implications considering your intestinal lining covers more than 4,000 square feet of surface area.2
Signs You Might 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. Some ways leaky gut may show up in the form of digestive issues include:3
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Frequent digestive disturbance: diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, etc.
- Gastric ulcers
But leaky gut syndrome can also show up in some sneaky, 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 combination of several factors can compromise intestinal lining. Some of the most common factors are:
- Genetic predisposition
- Chronic stress
- Toxin overload
- Imbalance in 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.
The Link Between Gluten and Leaky Gut Syndrome
Your diet plays a significant role in inflammation. A nutrient-poor, pro-inflammatory diet is one of the biggest culprits behind leaky gut syndrome. All foods are not created equal, and certain foods 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 or not 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 be pro-inflammatory include:
- Trans fats
- Refined oils
- Food additives, such as emulsifiers and dyes
Four Steps to Healing Leaky Gut Syndrome
When healing leaky gut syndrome, the main goal is to minimize inflammation and give your body the tools it needs to recover. Taking a multi-faceted, holistic approach to healing is best—while some factors (such as your diet) do have a bigger impact, other factors can also add up.
1. Minimize Stress:
Stress is double trouble when it comes to healing leaky gut. Stress not only releases hormones that are pro-inflammatory, but those same hormones essentially shut your gut down.
Those hormones that tell your body it’s in “fight or flight” mode send signals that are the opposite of “rest and digest.” Meaning, if you’re chronically stressed, your digestive system is constantly in survival mode. When your gut is in survival mode, your body is directing all of its resources at the perceived threat — not 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. Focus on Balancing Your Gut Microbiome:
Gut bacteria play 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 hormonal balance, and cause systemic inflammation.14, 15
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. The foods you eat are powerful. By focusing on nutrient-dense, non-inflammatory healing foods, you give your body the tools it needs to begin healing.
The Paleo Diet for Healing Leaky Gut Syndrome
The Paleo diet is the perfect prescription for healing the gut lining and reversing leaky gut syndrome because it addresses the two most important aspects of the process:
- Minimizing inflammation and irritants
- Flooding the body with the nutrients it needs to begin repairing tissues
The Paleo diet focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods that support gut health while eliminating foods that are inflammatory or known to negatively impact gut health.
The Paleo diet is based on what 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 our bodies did not evolve to be able to handle that kind of diet. Our modern-day, highly-processed diet is rather recent in human history, and it has taken a toll on our health.
The Paleo diet essentially groups foods into two categories—those that promote health and those that undermine health. While there is certainly some wiggle room when following the Paleo diet, if you are trying to heal the effects of leaky gut syndrome, it’s best to strictly avoid “no” foods until your gut health has improved.
Foods to Avoid with Leaky Gut Syndrome
Following the Paleo diet to heal leaky gut syndrome requires eliminating all foods that are known to irritate and inflame your gut. This means cutting out certain food groups that our body did not evolve to thrive on, such as:
- Refined and processed foods
- Grains and pseudo-grains (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, such as canola oil, safflower oil, or corn oil)
Refined sugars (high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown rice syrup)
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.)
What Foods Support Healthy Gut Lining?
The Paleo diet is excellent for healing your gut lining and supporting a healthy gut. This is because Paleo focuses on consuming nutrient-dense foods in their most natural form. Paleo- approved foods include:
- Vegetables of all kinds (corn doesn’t count as a veggie)
- All fruit
- Quality meat including organ meats (preferably grass-fed, and pasture-raised meats when possible)
- Fish and shellfish (preferably wild-caught)
- Nuts, nut butters, and seeds (peanuts are considered a legume)
- Healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, fatty cuts of meat/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 Isn’t Meant to Be a “Diet”
The word “diet” is often interpreted as a temporary restriction of foods in an attempt to lose weight or achieve some other goal. But when it comes to the Paleo diet, the word “diet” is intended to simply mean the types of foods you habitually eat. The Paleo diet is not meant to be a short term stint of self-deprivation; it’s designed to be a way of life.
This is important to understand if you want to heal your gut. Since your diet has a monumental impact on your gut health, healing is only the first step in restoring and enjoying good health. If you don’t maintain a healthy diet that supports a healthy gut over the long-term, you will likely end up back at square one and continue struggling with symptoms. It is vital to end the toxic cycle for good.
And that’s exactly what the Paleo Diet is designed to do. It is a set of diet principles based on extensive scientific and nutritional research to support optimal overall health. And it is designed to be flexible and sustainable so you can maintain your health for your entire life.
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 the leaks” or gaps in your intestinal walls by healing damaged cells and creating new tissue. Native Path’s Collagen Peptides are sourced from the highest quality animals and are always 100% pure grass-fed.
Since your gut bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of your intestinal lining, it is 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. Native Path’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 by the beneficial bacteria in your gut as a fuel source. 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.
In leaky gut syndrome, your ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients is impaired. Digestive enzymes help break down the starches, proteins, and fats you ingest, making them easier to absorb while reducing inflammation caused by improperly broken down particles. Aim for a full spectrum enzyme that contains:
Can The Paleo Diet Really Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome?
While leaky gut syndrome can be tricky to diagnose and understand, there is no denying that 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.
You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health, and the choices you make every day add up in a big way. If you are worried that you or someone you love may be suffering from leaky gut syndrome, it may be a good idea to work with an experienced healthcare professional for further guidance.
Here at NativePath, we are on a mission to help you discover the exact way of eating, thinking, and moving that is right for YOU. If you’re ready to take your health to the next level and truly thrive the way that nature intended, sign up for our free weekly newsletter. Our best and most valuable tips are delivered straight to your inbox each week. Just enter your name and email address below!