While “leaky gut” might not sound desirable, the description is accurate and refers to when the walls of the intestine become chronically permeable. Here’s what it means—and how you can heal your leaky gut if it is leaky.
What Is Leaky Gut?
The lining of your digestive tract is just one cell layer thick. These highly specialised cells—called enterocytes (gut cells)—form a barrier between you, your bloodstream, your immune system, and the outside world that comes in through your mouth in the form of food, drink, medication, bacteria, and toxins. It’s the barrier between your inside world and the harsh external environment. That’s why it’s so important that it is intact and strong.
These cells are bonded together with proteins called tight junctions; these form this protective barrier that ensures that everything you eat is properly processed by the enterocyte cells so that bacteria, toxins, larger proteins, or undigested food particles stay on the right side of your gut barrier / lining. If they do enter your bloodstream, your immune system that lines your gut launches an immune attack, causing inflammation and other reactions.
Things like poor diet, alcohol, overuse of antibiotics, bacterial infections and dysbiosis, chronic stress, inflammation, and autoimmune disorders can all cause gaps in this protective barrier.
When these proteins, or tight junctions, break down, you get a medical condition called “Leaky Gut.”
Symptoms Of Leaky Gut
There are many ill effects of leaky gut. As a result of your immune system being exposed to foods, bacteria, and chemicals it was never meant to, it can flip into a permanent state of “hypervigilance,” sending a constant barrage of inflammatory chemicals through your body.
These immune chemicals and the inflammation they cause can lead to symptoms as diverse as acne, eczema, food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, body pain, brain fog, low mood, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Leaky gut can even lead to health problems including autoimmune diseases like Eczema, Crohn’s, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and Rheumatoid arthritis.
How Is Leaky Gut Diagnosed?
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is common. It’s hard to know exactly how many people have it because few doctors test for it.
Practitioners and doctors usually diagnose leaky gut through a combination of specific specialty testing such as comprehensive stool cultures, leaky gut tests, and detailed assessment of your symptoms and medical history. If you are diagnosed with intestinal permeability, the good news is there are ways to heal a leaky gut.
Nine Ways To Heal Leaky Gut
Cut Toxic Food From Your Diet
Avoid the intake of foods and substances that have proven to be or are highly suspected of being a food allergen or chemical insult to your gut wall.
Gluten, dairy, sugar, processed foods, pesticide-treated foods, GMO crops, and alcohol are some of the most common foods that mount an assault on the sensitive cells lining your gut. If you want to heal leaky gut syndrome, I recommend cutting out these foods for at least three months and avoiding them in excess thereafter.
Follow our 14 Day Smart Cleanse diet for 14 days or even up to 3 months for best results with chronic leaky gut syndrome.
Cut Out Alcohol For 90 Days
Alcohol is a gut irritant and is one of the major causes of leaky gut syndrome.
If you drink too much on a daily basis you will have elevated permeability.2
Because alcohol causes an inflammatory response in your gut, it can lead to intestinal inflammation. And, in alcoholics, it can cause increased intestinal permeability, potentially letting toxins and other debris through the gut wall and into the bloodstream. Studies show the poisons are known to play a role in the development of liver disease.3
Heavy alcohol use encourages an overgrowth of harmful bacteria while reducing the population of helpful bacteria. This can lead to inflammation which further exacerbates leaky gut syndrome. A disruption in the balance of gut bacteria can also cause other unfavourable gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating and inconsistent bowel movements.
Due to the general bacterial-killing nature of antibiotics, it has been speculated that repetitive use of antibiotics deprives people of a rich gut bacterial environment. This leads to adverse health effects like leaky gut and a weakened gut microbiome.
An international team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Steno Diabetes Centre Copenhagen report that when three antibiotics were given to young healthy men for three days, it caused an almost complete eradication of gut bacteria. This was followed by a gradual recovery of most bacterial species.
Their findings also suggest that exposure to broad-spectrum antibiotics may dilute the diversity of the intestinal bacterial ecosystem. Antibiotics can be a blessing for preserving human health but should only be used based upon clear evidence for a bacterial cause of infection.
Weed, Seed And Feed With Smart Cleanse Detox Program
You cannot successfully detoxify and maintain long-term benefits of optimum gut function, gut flora balance, and optimum liver and kidney function without supporting your gut lining barrier first.
Weeding involves eliminating pathogenic microbiota from your gut so that you can re-inoculate with good microbiota, heal your gut lining, and allow your gut microbiome to thrive.
With Smart Cleanse Bentonite Drinking Clay and Smart Cleanse Colon Cleanse Formula, this stage supports the gastrointestinal system by providing fibre to aid elimination and herbs traditionally used for the elimination of intestinal parasites with Digestive Tonic.
Seeding heals your gut barrier, reversing leaky gut by strengthening tight junctions between cells and reducing inflammation which will normalise and optimise digestion.
This is achieved with Smart Cleanse Gut Lining Formula which contains food for enterocytes, healing leaky gut and also probiotics.
This stage also focuses on an alkalising diet, and whole food nutrients for normal acid/base metabolism and blood pH to support the body’s natural detoxification processes.
Once the gut is functioning well, liver and adrenal function is supported with nutrients to aid the body’s detoxification processes, aid vitality, and support liver cell health with Smart Cleanse Liver Support. The gut microbiome is also fed probiotics so that it too can thrive.
Cut Down On Caffeine
Caffeine is a strong gut irritant like alcohol.5 It stimulates the stress response so it is no good for resting and digestion, which can impact inflammation and malabsorption. It can also irritate your gut lining and dehydrate your cells.
Caffeine can also reduce the strength of your gut microbiome because of its suppression of your digestive system, which contributes to leaky gut.
Incorporate Plant-Based Foods Into Your Diet
A plant-based diet appears to be beneficial for your health by promoting the development of a more diverse and stable gut microbiome. This is because a plant-based diet is richer in fibres that are prebiotics – food for your gut microbiome.
Plants or vegetables also contain many ant-inflammatory compounds—reducing the ascension of leaky gut, reducing inflammation, and strengthening your gut microbiome.
Focus on gluten-free grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (bring on the avocado!). Plus, the prebiotics found in high-fibre foods like asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, dandelion greens and—my favourite—chia seeds are crucial to feeding the probiotic bacteria in the gut microbiome and keeping it healthy.
Chia seeds are high in fibre, both insoluble and soluble fibre. Soluble fibre acts as a prebiotic and works to feed the gut flora. This type of fibre ferments into short chain fatty acids with plenty of associated health benefits for your gut cells / gut lining. You can take chia seeds daily on arising in 200ml of water with warm water and lemon on the side.
Eat More Healthy Fats
N-butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, helps feed the cells that line your gut and helps them heal. Your gut bacteria can produce more n-butyrate if you feed them soluble fibres in fruits and vegetables.
You also can get n-butyrate in the form of Ghee, which is clarified butter. Another source of healthy fat is coconut oil, which contains medium-chain fatty acids that are good for the gut! Also, try MCT oil even in your organic coffee between cleanses.
Manage Your Stress Through Mind-Body Practices
Stress hormones attack and break down the tight junctions that hold the cells that line your digestive tract together. When you reduce stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine through rest and relaxation, eating mindfully, and meditation, these tight junctions can heal.
Take Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes can take the food we eat and help break it down into individual nutrients so our body can actually absorb and use the nutrients in the food we eat – vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Apart from helping us absorb more nutrients, digestive enzymes also ensure less gut lining irritation from better food breakdown. This decreases food related immune system reactions by preventing the larger food molecules from entering your bloodstream, cleaning up your gut lining and even your bloodstream by breaking down harmful proteins. This can also protect against pathogens made of proteins (protease enzymes can break them down).
We recommend taking a broad-spectrum enzyme prior to eating protein and fat-rich foods to support digestion and prevent irritation of the intestinal lining.
Glutamine is food for enterocytes and tight junctions. Your intestinal lining actually uses L-glutamine as fuel to create a strong surface for digestion and absorption. Supplementing with L-glutamine is the most effective treatment to heal the gut lining for those suffering from leaky gut. The best supplement for healing leaky gut is our Smart Cleanse Gut Lining Formula.
Beneficial Herbs And Vitamins For Leaky Gut
To repair your gut barrier, there are plenty of vitamins and supplements you can choose from.
Licorice root and Omega 3-heavy cod liver oil, which is high in Vitamins A and D too, have anti-inflammatory benefits to tame the inflammation in the gut barrier.
High-quality practitioner grade herbs such as marshmallow root (in Smart Cleanse Colon Cleanse Formula), aloe vera (also in Smart Cleanse Colon Cleanse Formula), slippery elm and cat’s claw can also help leaky gut (and other inflammatory bowel diseases) by soothing the gut lining.
Increase Your Collagen Consumption
You can think of collagen as a foundational building block, providing strength and structure for our connective tissues. This means it's essential for a healthy gut. In fact, marine-based collagen has been shown to be the most effective for gut health
Collagen contains the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline that are needed to repair and rebuild your gut lining. Regular consumption of collagen-containing foods like bone broth, gelatin, and collagen powders can be therapeutic additions to the diet that may help mend and prevent leaky gut.
Collagen peptides can help to strengthen the gut barrier, making it less permeable and more likely to retain nutrients from food. Eating foods that boost your body’s collagen production like eggs, citrus fruits, broccoli, sunflower seeds, and mushrooms can also help increase your body’s natural collagen production.
It can take up to 8-12 weeks to notice benefits as often our bodies heal from the inside out, but some of our customers report changes in 7-14 days. It all depends on your health history and lifestyle. My best recommendation is to listen to your body and allow it all the time it needs to heal. Let go of impatience. Everyone is unique.
Up Your Cardio
Studies show that cardiovascular exercise improves the transport of oxygen within the body and through the digestive tract. This helps to promote the presence, activity, and diversity of gut microbes—especially the ones that produce the gut-healing fatty acid n-butyrate.
To support improvements in both digestive and cardiovascular health, we recommend opting for a goal of at least 150 minutes per week of heart rate raising physical activity.
Get Some Sleep
Want to know what the research demonstrates as the ideal amount of sleep you should have each night for your body and brain? 8 ¼ hours each night for optimum health, to improve your body composition, and for repair and healing.
If you want better sleep, then also think about reducing or taking a break altogether from alcohol and caffeine. Both interrupt REM sleep, which is the state you need to be in to repair. That includes repairing leaky gut.
Sleep or lack thereof not only impacts our brain’s ability to process, but other mechanisms in our body related to immune function (80 percent of your immune cells are located in your gastrointestinal system), disease resistance, and heart health.
Even just one night of poor sleep can make you more irritable, increase carb cravings, and bring on brain fog. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night on a regular basis has even been associated with more adverse health effects, such as weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
Hope this helps!
Your Naturopath and Coach,
- Pagano, Dr J.O.A, Once Cause Many Ailments – Leaky Gut Syndrome What Is It and How May It Be Affecting Your Health, A.R.E. Press, 2008.