“All Disease Begins In The Gut” -Hippocrates
The ancient Greek physician certainly wasn’t wrong. In fact, more and more studies are finding that gut issues are the root cause of autoimmune and other diseases, the biggest culprit being leaky gut.
If you experience excessive fatigue, bloating, joint pains, skin problems, and have strong cravings for sugar and carbs, chances are you have a leaky gut, especially when you suddenly become sensitive to certain foods.
What Is Leaky Gut?
Imagine your gut is a house and your gut lining acts as a “gatekeeper,” with tight junctions in place to prevent unnecessary or potentially harmful particles from entering your bloodstream. When leaky gut occurs, it’s as if the gatekeeper skipped town and left the gate open for anything to pass through.
When the tight junctions in your gut lining break down and become more permeable, random particles can enter your bloodstream. Since these substances aren’t meant to leave your digestive tract, your body will set off “alarm bells” to tell your immune system that foreign invaders have entered your bloodstream— much like how a house alarm would call the police if someone broke into your house.
To get these particles out of your body, your immune system reacts aggressively and attacks these particles by eliciting an immune response. While this is intended to protect you, each time an immune response is triggered, it causes inflammation. This is a problem because chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
In a nutshell, when the tight junctions of your gut (intestinal) lining separate and create “holes” that allow food particles and toxins to pass easily through, that forms a leaky gut.
Those food particles and toxins then pass into your bloodstream which can wreak total havoc on your body causing food intolerances, sugar cravings, weight gain, diarrhea, constipation, hormonal imbalances, and even autoimmune disease.
How To Figure Out if You Have Leaky Gut
The easiest way to check if you have leaky gut is to pay attention to your body and focus on how you feel, keeping an eye out for leaky gut syndrome symptoms. When in doubt, a leaky gut test will help address it quickly.
Leaky Gut Syndrome Symptoms
As a condition that has a thousand and one symptoms, determining whether or not you have leaky gut can be tricky. However, there are a few telling signs of a leaky gut which include:
- Developing new food sensitivities
- Inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, or eczema
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormone imbalances such as low thyroid
- Mood disorders such as depression
Take A Leaky Gut Test
Still not 100% sure if your symptoms are caused by leaky gut? You may want to take a leaky gut test. At present, one of the most effective ways to test for leaky gut is by doing a zonulin test.
Zonulin is a type of protein that regulates the size of the openings in your intestinal wall. Under normal circumstances, we require small openings in our gut lining for nutrient transport. However, high levels of zonulin can enlarge these openings, which leads to a leaky gut. A zonulin test will be able to detect whether or not you have elevated zonulin levels.
Zonulin test can be done by using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test (ELISA) performed by a professional healthcare worker. More information on ELISA tests can be found here.
In addition, taking a food sensitivity or allergy test can also be helpful for determining whether or not you have leaky gut, as food sensitivities and allergies can develop from increased intestinal permeability.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Leaky Gut
Say you’ve got yourself a test and you’ve addressed that you have leaky gut. Good! You know what the problems are. You also know it’s not uncommon. And while it might be tempting to ignore it for now and fix it later, you should not take leaky gut lightly. Here’s why.
As mentioned above, symptoms of leaky gut can range from digestive discomfort and food sensitivities to full blown autoimmune disease. In fact, leaky gut has been linked to celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis (MS), autism, cancer… and the list goes on.
There are a couple of reasons that leaky gut is associated with chronic illness.
Reason #1: Approximately 70% of your immune system cells are found in your gut.
Reason #2: The chronic inflammation caused by leaky gut is what can lead to inflammatory disease.
As you can see, leaky gut isn’t a condition to ignore or take lightly. The good news is that leaky gut can be healed, and we will tell you how.
But in order to heal leaky gut, you need to be aware of what causes it first so that you can not only heal it but also prevent your gut from leaking ever again.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Today’s Western diet is full of pro-inflammatory foods that when frequently consumed can damage the cells in your gut tissue, called epithelial tissue, and promote intestinal permeability. These foods include:
- Conventional dairy
- Wheat and gluten
- Highly processed vegetable oils
- Refined Sugar
- Additives and preservatives found in processed foods
What To Do: Be aware that these foods are not good for your gut and replace them with healthier alternatives such as gluten-free grains, coconut oil, and nut or seed milk. By doing that, you’ll begin to naturally reduce the inflammation in your Gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), which may help alleviate symptoms of leaky gut. We’ll get into more details shortly.
Food isn’t the only source of inflammation in our lifestyles. A constant high level of stress can weaken your immune system,, and a weakened immune system cannot do a good job of fighting off foreign invaders like bad bacteria and viruses, which can lead to inflammation and leaky gut.
What To Do: This one is obvious – reduce stress. In order to do that, we recommend the following:
- Get more sleep
- Add in some daily outdoor walks, which give you the opportunity to absorb vitamin D straight from the sun
- Do some activities that help you relax, such as yoga, swimming, and meditation
- Schedule some fun into your week
- Hang out with positive, inspiring, and uplifting people
A Lack of Beneficial Gut Bacteria
An imbalance of good bacteria and bad bacteria in your gut can cause leaky gut. The most common reasons for this imbalance are overuse of prescription antibiotic drugs and a lack of probiotics. Probiotics, in particular, are essential to preventing leaky gut, as they’ve been shown to help strengthen the gut barrier.
What To Do: Rebalance gut bacteria with probiotics by adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet. We bet that you already have some of the foods in your pantry. Go take a look and start adding them to your diet.
- Apple cider vinegar
- Raw cheese
- Fermented vegetables like kimchi, Sauerkraut, and salted gherkin pickles
- Brine-cured olives
- Japanese foods like miso, kombucha, and natto
Believe it or not, we get exposed to heavy metals, household chemicals, environmental pollutants, additives, and preservatives every year. Those toxins are more common in our environment than ever before.
When those toxins enter your body, your liver works extra hard to safely eliminate them. However, if you’re constantly being exposed to these toxins, your liver can become overburdened, and your body’s natural ability to detoxify slows down.
A sluggish digestive system can allow toxins to linger in your gut, which can contribute to damaging your gut lining, and therefore causing leaky gut.
What To Do: While you can’t really control the amount of toxins you’re exposed to, you can try to eliminate toxins as much as possible. That brings us to the simple steps to heal leaky gut.
4 Steps To Heal Leaky Gut
Now that you’ve learned about leaky gut from its syndrome to its cause and you’ve got a better idea of what to do and what not to do, we’d like to sum up the solution with 4 steps to keep you on track. In addition, we even created an actionable 5-day leaky gut diet plan using gut healing foods to make your gut healing process easy to start.
Step #1: Remove inflammatory foods and eliminate toxins that damage the gut
Avoid refined sugar, grains, processed foods, dairy, gluten and GMO foods. Other toxic exposures to eliminate include pesticides, NSAIDS, and antibiotics. We recommend that you consult with your physician if he or she has prescribed these for you.
Step #2: Reduce chronic stress
Even if you’ve been extra conscious about what you put in your mouth, you will not heal your gut if you are experiencing chronic stress. Often times, when we talk about stress, it’s emotional. It could come from a crappy job or an unpleasant relationship.
We’ve recommended a few things to help reduce chronic stress like getting more sleep, taking walks under the sun, practicing yoga, and meditating. What’s going to help more is to take a step back and reflect how everything is working out in your life. Pay attention and identify what constantly makes you stress out and decide if you need a change.
Step #3: Heal leaky gut with specific supplements
While we firmly believe that “food is medicine,” taking specific supplements in addition to a leaky gut diet may help accelerate the gut healing and take your health to the next level.
There are many supplements you can take. For any program that’s designed to heal a leaky gut, L-glutamine is crucial.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in your body and is synthesized in your muscles. While it contributes to your overall health in countless ways, L-glutamine has been shown to play an especially crucial role in intestinal repair.
- It keeps your gut lining strong. L-glutamine nourishes your epithelial cells, which are located in both your small and large intestine. This helps strengthen your gut lining and prevent it from breaking down and becoming permeable.
- It rebuilds and repairs your gut lining. In cases where the leaky gut is already present, L-glutamine has been shown to help counteract intestinal damage by rebuilding and repairing the gut lining and protecting intestinal mucosa. The intestinal mucosa has been described as the body’s “second skin”, and plays a critical role in preventing pathogens from entering your gut barrier.
You can find L-glutamine supplements in both capsule and powdered form. Glutamine powder is an essential amino acid supplement that is anti-inflammatory and necessary for the growth and repair of your intestinal lining. It’s recommended to take 2-5 grams twice per day.
Additionally, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and plant-derived mineral supplements can also contribute to effective gut healing.
Since certain foods are a rich source of L-glutamine and certain foods contains a high level of probiotics, we believe that the best way to consume these important items is to incorporate them into your diet. Now, the question is, specifically what foods can help heal leaky gut?
Step #4: Start to Heal Leaky Gut with These Healing
We’ve covered a few probiotic-rich foods before. On top of that, there are some foods that are rich in L-glutamine, amino acids, minerals which are essential to gut healing. We’ve done an in-depth study on leaky gut foods and identified what to eat and avoid in order to heal leaky gut and explained why in great detail in this study. In a nutshell, the best foods to eat are:
- Bone Broth – made with 100% grass-fed organic beef bones, organic vegetables, and herbs
- Steamed Vegetables – non-starchy vegetables for easy digest
- Fermented Vegetables – sauerkraut, kimchi, gherkin pickles
- Raw cultured dairy – yogurt, coconut milk kefir
- Grass-fed meats – beef, chicken, turkey and bison
- Healthy fats – avocado, coconut oil, salmon, tuna, egg yolk
For animal products, we recommend that you choose organic, grass-fed, wild and pasture raised animal products whenever possible. Organic, free range animal products will contain fewer hormones and antibiotics than farmed animals. Farmed animals have been shown to contain higher levels of hormones and antibiotics, which act as toxins that may contribute to damaging the gut lining.
By gradually reducing the amount of inflammatory foods in your diet, managing stress, and eating gut supportive nutrients each and every day, your gut health will quickly improve so you can live a life feeling your absolute best.
This article is updated on April 6, 2017 by Sharon Chen, creator of DelishPlan. The original article is written by Delfina Bonilla-Lopez, spirited nutrition + movement coach and alternative health blogger behind Code to Wellness.