Last week we asked some of our favorite gut-health experts for their advice on ‘how to heal leaky gut.’ In case you missed it, here’s what they said.
We wanted to take it a step further and actually dive into some of the best leaky gut supplements and regimens they suggested. This will be a comprehensive round-up of the best supplements for healing a leaky gut.
Before getting into the details, let’s review what leaky gut is to remind us why working towards healing it is so important.
Leaky gut syndrome is where your intestinal lining partially separates and create microscopic holes that allow food particles and toxins to travel outside your digestive system. Those foreign substances can then pass into your bloodstream, which can wreak havoc on your body, possibly causing food intolerances, sugar cravings, weight gain, diarrhea, constipation, hormonal imbalances and even autoimmune diseases.
To sum it all up, if you don’t take care of your gut, it may lead to a lot of discomfort, so it’s 100% worth taking the threat of leaky gut seriously.
The first step towards healing a leaky gut, as addressed by so many of our gut-health experts last week, is to take a look at what you’re eating. Eliminate these foods and you will begin to reduce inflammation:
- Commercial dairy
- Processed foods
- Refined sugar
- Refined oils
- Unsoaked & unsprouted nuts, seeds, and legumes
The next step you may wish to consider is to make use of some of the complementary strategies listed here:
1. Stomach Acid Supplements
Low stomach acid can result in undigested food and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. If left alone for a long period of time, it can lead to leaky gut and a lot of the uncomfortable symptoms that go with it, like bloating, acid reflux, seasonal allergies and many other GI-related distresses.
So, how can you address this issue? You actually need to increase and normalize your stomach acid (HCl), not decrease it with antacids, which may further aggravate the situation (and is unfortunately the most common solution suggested). Read more here if you want to dig deeper.
Betaine HCl Supplements
These are a great way to increase and normalize stomach acid production, aid digestion, and improve nutrient absorption.
To determine how much you should be taking, consult with a practitioner and take The Baking Soda Stomach Acid Test.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Shots
ACV naturally helps to boost Stomach Acid. Mix 1-2 TBS ACV in ¼ C of water and drink 5-10 minutes before your meal to boost stomach acid production. A little Braggs ACV will do just fine here.
Note: Don’t take HCl or ACV shots for the purpose of boosting stomach acid production if you’re taking any kind of pharmaceutical or over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, (ibuprofen, prednisone, aspirin, etc). They’re known to contribute to the leaky gut issue, and combining them with HCl or ACV can actually make the situation worse by putting you at risk of an ulcer.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found all over your body including on your skin and throughout your digestive system. They’re essential to maintaining good digestive health (especially if you’re struggling from major leaky gut-related GI issues) because they crowd out bad bacteria and recolonize the gut with good bacteria. Balance restored!
Inside our bodies, probiotics line the digestive tract and support nutrient absorption and immune function. Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract? With that in mind, you can see why your gut health can have such a major influence on your overall health.
The benefits of different types of probiotics, or ‘probiotic strains,’ will vary from person to person. This is why you may have read around the blogosphere that the best way to find the one that works best for you is through trial and error (start with small doses and then increase from there). Consuming a wide range via multi-strain probiotics and fermented foods is our favorite approach.
When you go to look at the a supplement label, you’ll find the genus, species, strains, and CFUs (colony forming units). Taking a multi-strain probiotic is going to be really important; look for for a supplement that contains at least 10 different strains.
Here are some really beneficial ones that you’ll run across:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus coagulans
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Not all probiotic supplements and suppliers are created equal, so when you’re shopping around, be sure to take these factors into consideration:
- Temperature – Probiotics are sensitive to heat (which can kill them) and need to be stored in a cool facility. Check that your supplier does this.
- Specificity – Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus brevis, and Saccharomyces boulardii are particularly beneficial for good bacteria recolonization, surviving the trip down the GI tract, and overall gut health. Make sure they’re included in the one you purchase.
- CFUs – Different issues require different amounts of CFUs. If you’re struggling with constipation, you’ll want to around 25 billion. If your digestive issues are even more severe, you’ll something like 100-200 billion. Be sure to consult with a practitioner on this one.
- Quality – The topic of gut health has exploded in the medical community which means more companies are making them now than ever before. Truth be told, most are junk, which means you have to look for reputable brands. Some good recapped are Prescript Assist, Garden of Life, Living Stream Liquid Probiotics, MegaSporeBiotics, and Ortho Molecular Ortho Biotics.
Take a full strain probiotic with at least 10 different probiotic strains. The more the merrier. We suggest taking it on an empty stomach so the bacteria can colonize the lining of your intestines. The easiest way to do this is to take it in the morning upon waking and in the evening just before bed.
To determine how much you should be taking, consult with a practitioner.
These are all excellent sources of food-based probiotics. Eat more of them!
- Fermented vegetables
If you want help digesting a meal right away, take them with your food. It’s a great way to aid digestion in the moment, but a poor way to get the bacteria to colonize your gut (which is really important for longer-term health).
If you’re not already doing this, a good rule of thumb is to start by adding in 1 Tbsp of your preferred fermented food. We suggest starting with raw, grass-fed milk kefir if you can handle dairy. Otherwise, a coconut milk based kefir is the way to go, because it’s very easy for the body to digest. Kefir can be found at local health food stores and farmers markets, but you can easily make it yourself as well.
The best tactic would be to use probiotic supplements and add fermented foods to your diet. This is a simple and powerful strategy that can do a great deal to help healing leaky gut.
Note: If you’re simultaneously dealing with Candida, you don’t want to eat anything fermented. No kefirs, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, yogurts, kvasses, or kombuchas. Part of the issue with candida is an excess fermentation in your intestines. In this situation, this would actually add fuel to the fire, at least in the very beginning of your healing process. Instead, Saccharomyces boulardii (sac b), a yeast-eating strain of probiotic, will be your best friend.
3. Plant-Derived Mineral Supplements
The one plant-derived supplement for leaky gut we know of is called Restore.
It’s not a probiotic and it’s not a prebiotic, so what’s in it? Lignite extract.
Never heard of it? I wouldn’t be surprised, as it’s no small feat to find easy-to-understand information about it. Here’s the most important thing for you to know:
“Lignite comes from decomposed prehistoric matter. As plants decompose, they first form peat, which then turns into humate, then lignite, then leonardite, and finally into coal. All of these are rich in carbon.”
And that, my friends, is the very reason why it’s able to filter out toxins attempting to enter the gut which can contribute to separation between the tight junctions of your intestinal lining. The carbon will bind those toxins, helping them to harmlessly pass through your system. If that’s not happening, no matter how great your probiotic supplement might be, it makes it really hard for good bacteria to recolonize and thrive.
Because of its ability to filter out those toxins, Restore can positively change your gut’s internal ecosystem, making it much easier for all of those strains of good bacteria (that you’re working so hard to get into your system) flourish. This then encourages your body to further support itself by producing its own healthy bacteria. It’s also specifically made for those experiencing glyphosate and gluten toxicity.
One of the biggest reasons we like this one so much is that it doesn’t come with intense die-off symptoms. Also, it doesn’t cause kidney toxicity at high doses.
Take 1 tsp three times a day 30 minutes before meals. Work your way up to 2 Tbsp, three times daily to support healing. Like most of the suggestions here, the process isn’t a quick fix, but if you stick with it for about 2-3 months, it can work wonders!
L-Glutamine is an amino acid necessary for the growth and repair of the gut’s mucosal lining. It’s excellent for healing leaky gut because it helps to rebuild the intestinal junctions that have become weak, loose, and permeable.
You can find it in food-based form (green beans, parsley, cabbage, chicken, eggs, parsley, beetroot) or take it as a powder or capsule supplement. This is often easier for those trying to heal a leaky gut since some of the above foods may be off limits. If your practitioner instructs you to take a higher dose of L-Glutamine, be sure to purchase the powder form, as it’s impossible to do with capsules.
Start with 2.5 to 5 grams two times per day. If you’re taking the powder form, which we recommend, mix it into a small glass of water and take in the morning and evening with food. The objective is to slowly work your way up to 10 grams, 20 grams, and finally 40 grams per day, which according to Jordan & Steve (over at SCD Lifestyle) is the “sweet spot” for incredible results.
Note: When we say slowly we mean that working your way up to 40 grams should take at least 28 days. Check out this step-by-step, 14-day implementation plan here.
5. Bone Broth
Bone broth is of course our favorite gut-healing supplement, and, for good reason.
The most important thing you need to take into consideration when using bone broth to help heal leaky gut, is animal provenance. The base of your broth absolutely must come from 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, or you will not receive the digestive and immune boosting benefits it can provide. We don’t mess around here at Kettle & Fire – we go to great lengths to make sure that’s exactly what you’re getting in every last drop of our bone broth.
Bone broth is filled to the brim with collagen, the most abundant protein found in the human body. You’ll find it in all connective tissues (bones, ligaments, tendons, skin…). It’s made up of some intensely powerful gut-health (as well as, skin, hair, and metabolism) reinforcing amino acids: proline, arginine, glutamine, and glycine.
These four amino acids are responsible for:
- Restoring the integrity of your intestinal wall resealing the gut-lining
- Enhancing your immune system
- Supporting the making of bile acid (important for the digestion of fat)
- Stimulating stomach acid production (which we talked about in the section on HCL)
- Generating glutathione which aids in the process of liver detoxification (your liver is generally overtaxed with a leaky gut since your intestinal lining can’t presently handle the situation)
- Boosting metabolism
- Assisting in restoring proper kidney function + wound repair
- Curbing sugar cravings (as we said above, it’s important to avoid refined sugar during this process)
This is a short list of all of the benefits these four amino acids produce. The most important take-away here is that all of the above provide the building blocks for healing a leaky gut.
Drink between 1-5 8 oz mugs of bone broth per day for optimal healing.
6. Vitamin D
Now there are a lot of good things vitamin D does for your body, but in the case of a leaky gut, it activates killer T-cells for defense against infections and bacteria, and reduces chronic inflammation.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a compromised mucosal barrier. Simply put, as vitamin D levels decrease, gut-health issues increase, particularly issues of elasticity.
Vitamin D is a key player in holding the tight junctions of your intestinal lining together so foreign material can’t leak through.
“The tight junctions in your small intestine contain an adhesion junction around them that helps regulate what gets in and what stays out. Dr. Tom O’Bryan describes it like a ‘rubber band’ wrapped around the tight junctions that can get too stretched out and lose its elasticity (ability to snap back in place).” – SCD Lifestyle
Because of this, and its role in regulating T cells (which help to calm the immune system), Vitamin D also combats gut inflammation.
Spend 15-30 minutes out in the sun without sunscreen every day to generate vitamin D naturally. This is the amount of time it takes to produce approximately 10,000IU of vitamin D. No vitamin D supplement can replace what your body creates on its own when exposed to the sun. More on that here. If you don’t currently spend a lot of time in the sun or you’re very fair-skinned, gradually work your way up to 15, then 30 minutes (we suggest increments of 5 minutes). Use a non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen to prevent burning every day once you’ve reached your threshold of outdoor sun-time.
Vitamin D Supplements
A good general rule is to aim for 5,000-8,000 IU of vitamin D per day. However, the real emphasis should be on getting your 25(OH)D (levels of vitamin D found in blood serum) up to 50-70 ng/ml for optimal health (this is where the real big benefits seem to kick in according to vitamin D research). To figure out where you currently stand, you’d have to run some labs.
As with any supplement, quality matters. Vitamin D3 supplements from brands like Premier Research Labs and Xymogen can be trusted for their quality on this one.
7. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes assist your body in breaking down foods like proteins, complex sugars and starches so that our bodies can better absorb the finer nutrients within them: amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. All three of these put an extra tax on your body when you’re dealing with leaky gut so it’s essential to seek outside digestive help with digestive enzymes. Absorption of the aforementioned nutrients will help heal leaky gut and immediately reduce intestinal inflammation.
Additionally, they work to restore the mucosal lining by removing toxins and destructive bacteria.
There are actually 3 types of digestive enzymes:
- Fruit-based (papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapple)
- Animal-based (pancreatin)
- Plant-based (plants, microbes, and fungi)
Of the three, plant-based digestive enzymes tend to be the gold standard because they can survive the trip down the GI tract the best and, once down the hatch, they start their work the quickest.
Look for a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme containing:
- Protease (breaks down protein)
- Lipase (breaks down fat)
- Amylase (breaks down starch)
- Cellulase (breaks down fiber)
Take them just before meals. As with probiotics, supplementation can be really individualistic. Start with the recommended label dose. If you have pretty serious digestive issues, you’ll likely need to increase the dosage. Do so gradually. Be sure to consult with your practitioner about this one. Some favorites are Enzymatica Digest Gold, Garden of Life Ω-zyme, Ortho Molecular’s Digestzyme V or Orthodigestzyme, and Innate’s Digestive Enzymes Clinical Strength.
Poor sleep habits stress out your body because they disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. Melatonin, a hormone essential to a healthy circadian rhythm, which is produced in the gut (as well as, the brain), is also an important player in gut-health. In this study, sleep deprived (read melatonin-deficient) mice were more likely to develop gut issues and liver damage.
Melatonin deficiencies often go hand-in-hand with elevated cortisol, i.e. “the stress” hormone. Cortisol is supposed to highest during the day and lowest in the evening to allow for optimal sleep. However, when the body is under chronic stress from sleep deprivation, financial issues, career angst, relationship strife, over-exercising, or under eating (all of which place significant stress on your body), it can completely swing out of whack. An easy way to help bring Cortisol back into balance is to cut caffeine out of your diet, or at least stop drinking it after 12:00pm so that it doesn’t further disrupt sleep.
That state of constant stress can also create a chronic inflammatory response, which has a negative effect on gut-health (it weakens the gut-lining and creates an imbalance in microbial diversity).
Create a Better Sleep Environment
You probably need to sleep more, but you also probably need to sleep better. In order to do that, you’ve must create an environment that facilitates better sleep. Pick up some ‘blackout’ curtains and install them in your bedroom so that no light pollution enters your sleep space when the sun goes down. If you have serious sleep issues, you’ll do yourself a lot of good by turning off your phone/computer/TV once the sun goes down (artificial light can wreck your sleep). If you can’t, at least pick up a pair of blue-light blocking glasses to use while you’re doing those things at night. Replace TV watching with a down-regulating, before-bed activity like Restorative Yoga (we love Legs on the Wall) or meditation.
If you’re getting a stress response during sleep and you’re waking up between 1-4am (heart pounding, mind racing), you can bet that’s Cortisol’s to blame. Phosphatidylserine helps to bring that baby down so that it can be at its highest in the morning, when it’s supposed to be. Take about 100 mg, 3 times a day.
If you’re not sleeping because you’re not tired and you have trouble falling asleep, it’s probably Melatonin. 1-3 mg under the tongue, temporarily, for a couple of weeks will help a lot.
Be sure to consult your practitioner about specific doses for both Phosphatidylserine and Melatonin.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is known for inducing relaxation. Rub 1-2 drops into your palms, bring your hands up to your nose and inhale deeply 5 times. This is a great one to do every evening.
9. Oil of Oregano
Bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic overgrowths and infections are serious issues that can lead to leaky gut. All of them can lead to imbalanced gut flora, acid reflux, and of course, leaky gut.
Enter oil of oregano, which is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic. We can thank carvacrol, the active ingredient in oregano, for this power-packed punch.
Look for an oil with 80% carvacrol content, or greater. Pick up some empty vegetable or gelatin capsules and fill with 10-15 drops. Take that 2-3 times a day for gut-healing action. We like Doterra’s Oregano Oil and Greenfield Fitness System’s Wild Mediterranean Oil of Oregano.
Note: Be careful! Oil of oregano is incredibly strong and can burn. Don’t get it on you.
Wheatgrass is the name for the leafy component of the wheat plant, harvested just after it sprouts. Like many other sprouts, it boasts various benefits, but in the case of leaky gut (and general gut-health maintenance), here’s why we love it:
- Digestive enzymes
Chlorophyll is the antioxidant that gives wheatgrass is bright green color. It’s a powerful liver detoxifier, which, as you read in the bone broth section, is an essential piece of healing a leaky gut (since your liver will be working overtime to filter out all the toxins that have leaked back into the bloodstream).
Wheatgrass is also naturally antibacterial, and is a good source of plant-based digestive enzymes, helping to break down food and clear out the bacterial overgrowth. All of these properties combined greatly improve digestion, which helps to heal the gut lining.
It is technically gluten-free, but if you are highly sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, bear in mind that there is a 10% chance of gluten cross contamination. You wouldn’t want to risk it and instead you could easily substitute with chlorella, which has many of the same benefits. Otherwise, 90% of the time it is safe to consume for those with a low-to-moderate gluten sensitivity. Tons more great info here on the topic if you’re interested.
Juice it Yourself
If you have access to a juicer, juice it fresh everyday. Take a 2-4 oz shot of wheatgrass juice per day 30 min before meals. You must take this on an empty stomach!
If you don’t have access to a juicer, use a quality supplement instead. We like Amazing Grass’s Organic Wheat Grass which is widely available at your local health food stores. Mix your supplement into water and take a 2-4 oz shot of wheatgrass juice per day 30 min before meals.
Note: We’re not kidding when we say it’s a powerful detoxifier. If there’s serious liver-clearing to be done, and with leaky gut there usually is, you may feel a bit cautious after the first few shots because of how quickly it hits the liver and forces it to release bile. The good news is, the better your tolerance of wheat grass, the bigger the liver-detoxifying and gut healing benefits!
Working leaky gut supplements into your diet
As you can see, if you’re struggling with leaky gut, there is a whole lot you can do to support your healing process.
We recommend picking 2 leaky gut supplements from the list. Work them into your leaky-gut healing protocol for the next 2-4 weeks. Return here, let us know about any improvements you’ve experienced, and add another clean gut supplement to your regimen. I know I sound like a broken record by now, but please, be sure to run everything by your health practitioner as you take the reigns of your healing process and reclaim your gut-health.
Delfina is the spirited health coach, recipe developer and alternative health blogger behind Code to Wellness. She believes that REAL FOOD should taste good + do good for the body so that overcoming the struggle with weight, sugar cravings, and hormone imbalance is successful and sustainable. Her recipes are fun, easy, delicious and flippin’ awesome! When she’s not in “kitchen-experimenter” or “food-photographer” mode, she enjoys teaching Yoga Tune Up®, singing at the top of her lungs with the windows rolled down, and going barefoot. You can drop her a line on Facebook and get lots of #eatmovethink inspiration on Instagram + Pinterest. Reach out! She’s super friendly and wants to hear from you