This article will give you practical advice for treating and recovering from leaky gut syndrome. It will require some lifestyle changes, but with a little effort, you can heal leaky gut and enjoy a healthy, vital body.
Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition that affects your digestive system.
There are many organs in the digestive system. These organs work together to absorb water and break down food so the nutrients can be absorbed. The digestive system also works to remove waste products such as fecal matter and creates a barrier between your gut and bloodstream to prevent harmful substances from entering your bloodstream (1, 2).
Your intestines have tight junctions, or tiny gaps that allow nutrients and water to enter your bloodstream. Intestinal permeability is a measure of how easy or difficult it is for substances to enter your bloodstream through the digestive tract.
With leaky gut syndrome, these junctions get wider and allow for potentially harmful substances like toxins, bacteria, and partially digested food particles to enter your bloodstream. This triggers inflammation and immune reactions such as allergies and other autoimmune diseases. (3)
But this condition has not been studies very closely. Because of this, it has not yet received mainstream acceptance among mainstream doctors. But many alternative medicine practitioners believe leaky gut syndrome leads to many troubling conditions such as:
Leaky gut syndrome is found to exist alongside many different diseases and conditions. However, it’s not clear if leaky gut syndrome is a symptom or cause of these chronic disease (4).
Doctors are not sure about the exact cause of leaky gut syndrome. However, this condition is well known in the literature and occurs alongside many different chronic diseases, including celiac disease (severe gluten sensitivity) and type 1 diabetes (5).
Zonulin is a protein that regulates tight junctions. Higher levels of this protein can loosen tight junctions, causing an increase intestinal permeability (6, 7).
Researchers have identified two factors may stimulate higher zonulin levels — bacteria and gluten (8).
The research shows that gluten increases intestinal permeability and leaky gut syndrome in people with celiac disease (9, 10).
In healthy adults, however, the effects of gluten on intestinal permeability are unclear. Lab tests done in test tubes have shown that gluten can increase intestinal permeability. But Human-based studies have not shown the same thing. (10, 11, 12)
Here are some other factors can also increase intestinal permeability:
Higher levels of inflammatory mediators, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, may increase intestinal permeability (13, 14, 15, 16). The long-term use of these painkillers may increase intestinal permeability (13, 14, 15, 16).
Low levels of healthy gut bacteria may have the same effect. This is called gut dysbiosis and can be caused by a variety of factors including antibiotics, high sugar and alcohol consumption, and a poor overall diet. (17).
Another problem with gut dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome is that it creates a vicious downward spiral. Gut dysbiosis causes leaky gut which in turns leads to lower levels of healthy gut bacteria.
Leaky gut syndrome isn’t an official medical diagnosis, there is no doctor recommended treatment.
But there are many ways you can improve your digestive health.
One way is to eat foods that will help beneficial bacteria flourish. Unhealthy gut bacteria causes a variety of poor health outcomes (18), including:
It’s a good idea to improve your digestive health anyway. It will reduce your chances of getting any of the above diseases. It will also help you treat leaky gut syndrome.
Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, arugula, carrots, kale, eggplant, beetroot, Swiss chard, spinach, ginger, mushrooms and zucchini.
Roots and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, squash and turnips.
Fermented vegetables: Kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso.
Fruit: Coconut, grapes, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, oranges, mandarin, lemon, limes, passionfruit and papaya.
Sprouted seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and more.
Gluten-free grains: Buckwheat, amaranth, rice (brown and white), sorghum, teff and gluten-free oats.
Healthy fats: Avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil.
Fish: Salmon, tuna, herring and other omega-3-rich fish (avoid farmed fish, see below)
Meats: Lean cuts of chicken and turkey
Herbs and spices: All herbs and spices.
Cultured dairy products: Kefir, yogurt, Greek yogurt and traditional buttermilk.
Beverages: Bone broth, teas, coconut milk, nut milk, water and kombucha.
Nuts: Raw nuts including peanuts, almonds and nut-based products, such as nut milks.
If you eat more of these gut-healthy foods, and avoid things that harm your gut, you’ll start improving your health right away.
Some foods have been shown to cause inflammation in your body, which may promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria linked to many chronic diseases (19).
The following list contains foods that may harm healthy gut bacteria, as well as some that are believed to trigger digestive symptoms, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea:
Processed and fried foods – These foods break down into components that feed the bad bacteria in your gut (not to mention that they have a host of other unsavory health effects).
Sugar – Sugar feeds bad bacteria just like processed and fried foods do.
Alcoholic beverages – Those who over consume alcohol on a regular basis have higher rates of alcohol-induced oxidative stress and intestinal dysbiosis which leads to gastrointestinal tract inflammation and intestinal hyperpermeability (aka leaky gut syndrome).
Non-cultured dairy – research has shown that a diet rich in dairy products has significant effects on your gut microbiome, and it only takes a few days of increased dairy for those changes to take place.
Soy – While soy that’s made in very traditional ways can be healthy, most of the soy we consume today is genetically modified and processed in ways that makes it less-than-ideal for our bodies.
Red meat – While having the occasional organic, grass-fed, responsibly farmed steak isn’t likely to throw your whole system off, eating a diet that’s overly meat-heavy can be tough on your body, especially if it includes a lot of red meat.
Eggs – Eggs aren’t bad in and of themselves, but how they’re produced really matters. While eggs that come from chickens who are fed a healthy diet, allowed to roam, and not dosed up with antibiotics are generally fine for your health, your standard farm raised eggs are not so great.
Farmed fish – Conventionally farmed fish are, you guessed it, often kept in conditions and fed a diet that’s not ideal for their health.
GMO foods – GMO foods are relatively new in the market, so research is still ongoing, but there are a number of potential issues with these types of foods. One of the main areas of focus is the negative effects that glyphosate (an herbicide used in growing some GMO foods) has on the gut microbiome.
Avoiding processed junk foods, alcohol, sugary beverages, refined oils and artificial sweeteners may aid the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Cutting out foods containing gluten or common stimulants of digestive symptoms may also help.
Take a probiotic supplement: Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in fermented foods. Taking a probiotic supplement can improve gut health if you don’t get enough probiotics through your diet (20).
Take a bovine colostrum – Bovine colostrum, known as “nature’s first food” is produced by mammalian mothers right after giving birth. All mammals are born with leaky gut syndrome so colostrum is designed to prepare the baby’s digestive system for solid food.
Reduce stress: Chronic stress has been shown to harm beneficial gut bacteria. Activities like meditation or yoga can help (21).
Avoid smoking: Cigarette smoke is a risk factor for several bowel conditions and may increase inflammation in the digestive tract. Quitting smoking can raise healthy bacteria numbers and reduce harmful gut bacteria (22).
Sleep more: Lack of sleep can cause poor distribution of healthy gut bacteria, possibly resulting in increased intestinal permeability (23).
Limit alcohol intake: Research has shown that excessive alcohol intake may increase intestinal permeability by interacting with certain proteins (24, 25, 26).
If you think you have leaky gut syndrome, consider getting tested for celiac disease.
It’s a condition in which gaps in the intestinal walls may widen, allowing bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles to pass through the intestinal walls into your bloodstream.
However, leaky gut syndrome is not a diagnosis recognized by mainstream physicians, as there is little evidence to prove that it’s a serious health problem.
Increased intestinal permeability occurs alongside chronic diseases like celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. However, it may be a symptom of these diseases, rather than a cause.
That said, there are plenty of steps you can take to improve your digestive health.
To combat leaky gut syndrome, eat foods that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, including fruits, cultured dairy products, healthy fats, lean meats and fibrous and fermented vegetables.
Avoid processed and refined junk foods.
You can also take probiotic supplements, reduce stress, limit NSAID use, avoid alcohol and get more sleep.
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The growth factors in Bovine colostrum helps repair the lining of the small intestine. After that’s done, the second step is to re-balance the body’s immune system. Years or even decades of Leaky Gut Syndrome and an equal number of years of inflammation takes a toll on the immune system.
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If you adhere to the elimination diet and include proper supplementation, you should see results within 3 months. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, get checked by your healthcare provider. You may have sensitivities to certain foods, but your symptoms could be caused by other issues. It’s important to design a treatment plan that fits your issues.