How To Heal Leaky Gut: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

If you experience digestive problems such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea regularly, or struggle with fatigue or joint pain that never goes away, you may be experiencing a leaky gut.

Increased intestinal permeability (the main characteristic of leaky gut) is present in various chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [1], inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) [2], and Crohn’s disease [3]. 

This article explains how to heal leaky gut. Let’s discuss what leaky gut is, its causes and symptoms, and the best way to heal it.

What Is Leaky Gut?

The medical definition of leaky gut is intestinal permeability or gut hyperpermeability. It occurs when the tight junctions between the cells of your small intestine loosen. 

This leads to “gaps” in your intestinal lining, allowing larger substances, like undigested food particles and bacterial fragments, to enter your bloodstream. The resulting immune response can trigger gut and systemic inflammation. As a result, health problems start to appear in your digestive system and other areas of your body.

Common Causes of Leaky Gut

Certain dietary factors and lifestyle habits may give rise to leaky gut syndrome.

  • Poor diet and inflammatory foods: Consumption of processed foods, sugar [4], and alcohol [5] heightens gut inflammation. Gluten products also increase zonulin production, a protein that increases intestinal permeability [6]. These foods can also disrupt your gut flora and worsen existing food allergies and sensitivities by feeding bad bacteria in your gut.
  • Chronic stress: Increased production of stress hormones like cortisol can trigger leaky gut symptoms and prolongs the gut healing process [7, 8].
  • Low sleep quality: Insomnia and poor sleep may increase intestinal permeability and affect your gut health [9].
  • Certain medications: Antibiotics [10], NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) [11], and birth control pills [12] can trigger leaky gut symptoms and other digestive issues.
  • Intestinal dysbiosis: Food sensitivities and bad bacteria can promote chronic inflammation in your digestive tract, leading to intestinal dysbiosis — a health condition that’s often linked with bacteria, parasite, and fungi overgrowth. Gut dysbiosis also stimulates zonulin production, which exacerbates leaky gut symptoms [13].
  • Reduced beneficial bacteria: A deficiency of good bacteria in your gut may weaken your protective gut lining. 

For a full list of leaky gut causes, click here.

Leaky Gut Symptoms

Chronic inflammation in your gut can lead to health problems both in and beyond the digestive tract, resulting in digestive and non-digestive symptoms.

Digestive symptoms of leaky gut include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Non-digestive symptoms of leaky gut include:

  • Autoimmune diseases [14] like celiac disease [15], rheumatoid arthritis [16], and food allergies [17]
  • Brain fog [18]
  • Chronic fatigue [19]
  • Joint pain and inflammation [20, 21, 22]

So, if you have mystery symptoms like brain fog, or a chronic illness like Crohn’s disease, it’s possible leaky gut is part of the reason for your symptoms. The good news is effective management of leaky gut syndrome usually improves the symptoms of these related health problems.

Talk with your doctor about any leaky gut symptoms you’re experiencing or have previously dealt with. Keep track of your symptoms in a daily log or journal. This way, your doctor can more accurately diagnose the underlying causes of your leaky gut to formulate an effective treatment plan.

How Diet Helps Heal Leaky Gut 

To heal leaky gut, your doctor will work with you to focus on decreasing gut inflammation and strengthening your gut lining by using the right foods and supplements.

1. Eat Leaky Gut-Approved Foods

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best steps you can take to reduce leaky gut. Focus on healthy, whole foods that are appropriate for your digestive system. 

Foods to eat for leaky gut include:

  • Bone broth from meat or poultry bones
  • Cultured dairy products (if you tolerate them) such as kefir, yogurt, and cheese
  • Fresh fruits like apples and berries
  • Fresh veggies such as kale, sweet potatoes, and zucchini
  • Fermented veggies like kimchi and sauerkraut
  • Gluten-free whole grains, for example, rice and quinoa
  • Healthy fats such as coconut oil and avocado
  • Healthy protein like grass-fed meat, eggs, and wild fish

Foods to avoid for leaky gut include:

  • Alcohol and sugary drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Gluten and wheat-based foods
  • Processed foods
  • Sugar

Note: These foods act as a guideline to healing leaky gut. It’s important to include only non-reactive foods in your diet. For more details on which foods to eat and which to avoid, check out Dr. Ruscio’s leaky gut food list.

2. Choose the Right Diet for You

Your doctor may also introduce you to a specific anti-inflammatory diet to help reduce the severity and occurrence of your leaky gut symptoms.

  • Elemental diet: Resets your gut by reducing bacterial overgrowth and promoting gut healing.
  • Intermittent fasting: Improves your gut by encouraging good gut motility and decreasing inflammation.
  • Gluten-free diet: Lowers zonulin and high FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols) foods to reduce intestinal permeability and correct gut flora imbalance.
  • Paleo diet: Focuses on healthy fats, protein, and veggies while limiting leaky gut triggers such as carbs, dairy, sugars, and processed foods.
  • Low-FODMAP diet: This diet emphasizes low-FODMAP foods to reduce food for bacterial overgrowth and rebalance your gut microbiome.

Ask your doctor which diet is most suitable for your current symptoms. 

If you’ve struggled to create a diet that works for you, speak with a knowledgeable  doctor or a nutritionist for in-depth advice. Meanwhile, Dr. Ruscio’s leaky gut diet plan can help you personalize your diet to improve your digestive health. And, if you need cooking inspiration, check out these leaky gut recipes.

3. Try Gut-Healing Supplements

Gut-healing supplements provide your digestive system with an additional help for quicker gut recovery:

As there are many supplements on the market, it can be confusing to choose the right one for you. Ask your doctor which gut supplements are most suitable for you.

4. Use the Right Medications

As mentioned earlier, certain medications such as NSAIDs and birth control pills can worsen leaky gut symptoms. Since it may be impossible to avoid these medications, particularly when dealing with joint inflammation or preventing pregnancy, consult your doctor for alternatives that won’t irritate your gut lining.

How To Heal Leaky Gut Through Lifestyle Changes

Aside from following a healthy, whole-foods diet, simple lifestyle changes will also help heal leaky gut. 

  • Chew your food well: This simple act promotes better digestion to avoid over-stressing your digestive system.
  • Get more sleep: Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night to reduce your risk of leaky gut [23].
  • Manage your stress levels: Try effective stress reduction techniques such as meditation [24] and yoga [25].
  • Avoid over-exercising: Over-exercising is a trigger of chronic inflammation that can worsen leaky gut symptoms. Switch to low-intensity exercises like walking or yoga, which benefits your cardiovascular and gut health.

Heal Leaky Gut With Austin Functional Medicine

Leaky gut syndrome can be tricky to treat. Sometimes, even if you’ve conscientiously followed a whole-foods diet, changed your lifestyle, and tried supplements, it’s still possible to experience leaky gut symptoms. This could be due to unidentified food sensitivities, unaddressed bad bacteria, or not eating the right foods. 

If your chosen treatments aren’t working for you, or you’re confused about what to do next, consider becoming a patient at Austin Functional Medicine. At our clinic, we focus on:

  • Digestive health issues such as IBS, IBD, SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac disease, reflux, and heartburn.
  • Thyroid health issues like hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and autoimmune thyroid disorders.
  • Hormone imbalances like insomnia, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, and infertility.
  • Chronic conditions such as autoimmune disorders and mold illness.

By putting your needs first and using dedicated expertise, our team of doctors, physicians, and a nutritionist can help you see improvement quickly. Dr. Ruscio’s comprehensive book on personalized gut health, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, can also help you get your digestive system back on track.

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