How to Heal a Leaky Gut

1
Eight Steps for Healing a Leaky Gut

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Leaky gut syndrome, known officially as increased intestinal permeability, has increasingly become the focus of research for its role in many of the chronic health conditions of our modern age, in particular auto-immune disorders and other inflammatory conditions. Conditions such as varied as arthritis, asthma, autism and obesity.

Increased intestinal permeability is thought to be the result of a state in which the tight junctions of the cells lining your intestines are not as tight as they should be. Although these gaps may only be microscopic, it is theorized that unwanted substances are crossing into the bloodstream, triggering an immune system response that then causes unwanted symptoms. 

Luckily, there are things that you can do to enhance the health of your intestinal lining. 

2
Eat more produce.

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If your diet is similar to that of the typical Western diet, you are probably deficient in the amount of fruits and vegetables that you consume. However, plant-based carbohydrates appear to have a beneficial effect on both the lining of, and the microflora within, the gut. Fruit and vegetables contain prebiotics which appear to help to stabilize the intestinal barrier. In part, this may be due to a process in which fermentation of plant-based carbohydrates produces Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs have been associated with maintaining a healthy intestinal lining.

Try to incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal, as well as making them your number one snack choices. You can add sauteed vegetables to eggs in the morning, have a salad at lunch, and fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables. Always make sure that you have apples, pears, oranges, berries, and cut-up raw vegetables around for snacks and late-night munchie cravings. Whenever possible, choose organic or locally grown produce so as to minimize your exposure to pesticides.

If you have IBS, you may be more comfortable choosing low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables to get you started. Low-FODMAP foods have been identified as being less likely to cause unwanted digestive symptoms in people who have IBS. However, the low-FODMAP diet is not designed as a long-term diet, as many high-FODMAP fruits and vegetables are good for your gut health. For optimal results, work with a qualified nutrition professional to slowly re-introduce higher FODMAP foods into your diet to get a sense of which foods, and at which amounts, your body can tolerate without becoming symptomatic.

3
Eat clean.

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Eating clean means to eat foods that are minimally processed - foods that your great-grandmother would recognize. The typical Western diet contains excessive amounts of unhealthy fats, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, all of which appear to compromise the lining of your gut. Fructose appears to be especially damaging to the gut lining - so avoid sweetened fruit juices and processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup.

Try to avoid convenience foods, packaged foods, junk food, and fast foods. Read labels carefully. If you don't know what something is, it is likely that your gut doesn't know either. It is not completely known as to what effect preservatives, artificial flavoring, food coloring and other food additives have on gut health, but it is not a stretch to think that such chemicals would be damaging.

Whenever possible, choose to eat pasture-raised animal foods, organic or local fruits and vegetables, and healthy sources of fat, such as fish, nuts, olives, and olive and coconut oil. Let the adage, "shop the perimeter of the supermarket," be your guide to eating clean for your gut health.

4
Get in your probiotics.

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Probiotics are "friendly" strains of bacteria, thought to help to optimize the health of the gut microflora. Many research studies have shown that probiotics can also help to strengthen the intestinal lining. You can get probiotics in through the use of a probiotic supplement or through eating more fermented foods. Here are two articles to help guide you in your quest to take in more probiotics:

5
Balance out your stress.

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There is evidence that excessive psychosocial stress can affect the health of the gut flora, which then theoretically will affect the health of the intestinal lining. Whenever possible, try to avoid stressful situations and people. As that is often much easier said then done, you can help to offset the effect of stress on your body through some mind/body activities that have been shown to calm the nervous system and increase your resilience to life stressors. These include:

6
Take a gut-healthy supplement.

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Preliminary research has pinpointed a few vitamins and supplements that may have particular benefit for the gut lining. Remember to always check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter product.

Vitamins

There is some preliminary research to suggest that a deficiency in vitamins A and D are associated with increased intestinal permeability. Here are some helpful articles to guide you in adequate vitamin intake:

Supplements

One published research report makes a case for the use of glutamine and curcumin as a way to improve intestinal permeability functioning. Here is more information on these two supplements:

7
Consider going wheat-free.

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Many researchers and theorists believe that whole grains contribute to inflammation within the body, even in people who do not have celiac disease. One published review, concludes that there is significant research support for the theory that wheat in particular, plays a role in  increased intestinal permeability and the onset of inflammatory and autoimmune disease. These researchers also believe that other cereal grains may be culprits, but that more research must be done before any conclusions can be made.

If you choose to go wheat-, gluten-, or grain-free, it is essential that you first be screened for the presence of celiac disease. This testing is only accurate if you are eating gluten at the time of the testing. It is important to know if you have celiac disease as this disorder requires you to never eat gluten again.

8
Minimize your alcohol consumption.

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Although a minimal amount of alcohol has health benefits, excessive alcohol has been associated with compromising the health of the intestinal lining. For women, this means no more than one drink a day, while for men the limit should be two drinks per day. Ideally, one would not be drinking every day. 

Many alcoholic drinks contain grains. Non-grain containing alcoholic drinks include brandy, gluten-free beers, wine, tequila and wine.

9
Sip Some Bone Broth?

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Based on the GAPS protocol for gut healing, many alternative health practitioners swear by bone broth as a way to improve a leaky gut. Unfortunately, as of now, this is little in the way of solid research to back up these claims. However, bone broth (homemade, not store-bought) has been a part of human cuisine for centuries and is certainly soothing and delicious - both qualities that are definitely good for the soul, if not the body.

Sources:

Bischoff, S. et.al. "Intestinal permeability – a new target for disease prevention and therapy" BMC Gastroenterology 2014 14:189.

Guzman, J., Conlin, V. & Jobin, C. "Diet, Microbiome, and the Intestinal Epithelium: An Essential Triumvirate?" Biomed Research International 2013 12 pages.

Punder, K. & Pruimboom, L. "Nutrients" 2013 5:771-787.

Rapin, J. & Wiernsperger, N. "Possible Links between Intestinal Permeablity and Food Processing: A Potential Therapeutic Niche for Glutamine" Clinics 2010 65:635-643.

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