If you've been poking around this gut-health space for a while now, you might've come across the term "Leaky Gut."
Leaky gut (medically known as “intestinal permeability” or “gut permeability”) is when the tight junctions between these cells lining your small intestine loosen. This allows bacterial fragments and undigested food particles to enter your bloodstream, which can trigger an immune response.
Cells of a healthy small intestine normally maintain a tight barrier that allows only digested food molecules (nutrients) to enter the bloodstream. When the tight junctions between cells loosen, much larger molecules, such as undigested food particles and bacterial fragments enter your bloodstream.
Normally, these molecules should not be able to get access to the bloodstream so your immune system does not recognize them and launches an immune response. This immune response can lead to inflammation in the gut as well as systemically.
It's important to understand that “Leaky Gut” is NOT a root cause. It's important to ask: why did the Leaky Gut happen?
Signs & Symptoms of Leaky Gut
When intestinal permeability increases, there is a less stable barrier between the contents of your intestine and your bloodstream. This means particles of undigested food or toxins from bad bacteria can enter the bloodstream.
When that happens, you might notice these issues popping up:
Constipation, bloating or diarrhea
Skin issues like acne, eczema, or rashes
Joint pain and inflammation
Why does Leaky Gut happen?
We always want to ask “Why?” whenever we are looking at imbalances in the gut. Keep asking “Why?” until you get to the root cause.
Here are some potential root causes of intestinal permeability:
You’re eating too many processed foods and not enough plant foods high in fibre and antioxidants. Focus on what to add, not what to remove. Start hitting six cups per day of veg and fruit to give your body the ingredients it needs for a happy, healthy microbiome and gut lining.
You’re under a lot of stress. Seeing a therapist or mental health worker can give you tools to cope with the stress you can’t eliminate. Remove all the toxic people and situations that you possibly can right now.
You’re not sleeping 7-9 hours per night. Improve sleep hygiene with a consistent sleep/wake schedule. If you literally cannot sleep, it’s time to investigate what could be going on. (Psssst… there’s 400x more melatonin made in the gut than the brain).
You’re taking over-the-counter pain killers frequently. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen increase intestinal permeability so if you’re taking these often, it’s time to address the root cause of that pain.
You’re drinking a lot of alcohol. Alcohol increases gut permeability so this isn’t something I recommend consuming a lot of.
You’re eating a lot of gluten. Gluten increases intestinal permeability. Some people bounce back faster than others. It’s all about finding the amount (if any) that works for your body.
Your gut microbiome is imbalanced. If there is an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria or not enough of the good guys, your intestinal lining can become inflamed and more permeable. Bad bacteria also contain toxins that can make you feel sick when they leak into your bloodstream.
Foods to Support a Healthy Gut Lining
Here are some great foods for keeping gut lining strong and healthy to grab on your next grocery shop.
Mushrooms: High in beta-glucans that keep gut bugs happy. When the microbiome is healthy, so is the gut epithelium.
Garlic & Ginger: Prebiotic garlic pairs perfectly with anti-inflammatory ginger for sauces and soups. You can even simmer them together, add lemon and honey for a surprisingly tasty tea.
Probiotic Foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles, yogurt and kefir are great food sources of probiotics.
Grass-fed Ghee: Ghee is a good source of butyrate, which can be helpful for strengthening the gut lining (as long as you eat lots of fibre, your gut bacteria will make their own too!)
Turmeric: This anti-inflammatory herb protects against LPS-inducted intestinal permeability so it’s especially good for anyone with SIBO.
Artichokes: One of the best prebiotic foods to feed gut bacteria that keep gut lining healthy.
Sardines: Wild fish high in omega-3s are an important part of healing leaky gut. Look for SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) which are high in omega-3 and low in mercury.
Supplements to Heal & Seal the Gut
There are some supplements that can be helpful for healing and sealing the gut, AFTER you've gone through some prior gut healing (you need to remove any pathogens, triggers, stressors, etc., replace basic digestive sections and repopulate the microbiome BEFORE healing & sealing the gut).
These supplements can be helpful for reducing intestinal permeability:
I recommend rotating brands, but staying on probiotics for a few months to give your gut extra support can really help. Different strains will work for different people so working with a professional to identify the best probiotic for you is recommended.
This amino acid has a significant body of research showing its restorative properties for the gut lining. Taking 5 grams of l-glutamine powder in water twice daily will provide support to the enterocytes lining your gut.
3. Zinc Carnosine
This form of zinc is helpful for low SIgA, H. pylori, as well as intestinal repair. Several formulas combine zinc carnosine with l-glutamine for intestinal repair.
The right dosages and combinations are super important, so make sure you are speaking to a health professional before starting any supplementation. This blog post is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice.
Habits to Heal Leaky Gut
On top of getting to the root cause of leaky gut, nutrition, and strategic supplementation, lifestyle habits and practices can be really helpful in healing leaky gut:
Chew your food thoroughly to support proper digestive function.
Move your body just enough, not too much. Aim for 40 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times per week. Moderate exercise include brisk walking, weight lifting, power yoga, or cycling.
Ensure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night on a consistent basis. It’s okay to stay up late occasionally, but 85% of nights you should be getting enough sleep.
Reduce your stress as much as you can and implement tools to manage the stress you cannot remove completely.
Keep alcohol consumption to occasions only, no more than 1-2 per week regularly.
If you suspect you might be struggling with leaky gut, or resonate with any of the symptoms mentioned above — this is exactly what I can support you within both my Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive.