How to Heal Leaky Gut for Good: 5 Essential Steps

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Healing Your Gut | How To Heal Leaky Gut For Good: 5 Essential Steps

How to heal leaky gut naturally? I’ve got 5 essential steps to healing leaky gut for good.

Table of Contents

LEAKY GUT 101: A QUICK REVIEW

Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is a common syndrome or condition that affects millions of people worldwide—many people who actually have NO idea they actually have a “leaky gut.”

In fact, leaky gut is so common that many people live their entire lives NEVER realizing they have leaky gut syndrome, as it is associated with a long list of symptoms that are considered “norms in society,” including:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea and loose stools
  • Skin conditions (acne, eczema)
  • Allergies
  • Low immunity
  • Anxiety, depression and ADD/ADHD
  • Headaches
  • Sugar, carb and caffeine cravings
  • And beyond

Leaky gut affects our whole body health.

What is Leaky Gut Again?

We discussed all-you-need-to-know about leaky gut in this article 20 Little-Known Leaky Gut Symptoms & How to Heal Your Digestion, but in short: leaky gut is exactly what it sounds like—gut tissue that becomes permeable or “porous” and open when little pinprick-style leaks develop in the lining of your small intestine’s intestinal wall.

So what to do about it?!

Heal your gut!

HOW TO HEAL LEAKY GUT: 1 THING YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE GETTING STARTED

Before we get to the 5 Essential Steps to Heal Leaky Gut (for good), it’s important you understand one thing: NOT ALL leaky gut healing and gut health advice is created equal….Fat Does A Body Good Copy | How To Heal Leaky Gut For Good: 5 Essential Steps

“Gut health” and “healing your gut” have become a buzz phrase used in mainstream culture today. Everyone is doing it:

  • Yogurt and juice advertisements claim their products are a “rich source of probiotics” and Probiotic supplement sales are projected to exceed $65 billion by 2024—nearly double of what they are today (Global Market Insights, 2018)
  • Commercials for IBS and constipation medicines dominate the daytime TV airways
  • Oz hosts special guests to educate on leaky gut syndrome and candida
  • PPI drugs (acid-suppressing drug) are one of the top-selling drugs nationwide, generating more than $10 billion in prescriptions every year
  • Bone broth is the “new” black coffee—the drink of choice for “healing your gut”

However, be warned…NOT all these tactics are the “secrets” for leaky gut healing success.

A common misconception of folks who eat “probiotic” yogurt, sip bone broth and pop supplements like candy is that they are healing your gut,  BUT, they are actually MANAGING their gut health, not necessarily healing it.

There IS A DIFFERENCE in MANAGING vs. HEALING leaky gut.

MANAGING VS. HEALING LEAKY GUT

It is ONE THING to maintain healthy digestive practices or “manage” and maintain gut health (like sipping bone broth and taking probiotics), BUT if you already have a leaky gut, you actually ALSO need to be proactive in healing or reversing the UNDERLYING leaky gut condition—not just adding good things ON TOP to an underlying messy situation.

Leaky Gut Healing is A LOT Like Cleaning Your Room

Healing vs. Managing a leaky gut is sort of like the difference in cleaning your room, or simply stuffing your closet.

You can manage or maintain a “tidy” space by simply removing your clothes, shoes, books, papers and other clutter OUT OF SIGHT and stuffing them into the closet.

OR, you can completely heal and “detox” the clutter in your space by ACTUALLY CLEANING up—throwing your clothes into the wash, re-racking them on hangers, placing your shoes into their shoe boxes, organizing your papers and books on your bookshelf.

Likewise, you can “manage” or maintain proper gut health by taking a probiotic and eating healthy, real (whole) foods, OR you can HEAL your gut health and leaky gut with these 5 Essential Steps:

5 Essential Steps to Heal Leaky Gut

Love Your Gutlove Your Brain | How To Heal Leaky Gut For Good: 5 Essential Steps

  1. Assess & Evaluate
  2. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Nutrient-Dense Diet.
  3. Practice Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Habits
  4. Rebuild a Healthy Gut Ecosystem
  5. Integrate Secret Sauce Gut Healers

Let’s talk about each:

  1. Assess & Evaluate
    As previously discussed, leaky gut is almost always a byproduct condition or syndrome caused by something else. Common “gut dysfunctions” that can result in a leaky gut include:

    • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
    • Fungal, bacterial or viral infections
    • Low stomach acid
    • Food intolerances
    • HPA Axis Dysfunction and chronic stressors (excess alcohol, sugar, artificial sweeteners or coffee consumption; poor diet; lack of sleep; overtraining or under training; sedentary lifestyles; long term medication use or antibiotic exposure; etc.)

It’s vital to understand the conditions potentially underlying or driving your leaky gut condition in order to truly heal.Working with a functional medicine practitioner, healthcare professional or nutritionist aware of leaky gut syndrome—and co-existing conditions—can be a game changer in figuring out what is driving your symptoms, and testing may be warranted (breath testing, urine, blood, stool, etc.) depending on your unique presentation.Depending on testing findings, your treatment protocols will then be even more customized—from certain antimicrobial herbal and gut healing supplements that may kill off any pathogenic bacteria detected and rebuild a healthy microbiome; to further dietary customization and helpful custom stress-busting supplements and lifestyle changes.

The Problem with Self-Diagnosis & Mainstream Medicine
Many people drag-and-drop, and piecemeal their own gut healing protocols and self-diagnose their conditions for years—sort of like shooting darts in the dark—hoping that their gut will heal, without truly reversing any underlying conditions.

In addition, many mainstream or conventional practitioners are not trained in overtly addressing intestinal permeability, since science over the past few years has just shifted to recognizing “intestinal permeability” as an actual condition (not something made up by “quack” docs. In fact, of the total nearly 250 studies now on PubMed on “leaky gut,” nearly 50% of them have been conducted over the past 3 years alone (pubmed.com). A typical GI appointment may leave you more frustrated, as many doctors still look first to physical structure issues (like slow “motor complex” or GI motility dysfunction) as opposed to underlying pathogenic conditions discussed above.

The bottom line: There is typically MORE to the story than just having a leaky gut.

Self Gut Check
Beyond formal gut testing, you also have a POWERFUL gut assessment tool that does NOT cost a dime—your intuition.

Your “gut intuition” about how you feel is a HUGE indicator of both leaky gut assessment as well as healing success. Far too often than not, we are disconnected with our own natural-born intuition that we’ve known all along (since we were born).

I encourage all my clients to reconnect to their own gut intuition and assess how they feel at various stages of their diagnosis and healing journeys—knowing, above all, you (and your body) are smarter and more in touch with our own gut healing than we give ourselves credit for.

Simple Self-Assessment: Keep a Log
Prior to beginning any form of gut healing protocols or treatment, first assess how you REALLY feel. Keep a 3-day mindful food and lifestyle log to document and track your personal symptoms.

In this track:

    • Your food (what you eat) and drink—and how you feel around meals (symptoms, energy, etc.)
    • Symptoms you experience throughout the day (fatigue, headaches, bloating etc.)
    • Your poop patterns (time, size, shape, feeling of elimination)
    • Your sleep (hours, waking times if any)
    • Your movement and exercise

At the end of 3 days, look back at this log and notice what patterns you observe if any. Take a mental note, because as you begin healing and following the rest of these steps, you will once more be encouraged to keep a 3-day log for continued monitoring.

The Bottom Line:
Understand where you’re coming from in order to (1.) Truly Heal (not manage) and (2.) Chronicle and compare your gut healing journey from your Starting Point,

      1. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Nutrient-Dense Diet.Assessment? Check. Now on to the actual “doing.”Step 2 may sound like a no-brainer, but it IS the foundation upon which all leaky gut healing protocols are built—eat REAL FOOD. And not just green salads, or green smoothies, but a balance of all three macronutrients and the best quality, MOST COMPLETE sources of these as possible:
        Eat in Abundance

        • Proteins—Grass-fed meats; pastured & organic poultry, eggs and pork; wild game; wild-caught fish
        • Carbohydrates—Color-rich, nutrient-dense fresh vegetables, starchy tubers and roots, and fruits
        • Healthy Fats—Plant and animal fats (coconut and coconut oil, olives and olive oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, lard, duck fat, pastured egg yolks and fatty cuts of organic meats, some raw nuts and seeds, avocado)
        • Bonus Gut Healing Foods: Fermented foods, bone broth, fresh herbs and spices, apple cider vinegar
        • LOTS of Fresh, Clean (filtered) Water
      2. Industrial seed oils and hydrogenated fats (canola oil, grapeseed oil, vegetable oils)
      3. Sugar and artificial sweeteners (not just candy bars; often hidden in bottled smoothies, granola bars, cereals)
      4. Dairy* (except kefir and plain, full-fat grass-fed yogurt for prebiotics as tolerated)
      5. Many “healthy” marketed packaged products: Instant oats, whole grains
      6. Most protein powders and bars
      7. Instant coffee, alcohol (limit to 4-6 drinks per week), sodas, sports drinks, juices
      8. Most grains and gluten*
      9. Corn
      10. Beans* and peanuts
      11. Soy
      12. Most processed gluten-free products (exceptions: avoid gums, reach for products with coconut flour, arrowroot and/or tapioca/cassava)
      13. Most packaged and processed foods
      14. MSG and other food additives and food colorings
      15. Limit SPICY foods (Sriracha, red pepper flakes, paprika, chili powder, peppers)In short: The modern day Western (Standard American) Diet.*Some people find they do ok with a little bit of white rice, grass-fed dairy, whole soaked beans, quinoa or gluten-free oats, but for an initial 30 days it’s often best to take these out to then experiment with how they affect you

The Bottom Line: Eat real foods MOST of the time, with an 80/20 balance (perfection is impossible and should never be expected).

See your 3 day Leaky Gut Healing Sample Meal & Supplement Plan below for details on the “How to Heal Leaky Gut Diet.”

      1. Practice Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Habits
        This is where the REAL fun begins.Beyond putting good food into your mouth, the “nutrients” you put into your life also are huge game changers. Anti-inflammatory lifestyle habits include everything from quality rest, to chewing your food (really well) and working out regularly—but not too much. Your body (and gut) desires balance and if you truly want to reverse your leaky gut condition and actually heal (not just manage it), gut healing goes beyond just taking supplements or eating healthy.You CANNOT out-supplement, or even out (clean) eat a stressful lifestyle for leaky gut reversal.The first “to do” for this step is to first assess and gain awareness of the particular lifestyle stressors perpetuating your leaky gut condition.For instance: Sleep.The more I became educated about my own gut health and triggering lifestyle factors, the more I realized my lack of sleep (4-6 hours most nights) was preventing my true healing.Despite taking my probiotic, eating a balanced diet and popping digestive enzymes with each meal, I could NOT understand why my gut was not healing…until I faced the music.The gut lining repairs itself during sleep, and complete detoxification of your digestive system happens (ideally) during the 7-9 hours we sleep every night. If we short our sleep cycle, gut health (and our gut lining) gets “off.”Additionally, my love for exercise also CAN get the best of me—at least if I am overtraining and under-recovering. Exercise (and stress in general) naturally suppresses stomach acid production. If you train ALOT, then you can bet your bottom dollar stress is higher (internal cortisol level production), and stomach acid production is low. If and when you do not have enough stomach acid, your gut struggles to fully break down and digest foods.
        eaThe bottom line: Stress—no matter how many greens you eat—is constantly going to be the “elephant in the room,” until addressed.Some examples of “stress-busting” strategies?Stress-Busting Strategies

        • Sleep 7-9 hours each night
        • Incorporate a variety of movement (strength, aerobic, mobility, power) 5-6 days per week or at the very least, daily lifestyle movement (cleaning, walking, moving—not sitting for hours on end)
        • Replacing your tap water and plastic water bottles with clean filtered water and a stainless steel water bottle.
        • Take time to play and pursue your passions and interests (overwork leads to burn out and that “gut feeling” of stress)
        • Avoid stimulants in the afternoon/night (coffee, energy drinks)
        • Soak up the sun and fresh air (humans need sunshine like a plant needs sunshine and water)
        • Detox your home and beauty products in favor of more natural products
        • Start your day off with a mindful morning routine (before stress and the rat race gets the best of you: Don’t check your social media and email first thing, but read a mindset boosting devotional instead; stretch or move your body;
        • Candle down in the evenings (avoid LED/artificial light at night to promote and maintain Circadian Rhythm function, which is aligned with digestive health)
        • Practice Digestive Hygiene
          1. Chew your food real well
          2. Slow down and breathe before eating
          3. Eat undistracted (not working in front of a computer or watching a screen)
          4. Don’t eat on the go
          5. Cook and home prepare the majority of your meals
          6. Eat fresh organic foods as much as possible
          7. Consume leftovers within 3-5 days max of prep
          8. Consume frozen meats within 6 months for ground meats and 1 year of storage for muscle meats (throw out old)
        • Address mental stress (talk about it)
        • Connect to community and deep meaningful relationships
        • Consider adding in a mindfulness practice (meditation, deep breathing, yoga, Tai Chi, prayer)

        No, you do NOT have to do all of these things at once. Start with one—the one that could be the most game-changing for you, and go from there. (Once you get the ball rolling, it’s hard not to want to do more to feel even better and bring your body back to balance).

        1. Rebuild a Healthy Gut Ecosystem
          Here is where most people and internet advice STARTS for healing leaky gut after they’ve told you to “eat clean”…“Take a probiotic.”Probiotics are “good gut bacteria” similar to the friendly (beneficial) organisms you SHOULD have in your gut.However, there is SO MUCH MORE to healing a leaky gut and re-building a healthy gut microbiome or “ecosystem” than just taking a probiotic.
          Not All Probiotics Are Created Equal.
          In fact, it’s been estimated 90-95% of probiotic supplements and foods on shelves (de Simone, 2018) (Begum et al, 2015) (Scourboutakos et al, 2017) (FTC, 2010) do NOT contain the probiotics they claim on the label. Many formulas are stacked with lactic acid bacteria that die off in the heating and manufacturing processes. And even if your formula DOES contain lactic acid bacteria it claims, generally it is NOT lactic acid bacteria we as humans are MOST deficient in, but instead the organisms found in dirt and soil. Lastly, swallowing a lactic acid probiotic alone does not mean you “get” the probiotics where they belong (your small intestine), as many organisms cannot survive the strong acid in your stomach.Instead of consuming a lactic acid supplement formula, it’s generally recommended you reach for a Soil-Based or Spore-Forming Probiotic. (Recommendations below). And for good measure, consume fermented foods for your primary lactic acid bacteira (that is MORE absorbable), such as:
        • Sauerkraut
        • Fermented Veggies
        • Low Sugar Kombucha
        • Beet Kvass
        • Fermented Mustards, Relishes and Homemade Ketchup
        • Horseradish
        • Kimchi
        • Grass-fed Yogurt & Kefir
        • Water Kefir & Coconut Kefir

        Don’t Forget Prebiotics
        In addition to your probiotics, do NOT forget your pre-biotics. Prebiotics are like the “food” for your probiotics that help them populate your gut (as opposed to just circulating in and out of your gut). Without pre-biotic fiber, you might as well be pooping out your supplements.

        Prebiotics come in the form of BOTH foods and supplements including:

        • Supplement Powders (partially hydrolyzed guar gum, glucomannan, acacia, psyllium husk, chicory root, potato starch)
        • Cooked & cooled sweet potatoes, potatoes and starchy tubers (carrots, parsnips, squashes, beets)
        • Green-tipped bananas and whole (or cooked and cooled) green plantains
        • Garlic
        • Onion
        • Jerusalem artichoke
        • Jicama
        • Parboiled white rice (cooked and cooled)
        • Skin of apples (cooked and cooled)The Bottom Line: Incorporate a soil based probiotic, prebiotic fiber (like Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum) PLUS a serving of probiotic and prebiotic foods daily into your leaky gut healing plan.

          1. Bonus: Integrate Secret Sauce Gut Healers

        Last but not least, the REAL fun “secret sauce” hacks for taking your gut healing (NOT just “gut management”) to the next level.

        Once you have a foundation of healthy gut maintenance down, including:

            • Awareness of your underlying gut pathogens or conditions driving your leaky gut (SIBO, low stomach acid, fungal overgrowth or infection, HPA Axis Dysfunction)
            • Nutrient-dense whole-foods diet
            • Daily stress busting practices
            • Probiotics AND pre-biotics

        You can start integrating and experimenting with these magic ingredients:

          • Glutamine. An amino acid known for repairing the gut lining. Consume 20-40 mg. per day in water. Try: Enteromend by Thorne. 1-3 servings daily.
          • Colostrum. A natural component of breast milk best known for its probiotic and powerful gut healing effects. As an adult, its available in supplemental form and has been shown to decrease intestinal permeability—even in athletes who maintain physically stressful lifestyles (Halasa et al, 2017). Try: ProSerum whey by Well Wisdom. 1 Serving Daily.
          • Apple Cider Vinegar. A natural stomach acid booster that promotes healthy stomach acid to help fully digest foods (and prevent undigested food particles from leaking into your bloodstream). Consume 1 tbsp. in 2-4 oz. of water with meals.
          • Helps maintain intestinal integrity as it is a vital component in practically every cell in our body (Skrovanek et al, 2014). Take up to 110 mg/day for a short-term therapeutic trial (no more than 8-weeks) Try Biotics Aqueous Zinc for 7 days, then switch to a capsule form like this one.
          • Vitamins A & D. Vitamin A manages the growth and differentiation of intestinal cells. Deficiencies in Vitamin A deficiency has been shown to cause alterations in commensal bacteria and to impair the gut barrier (Lima et al, 2010). Additionally, Vitamin D, another fat-soluble vitamin, also plays a role in gut barrier function. Vitamin D deficiency is correlated with inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal permeability (Assa et al, 2014) (Ananthakrishnan, 2016) . Try: Cod liver oil—more absorbable than the synthetic formulas of Vitamin A and Vitamin D supplements. I like Rosita Cod Liver Oil
          • Butyrate Supplementation. In addition to fermentable fiber, which contains butyrate, butyrate supplementation appears to play an especially important role in regulating barrier function (Peng et al, 2009). Low butyrate causes tight intestinal junction lesions (holes) and impaired intestinal permeability. Try: 1 dose Sodium-Potassium Butyrate (not Cal-Mag) http://amzn.to/2HLbku6.
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