How to heal leaky gut? Do you have any idea? Read on and learn how you can do it the best way.
Do You Have Leaky Gut?
“Leaky gut” is a buzz word thrown around in health circles that many people believe “must” be the cause of their health problems.
Do you have it…Or something else? And what do you do about it?!
In this article we will discuss:
- Leaky Gut 101: What it Is
- Gut Health Basics
- Good Gut Bacteria vs. Bad Gut Bacteria: What’s the Difference?
- 12 Essentials to Heal Leaky Gut (& Other Gut Problems)
Feel free to jump to each section or read this article in full.
LEAKY GUT 101
What is Leaky Gut? How to heal leaky gut?
A leaky gut (“increased intestinal permeability”) happens when the lining of your intestine (that is supposed to keep foods and particles in the digestive tract separate from the rest of the body), becomes compromised or…”leaky.”
This allows large particles to slip through the gut membrane and enter into the bloodstream…
May day! May day!
Your body perceives these “foreign” particles as invaders, triggering an immune response which can then set the tone for a host of health issues such as food allergies, autoimmune conditions and more.
Leaky Gut Symptoms
“Leaky gut” has been associated with a variety of health ills including:
- Allergies & asthma
- Anxiety & depression
- Arthritis & joint pain
- Autoimmune disease
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Brain fog
- Brittle hair and nails
- Nutrient deficiencies
However, contrary to popular belief, NOT everyone with these symptoms has a “leaky gut”.
How to heal leaky gut?
Leaky Gut isn’t the ONLY Type of “Gut Problem”
Approximately 3 in 4 people have “gut-related health problems” (from allergies to autoimmune disease, thyroid disorders, IBS and acne)…however, it does not necessarily mean they have leaky gut.
Other common “gut problems”—aside from leaky gut—include:
Functional Gut Pathologies
- Motility disorders (slowed or fast transit time)
- Blockage or obstruction
- Bowel incontinence
- Megacolon (enlarged colon)
- Stomach ulcers
- Spasms (esophagus, sphincter of Oddi valve)
- Altered gut signaling
- Gallbladder attacks or removal
- Fatty liver or non-alcoholic fatty liver
Systemic Gut Pathologies
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Unaddressed food intolerances
- Deficiencies of essential digestive aids (enzymes, bile, stomach acid, saliva)
- Nutrient deficiencies (i.e., B-12, zinc, vitamin D)
- Fungal or yeast overgrowth
- Metabolic endotoxemia (leaky gut)
- Bacterial infection
- Bacterial dysbiosis
The bottom line: Leaky gut is NOT the only type of “gut problem”.
GUT HEALTH BASCIS
All disease and wellness begin in the gut!
The Digestive System is More Than the Stomach
Contrary to popular belief, the gut is more than the stomach. It includes every part of the body involved in digestion. Collectively, these body parts make up the microbiome:
- small and large intestines
- nervous system
- immune system
- endocrine system
- trillions of gut bacteria
In fact, every part of the body impacts – and is impacted by – digestion to some degree. The health imbalances we experience throughout our lives reflect what is going on in inside our gut.
What Does “Healthy Gut Function” Mean in the First Place?
To understand the effects that food, chemicals and our environment have on our digestive system, it is helpful to know the main features of the system and what healthy gut function is.
The gastrointestinal tract is like a long tube running from the mouth to the anus.
The gut’s main purpose is to break down the foods we eat so that our bodies can absorb nutrients from the food. These nutrients are used for energy, growth and repair.
Ideally, when we eat, food passes from the esophagus into the stomach where gastric juices break it down into a porridge-like consistency. Our partially digested food moves through the small intestine where it is broken down further so the nutrients can be absorbed into the blood stream. Simultaneously, the pancreas, liver and gallbladder work together to further help digest, absorb and process food. Waste products from digestion are pushed into the colon where liquid is absorbed and the remaining waste forms solid stools. These collect in the end part of the colon and rectum until they are passed out of the body in a bowel movement.
The digestive system is also responsible for:
- Keeping all the body’s cells and organs nourished and working like they should
- Housing gut bacteria, which are the primary communicators for every life process
- Protecting the body from foreign invaders like toxins and stressors from our food and environment
- Housing our trillions of gut bacteria that are the orchestrators of our health
Gut Bacteria 101
The gut microbiome houses trillions of microorganisms. These microorganisms are essential for overall gut health and include bacteria, viruses, fungi, phages and the occasional pathogen or parasite and all combined (accounting for about seven pounds of our body weight!).
Most of these organisms inhabit the colon; however, some exist outside the digestive tract in areas like the skin, mouth, urinary tract and cardiovascular system.
Fun Fact: there are 10,000 more times gut bacteria in the large intestine than in the small intestine.
Bacteria from our environment also enter our bodies from our hands, food, other people, pets and even the air we breathe. Just like cells that make up the body, the bacteria in the body are a vital component of human life and health. In fact, we have the same number of gut bacteria as we do cells in our body.7
Bacteria Make Life Go Round
Although the word bacteria may sound negative, much of the body’s bacteria is non-pathogenic and helps keep us healthy and balanced.
In fact, without bacteria, we are far more susceptible to toxins and pathogens in the environment. Good bacteria benefit every system in the body and are essential for a healthy gut.
Fun fact: Between 15,000 and 36,000 different species of bacteria are known to inhabit the human digestive tract. That includes good (healthy), bad (pathogenic) and in between (commensal) types.
GOOD BACTERIA VS. BAD BACTERIA: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE
3 Types of Gut Bacteria
There are three main types of gut bacteria. Each type has hundreds of variations. Below are some of the most well-known, prevalent species.
- Beneficial or Normal/Expected Bacteria
These are the good guys, such as those found in probiotics, fermented foods, and the digestive tract.
- Akkermansia muciniphila
- Pathogenic Bacteria
These are the bad, disease-causing bacteria, such as those that cause food poisoning, fungal overgrowth or viral infection.
- Blastocystis hominis
- ystis hominis
- difficile (toxin A, toxin B)
- Enterohemorrhagic E. coli
- Coli O157
- Enteroinvasive E. coli/Shigella
- Enterotoxigenic E. coli LT/ST
- E coli (stx1/stx2)
- pylori (may be commensal or pathogenic)
- Shiga-Shiva-Like toxin
- Vibrio cholerae
- Yersinia enterocolitica
- Commensal or opportunistic
These are normal residents of the gut microbiome that are neither good nor bad, but they can become bad if overgrown or set off by other health imbalances.
- Bacteroides species
- Citrobacter (spp., freundii)
- Enterococcus faecalis & faecium
- Klebsiella (spp. & pneumoniae )
- Morganella species
- Proteus (spp., mirabilis)
- Pseudomonas species
- Staphylococcus species
- Streptococcus species
- avium subsp. paratuberculosis
Gut bacteria, in partnership with the various yeasts, fungi, archaea, protozoa and parasites living throughout the body, influence overall health and function.
The Ideal Gut
The aim for optimal health is to have:
- a diverse number of bacteria
- more good bacteria than bad bacteria
- but not too many bacteria (because too much of a good thing, even good bacteria, is not good_
What Healthy Gut Bacteria Do for You
- Eliminate toxins from tap water, pesticides in produce and beauty products
- Break down and digest indigestible food components like fiber or unchewed food
- Harvest energy and nutrients for muscles during a workout, control respiration, and balance hormones
- Strengthen the immune system
- Produce neurotransmitters in the brain and over 30 hormones while maintaining hormonal balance
- Control the speed and efficiency of metabolism, which influences body composition, digestion and energy
What Unhealthy Gut Bacteria Do to You
On the flip-side, unhealthy gut bacteria wreak havoc on our health. Pathogens, or infections and overgrowth, weaken the immune system, stall healthy digestion, hinder nutrient absorption, and trigger inflammation and chronic disease. Some common signs of an unhealthy gut include the following:9
- Digestive issues (bloating, constipation, IBS)
- Skin problems
- Diabetes and blood sugar imbalances
- Low immunity
- Autoimmune disease
- Allergies (seasonal and food)
- High cholesterol and heart disease
- Anxiety, depression and moodiness
- Hormone or thyroid imbalances
- Kidney, lung, gallbladder and other organ imbalances
- A slow metabolism or catabolism
- Unexplained cravings for sugar or other junk foods
Note: Not All “Bad Bacteria: Cause Illness
It is possible to be exposed to pathogenic bacteria like E. coli and not be negatively affected. Illness occurs when these bacteria are present in large numbers or when we lack enough good bacteria to maintain balance. When the number of good bacteria drops too low, even normally benign commensal bacteria can pose problems.
- Where Do “Bad Gut Bacteria” Come From? [TEXT BOX RHEA]
Stress is the number one driver of gut imbalance and disease. Stress goes far beyond the frustration we feel when we get cut off in rush hour traffic, have looming work deadlines or spill coffee on a white blouse minutes before a meeting. Mental and physiological stressors can wreak havoc on a healthy, balanced gut as well as other aspects of health like hormones, thyroid function and blood sugar balance.
Consider a plate of scrambled eggs left on the counter for 24 hours. We know the eggs would spoil and smell bad. It’s the same with bacteria in the body. When out of their element, or in a stressful environment, they go bad, become pathogenic and the bad bacteria can overpower the good ones. Gut bacteria stress results from a variety of factors.
Common Gut Stressors
Common causes and influences of bad bacteria in the body stem from the outside and inside world11. These may include:
Lifestyle and Health Stressors
- Blue light screen exposure
- Less than seven hours of sleep most nights
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Overtraining or lack of exercise variety (i.e., only cardio)
- Exposure to chemicals and antiseptics in beauty, cleaning and hygiene products
- Mold exposure
- Heavy metal exposure (i.e., mercury in seafood)
- Dental work with chemicals and metals
- Plastic food storage containers
- Lack of outdoor light, nature and fresh air
- Lack of play, rest and fun
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Birth control and improper use of synthetic hormones
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other long-term drug use
- Antibiotics exposure
- Circadian rhythm disruption (shift work, jet lag, inconsistent diet, oversleeping, all-nighters)
- High caffeine or alcohol consumption
- C-section baby (without careful attention to re-inoculating the gut with probiotics)
- Processed formula feeding as a baby
- Excessively hygienic
- Poor glycemic control (blood sugar dysregulation)
- Inflammation (skin conditions, injury, unrelenting physical stressors)
- Aggressive weight loss tactics
Perceived, Mental and Emotional Stressors
- Pushing beyond your limits
- Saying “yes” to everything
- Social media comparison and endless scrolling
- Fear of missing out (FOMO)
- Disconnection from meaningful relationships
- Not talking about stress
- Not engaging in fun activities
- Endlessly searching the internet for answers to health questions
- Binging on negative news
- Lack of purpose in life
- Pregnancy or post-partum
- Illness or loss of a family member
- Financial trouble
- Public speaking
- Work stress
- Sense of loss of control
- Divorce or separation
- Change in work (job loss or new job)
- Sexual difficulties
- Unexpected changes
- Excess caffeine
- Unfiltered tap water
- Processed foods
- Food additives
- Pesticides, GMOs and antiseptics
- Poor quality supplements
- Conventional dairy
- Conventional meat (hormones, antibiotics)
- Grains and gluten-free processed foods
- Poor quality fats (industrial seed oils like canola)
- Artificial sweeteners (including commercially produced stevia)
Not consuming enough:
- Healthy fats
- Quality protein
- Water (at least half bodyweight in ounces)
- Healthy carbs (prebiotic fibers: resistant starch, non-digestible polysaccharides)
- Food poisoning
- Frequent eating out
- Not chewing food
- Eating fast or on the go
- Not listening to your gut
- Undetected food intolerances
- Binging, purging and erratic eating habits
- Focus on calories, diet plans and food rules
When several of these stressors occur together and without relief, it creates the perfect storm for unhealthy gut bacteria, disrupted digestion and other poor health outcomes.
The Bottom Line: Stress creates the perfect storm for more bad bacteria than good bacteria.
12 ESSENTIALS TO HEAL LEAKY GUT & OTHER GUT PROBLEMS
So how do you heal a “leaky gut” and other gut problems?
Less stress of course!
“Stress less” tactics to support healthy gut bacteria, include:
- Eating Dietary Fiber (prebiotics, particularly from veggies and some fresh fruits)
- Short chain fatty acids (found in vegetables and some fatty acids, like grass-fed butter and ghee)
- Quality probiotics
- Digestive enzymes
- Clean, filtered Water
- Nutrient dense, varied diet (eating organic as often as possible and varying your proteins, veggies and fats)
- Seasonal eating
- Balancing your circadian rhythms (like using Blue Light Blockers at night and eating at normal times)
- Breath work
- Adequate sleep (7-9 hours each night with good sleep hygiene)
- Moderate exercise (4-6 days per week, combination of strength, aerobic and mobility work)
- Low toxin exposure (toxic free hygiene, cleaning and beauty supplies)
With time and consistency, these “little things” add up to “big” gains in your overall gut microbiome.
- How do you know if you have “good gut health?!”
Some signs of good gut health include:
Good gut health means NO:
- Brain fog
- Sugar cravings
- Energy dips
- GERD, acid reflux or heartburn
- Bloating, gas, cramps or abdominal pain after eating
- Undigested food in stool
- Signs of dysbiosis, yeast overgrowth or inflammatory gut markers
Good gut health means you WILL have:
- Quality sleep
- Clearer skin
- Balanced blood sugar
- A strong immune system
- Healthy stress management
- A feeling of overall wellness and balance
- Up to three well-formed bowel movements daily
- A feeling of complete elimination after bowel movement
To good gut health and beyond.
- de Punder, K., & Pruimboom, L. (2015). Stress induces endotoxemia and low-grade inflammation by increasing barrier permeability. Frontiers in immunology, 6, 223. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2015.00223
- 2018. Chronic Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/index.htm
- Kantor, E. D., Rehm, C. D., Haas, J. S., Chan, A. T., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2015). Trends in Prescription Drug Use among Adults in the United States from 1999–2012. JAMA, 314(17), 1818–1831. http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2015.13766
- 2018. Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm
- Riley, James. 1989. Sickness, Recovery, and Death: A History and Forecast of Ill Health. University Of Iowa Press.
- 1999. MMWR Weekly. Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4829a1.htm
- 2018. Leading Causes of Death.Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. Are We Really Vastly Outnumbered? Revisiting the Ratio of Bacterial to Host Cells in Humans. Cell. 2016;164(3):337–340.
- Roderick I Mackie, Abdelghani Sghir, H Rex Gaskins; Developmental microbial ecology of the neonatal gastrointestinal tract, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 69, Issue 5, 1 May 1999, Pages 1035s–1045s, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.5.1035s
- Quigley, E. M. M. (2013). Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 9(9), 560–569.
- Rappaport, S. (2016). Genetic Factors Are Not the Major Causes of Chronic Diseases. PloS one, 11(4), e0154387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154387
- Schnorr, S. Et al. 2014. Gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherers. Nature Communications. 5: 3654. Liang, S., Wu, X., & Jin, F. (2018). Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience, 12, 33. doi:10.3389/fnint.2018.00033
- De Filippo, C., Cavalieri, D., Di Paola, M., Ramazzotti, M., Poullet, J. B., Massart, S., et al. (2010). Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 14691–14696. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1005963107
- Gomez, A. (2017). Loss of gut microbiome diversity in industrialized societies: alternative views (comment on Doi 10.1002/bies.201600145). Bioessays 39:1700005. doi: 10.1002/bies.201700005
- Mancabelli, L., Milani, C., Lugli, G. A., Turroni, F., Ferrario, C., van Sinderen, D., et al. (2017). Meta-analysis of the human gut microbiome from urbanized and pre-agricultural populations. Microbiol. 19, 1379–1390. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13692
- De Filippo, C., Di Paola, M., Ramazzotti, M., Albanese, D., Pieraccini, G., Banci, E., et al. (2017). Diet, environments, and gut microbiota. a preliminary investigation in children living in rural and urban burkina faso and italy. Microbiol. 8:1979. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01979
- Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Kawai, M., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Suda, K., . . . Rokutan, K. (2016). Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota preserves the diversity of the gut microbiota and relieves abdominal dysfunction in healthy medical students exposed to academic stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology doi:10.1128/aem.04134–15
- Cryan, J. F., & O’Mahony, S. M. (2011). The microbiome-gut-brain axis: From bowel to behavior. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 23(3), 187–192. doi:10.1111/j.1365–2982.2010.01664.x
- Yano, J., Yu, K., Donaldson, G., Shastri, G., Ann, P., Ma, L.,. . . Hsiao, E. (2015, April 9). Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, 161(2), 264–276. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.047
- Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of gastroenterology, 28(2), 203-209.
- O’Mahony SM, Hyland NP, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Maternal separation as a model of brain‐gut axis dysfunction. Psychopharmacology (Berl)
- Camara RJ, Ziegler R, Begre S, Schoepfer AM, von Kanel R. The role of psychological stress in inflammatory bowel disease: quality assessment of methods of 18 prospective studies and suggestions for future research. Digestion 2009; 80: 129–39.
- Mawdsley JE, Rampton DS. The role of psychological stress in inflammatory bowel disease. Neuroimmunomodulation 2006; 13: 327–36.
- Clarke, S. F., Murphy, E. F., O’sullivan, O., Lucey, A. J., Humphreys, M., Hogan, A., . . . Cotter, P. D. (2014). Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut, 63(12), 1913–1920.
- Liang, S., Wu, X., & Jin, F. (2018). Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience, 12, 33. doi:10.3389/fnint.2018.00033
- Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and practice, 7(4), 987. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987
- Kim, N., Yun, M., Oh, Y.J. et al. J Microbiol. (2018) 56: 172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12275-018-8032-4
- Penolazzi, Barbara & Natale, Vincenzo & Leone, Luigi & Russo, Paolo. (2012). Individual differences affecting caffeine intake. Analysis of consumption behaviours for different times of day and caffeine sources. Appetite. 58. 971-7. 10.1016/j.appet.2012.02.001.
- Burke, T. M., Markwald, R. R., McHill, A. W., Chinoy, E. D., Snider, J. A., Bessman, S. C., Jung, C. M., O’Neill, J. S., … Wright, K. P. (2015). Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro. Science translational medicine, 7(305), 305ra146.
- Benton, D., & Young, H. A. (2017). Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 12(5), 703-714.
- Egshatyan, L., Kashtanova, D., Popenko, A., Tkacheva, O., Tyakht, A., Alexeev, D., Karamnova, N., Kostryukova, E., Babenko, V., Vakhitova, M., … Boytsov, S. (2015). Gut microbiota and diet in patients with different glucose tolerance. Endocrine connections, 5(1), 1-9.