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The gut microbiome requires a healthy balance between bad bacteria and beneficial bacteria. When this balance is disrupted, dysbiosis occurs. The intestinal lining becomes irritated that its normally tight junctions become hyper-permeable. This causes bacteria, undigested food particles, and toxins to leak into the bloodstream.
The immune system reacts by stimulating an inflammatory response in the body. Because of this, the symptoms are no longer confined to the digestive tract.
If you're not feeling your best and experiencing a variety of health problems with no definable diagnosis, it could be a leaky gut.
What is a leaky gut?
Leaky gut or leaky gut syndrome occurs when the gut lining develops holes or cracks. These openings allow toxins and partially digested food to seep into the bloodstream and your body's tissue.
A healthy gut lining allows water and important nutrients to pass into the bloodstream. The gut isn't impermeable. However, when things that shouldn't “leak” out of the gut do so, it leads to problems. Increased intestinal permeability leads to toxins seeping into your bloodstream, causing inflammation that affects your entire body.
Your doctor is unlikely to give you a diagnosis of a leaky gut. Health researchers continue their studies regarding intestinal permeability, but there is no specific disease or illness, nor is there a medical treatment. But this doesn't mean that you can't treat a leaky gut. There are many diet and lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your gut health and reduce the symptoms you're experiencing.
We reviewed the top 5 microbiome test kits for testing your gut health. Read Now.
What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut?
One of the reasons why there is no official diagnosis of leaky gut is because symptoms vary from person to person.
Aside from digestive symptoms, other leaky gut symptoms include:
- Being diagnosed with autoimmune disorders (Celiac disease, Psoriasis, Lupus, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis)
- Brain fog
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities
- Irregular periods
- Joint pain
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Skin disorders such as acne, eczema, or rosacea
Poor gut health increases the risk of:
- Migraines or other types of headaches
- Skin problems, including acne, eczema, rashes, and more
- Digestive discomfort, including gas, diarrhea, constipation, and more
- Chronic fatigue
- Hormonal imbalance
- Autoimmune diseases
- ADHD and ADD
- Frequent illnesses and infections
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Joint pain
- Thyroid problems
Some of these conditions or diseases are diagnosable. And in many cases, your doctor will treat the diagnosed disease but do so without exploring the underlying condition. This means it is up to you to work on restoring gut health, which could lead you to overall better health.
There is no guarantee that “curing” leaky gut syndrome will cure a medical condition, but there is evidence that it will improve your overall health and make it easier to manage all of your health concerns.
If you’re experiencing leaky gut symptoms, you can take a leaky gut test from the comfort of home. Verisana’s Leaky Gut Complete test kit is specially made for people with leaky gut symptoms. It analyzes the state of the gut flora and checks for the presence of zonulin, IgA, and Candida albicans.
Other microbiome test kits are also available if you want to explore further on the state of your gut.
Why Don't Many Leaky Gut “Cures” Work
Most people who suspect they have a leaky gut spend time researching their options online. So many programs and diets claim to help with issues, but a great deal of them do little to no good.
And this might not be because they are bad plans. In many cases, it's a matter of finding what works for you. Plans that are too simplified or too confusing are less likely to work for busy people. Who has time to read a 500-page ebook or completely revamp their kitchen and learn to cook all new foods?
Similarly, who can take a quick “hit piece” and apply it to their complex and unique lives when it comes to dieting? If you're feeling as if it's not as simple as the information you're finding leads you to believe, or you feel overwhelmed by the plans you've seen so far, there's a good chance you won't follow through on making lasting changes.
Designing a Diet with the Best Foods for Leaky Gut
The goal to remedying your leaky gut issues is to implement changes that work and that you can maintain for a long time. While completely healing leaky gut is not something that can happen overnight, it will heal.
The best plans are a blend of quick-fix solutions and long-term changes. This ensures you get fast results and take care of the immediate discomfort you're experiencing, but it also allows you to avoid returning to your old ways and reintroducing old problems once you've fixed your gut.
Before you begin incorporating the best foods for leaky gut into your diet, you'll need to eliminate what's hurting your gut. And for most people, the foods to avoid starts with sugar and gluten, which are the primary culprits of gut health problems.
Starting with a sugar detox is a great way to see results within a few days. Committing to not eating any sugar, even healthy ones that come from fruit, immediately shows you what “life on the other side” will be like. At first, the detox will cause withdrawal symptoms.
Depending on the extent of your current diet and whether you were addicted to sugar, you could be in for a rough few days. But once you get to the other side, you'll realize how great it feels to snap out of your sugar addiction. Once your body adjusts to no sugar, you can add back in sugars that come with healthy vitamins and minerals without dealing with the cravings for unhealthy sugary foods. Opt for low-glycemic fruits, which include berries, apples, and apricots.
In addition to sweets, you'll also want to eliminate gluten, especially bread and pasta. Gluten is another food that wreaks havoc on your gut, but the good news is there are plenty of healthier substitutes. You can swap your favorite gluten-containing foods with gluten free grains such as:
- Brown rice, chickpea, or soba noodles and pasta
- Zucchini noodles
Other foods to consider eliminating include artificial sweeteners and dairy products. Both trigger inflammation in the body.
Foods to Add to Your Diet for Better Gut Health
Now that you've cut back or eliminated foods that aren't good for your health, it's time to start adding foods into your diet that help you improve gut health. A leaky gut diet can help ease your symptoms.
When eating for better gut health, your primary goal is to stick with whole foods and avoid processed, inflammatory foods. Whole foods are foods that haven't been toyed with and that are foods right from the beginning.
Whole food doesn't mean it isn't cooked or prepared. It just means it's been food right from the beginning of its life. It includes meat, vegetables, potatoes, and more. Not all whole foods will work for you depending on your specific issues, but focusing on whole foods is a great place to begin because it helps you focus on foods that are not processed.
Once you've transitioned to a diet containing mostly or all whole foods, you can focus on specific foods that are beneficial for your diet. One of the best categories of gut-health foods is fermented foods. This includes kefir, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These are high-probiotic foods, which means they are packed with good nutrients and healthy bacteria that promote good digestive health.
Another great addition to your gut-friendly diet is fruits and vegetables. All vegetables offer nutritional benefits, but some are difficult to digest, especially when dealing with gut health issues. So before you leap into a high-intensity vegetable-containing diet, start by increasing your intake of cruciferous veggies. You can cook these, eat them raw, add them to a smoothie, or hide them in other dishes. Cruciferous vegetables that are good for leaky gut include:
- Bok choy
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens
Another great vegetable to include for gut health is beets. Beets are high in insoluble fiber, which helps your digestive system perform optimally. They help you manage your blood pressure and contain plenty of antioxidants. But they are high in sugar, so eat them sparingly and wait a few weeks after your sugar detox begins to add them to your doctor.
Additionally, bone broth is very gut healing, and healthy fats also help you feel full longer without damaging your gut.
Now that you've broken your sugar addiction, implemented healthy dietary changes, and added plenty of nutrient-dense gut-healthy foods, you can incorporate plant-based, cultured dairy products to replace your usual dairy choices. Milk that comes from nuts, seeds, and oats taste great and make a great addition to any type of diet.
Plant-based milk is rich in vitamins and minerals and usually low in unhealthy fats and cholesterol. They fit into any type of diet and can even be made at home if you're looking for low-sugar options.
The best place to get your nutrients is from food, but if you still feel like your leaky gut diet plan needs a little tweaking, you can turn to supplements. Some of the best supplements that promote gut health include:
- Digestive enzymes
- Marshmallow root
- Slippery elm
If you’re having a hard time coming up with a healthy meal plan, talk to a nutritionist. It's best to work with an experienced health professional who is familiar with gut health when determining which supplements work best for our body.
The goal of eating a gut-healing diet that improves the health of your gut flora and the intestinal lining is to improve your overall health. Some people see improvements immediately. Their brain fog clears, they have more energy, and their chronic ailments dissipate.
Others must wait longer to see improvements in their digestive systems, but over time, issues like inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease and other digestive issues ease up. You're working on improving the good gut bacteria in your body and that takes time. But when you can improve your health and end your issues with inflammatory problems and leaky gut, it's well worth the effort.
The Ultimate Guide for a Healthy Gut. Read our 2021 Guide.
Harvard Health Publishing. “The Gut-Brain Connection - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
UC Davis Health, Public Affairs and Marketing. “What Is ‘Gut Health’ and Why Is It Important?” Health.ucdavis.edu, health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/what-is-gut-health-and-why-is-it-important/2019/07.