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Leaky Gut Diet
Updated on September 16, 2022
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Microbiome
Leaky Gut Diet

Is it possible that your arthritis pain or autoimmune disease is linked to your gut? Many healthcare practitioners believe so. 

A condition called leaky gut may be causing inflammation throughout your body and contributing to chronic diseases. 

Following the leaky gut diet may help heal your gut and reduce inflammation. 

Let’s take a look at what’s causing your leaky gut. With the help of Dr. Rizza Mira, we'll also guide you on how to restore your gut health with this special diet.

Dr. Mira is a general practitioner who also specializes in nutrition and dietetics.

Leaky Gut Diet 2

What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome is a condition where the lining of your intestine becomes porous. As a result, there is increased intestinal permeability.

This allows harmful substances to “leak” into your blood. Normally, the gut lining is a sealed barrier that prevents most things from crossing over.  

When the gut becomes leaky, undigested food particles and bacteria enter the bloodstream. The immune system doesn’t recognize these foreign objects and attacks them. 

In turn, the immune response causes inflammation throughout the body. It can lead to digestive symptoms and many chronic health conditions. 

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What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the bonds between the cells that line the intestinal wall break down. 

These bonds (called tight junctions) help keep the gut barrier intact and prevent large molecules from passing through.

Tight junctions can break down due to many factors. Some of which are stress, poor diet, infections, and certain digestive disorders. 

Let’s take a closer look at what causes leaky gut.

Digestive Disorders

Leaky gut is often triggered by gut disorders, such as:

  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Unsurprisingly, these diseases are all characterized by high levels of inflammation.2 

In people with Celiac disease, eating gluten activates a compound called zonulin. Zonulin breaks down tight junctions and creates holes in the gut.

Those with Crohn’s disease often have gut barriers that are sensitive to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).3 Genetics seem to be partly responsible for this.

It’s unclear how ulcerative colitis and IBS cause leaky gut. But in both conditions, the proteins that maintain healthy tight junctions are greatly reduced.2

Other Illnesses That Trigger A Leaky Gut

Other diseases are also linked to a leaky gut. Certain autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are often associated with increased intestinal permeability.3 

Evidence strongly suggests that leaky gut plays a role in these diseases. 

Bacterial and viral infections that cause stomach flu are common causes of leaky gut. In most people, the gut heals itself after the infection is cleared. 

However, some people continue to experience leaky gut long after they’ve recovered.3 

H. pylori is another common culprit for a leaky gut. This bad bacteria can take over your gut and cause ulcers. 

It causes inflammation that damages the intestinal lining and makes it porous. Early studies have also linked H. pylori to various skin problems.4

Stress & Unhealthy Lifestyle

While genetics play a role in your digestive health, your lifestyle also has an enormous impact. 

For example, the standard American diet (which is low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fats) contributes to a leaky gut.5 

Similar diets cause gut inflammation and increased permeability.

Drinking too much alcohol can also affect your gut health. Alcohol damages the cells that line the intestines and break down the gut barrier.6 

Chronic stress is another leaky gut trigger. Stress raises your cortisol levels, which weakens the gut barrier.7

Studies have found that married couples who have more arguments and conflict are more likely to have a leaky gut than couples with more peaceful marriages.7 

Imbalanced Gut Microbiome

Bacteria play an important role in keeping your gut healthy. Having lots of diversity, as well as a balance of good and bad bacteria helps protect the gut barrier and keeps it sealed.

When your gut flora loses balance, it can cause intestinal inflammation and leaky gut. Factors that can disrupt your gut bacteria are: 

  • Poor diet (high in sugar and fat and low in fiber)
  • Stress
  • Too much alcohol
  • Poor sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Antibiotics

Leaky Gut Symptoms and Their Effects on Your Body

Because leaky gut has many causes and creates inflammation throughout the body, symptoms may vary. Common symptoms include1:

  • Low energy levels
  • Joint pain
  • Gas and bloating 
  • Brain fog and headaches
  • Skin issues (e.g., eczema and atopic dermatitis)

People with leaky gut may also have food sensitivities, such as gluten and lactose intolerance.

These symptoms can be frustrating as they can be unpredictable. They can also make daily activities like eating and exercising uncomfortable and stressful.

More serious issues that can arise from a leaky gut include:1

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Depression 
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Multiple sclerosis

The Leaky Gut Diet Plan

Food is an excellent tool to help heal a leaky gut. Certain foods can feed beneficial gut bacteria, reduce gut inflammation, and improve leaky gut symptoms

However, others can actually make a leaky gut worse. Below are some foods that you should eat and avoid. 

Foods to Eat for Leaky Gut

Here are leaky gut diet foods that you may want to eat: 

  • Low-sugar fruits like berries
  • Vegetables 
  • Omega-3 rich fish 
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Lean meats and eggs
  • Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil
  • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts and almonds

Foods rich in omega-3 (like salmon) help reduce inflammation and allow the gut to heal. 

Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that can restore balance in your gut

Eggs are an excellent source of vitamin A, which is needed for a healthy gut barrier.8

Taking probiotic supplements is also a great way to heal a leaky gut and promote the health of your microbiome. They keep harmful bacteria in check and reduce inflammation.

Other supplements that may improve leaky gut include:

  • Zinc9
  • Glutamine10
  • Vitamin D11

Foods to Avoid with Leaky Gut

Foods that you should avoid on a leaky gut diet include:

  • Wheat and other gluten-containing grains such as barley and rye
  • Dairy products like milk and cheese
  • Fruits high in sugar, such as dates, bananas, and mangoes
  • Omega-6 oils like canola and safflower oil
  • Desserts high in sugar and fats, including pastries, cakes, and ice cream
  • Artificial sweeteners 

Generally, these foods damage the gut barrier and cause chronic inflammation.

Omega-6 fatty acids can increase the production of inflammatory compounds and worsen leaky gut symptoms. However, Dr. Rizza Mira says that not all sources are pro-inflammatory.

“In fact, some sources of omega-6 fatty acids like evening primrose and spirulina have anti-inflammatory properties that promote healing,” she says.

High-sugar and high-fat foods feed bad bacteria in the gut, disrupt the gut microbiome, and trigger inflammation.12 

Avoiding any food intolerances and limiting alcohol intake are also important.

You don’t need to stop eating these foods completely or forever. You can limit your consumption of them until your gut recovers.

More Ways to Prevent Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is a potential underlying factor for many chronic diseases. 

It turns out, there may be some truth to the Hippocrates’ statement. The “Father of Medicine” believed that all disease begins in the gut. 

While a leaky gut can be caused by many things, the good news is the gut is incredibly resilient and can heal quickly. 

The best way to heal a leaky gut is with an anti-inflammatory diet that incorporates healthy foods rich in fiber and probiotics. 

Diet and lifestyle changes can also help you improve gut health. Some of them are:

  • Exercising 
  • Getting more sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen)

Combining these healthy habits will improve leaky gut symptoms. They can also keep your gut microbiome healthy and heal your leaky gut. 

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Resources

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  1. The Leaky Gut: Mechanisms, Measurement and Clinical Implications in Humans” Gut
  2. Rapid disruption of intestinal barrier function by gliadin involves altered expression of apical junctional proteins” Federation of European Biochemical Societies Letters
  3. Alterations in intestinal permeability” Gut
  4. Helicobacter pylori and skin disorders: a comprehensive review of the available literature.” European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences.
  5.  “High-Glucose or -Fructose Diet Cause Changes of the Gut Microbiota and Metabolic Disorders in Mice without Body Weight Change” Nutrients
  6. Increased Intestinal Permeability and Decreased Barrier Function: Does It Really Influence the Risk of Inflammation?” Inflammatory Intestinal Diseases
  7. Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human–bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
  8. Retinol and retinol-binding protein: gut integrity and circulating immunoglobulins” The Journal of Infectious Diseases
  9. Zinc supplementation tightens "leaky gut" in Crohn's disease” Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
  10. Glutamine and the regulation of intestinal permeability: from bench to bedside” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care
  11. Effects of vitamin D supplementation on intestinal permeability, cathelicidin and disease markers in Crohn’s disease: Results from a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study” United European Gastroenterology Journal
  12. High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria” Nutrients
Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Will Hunter
Will Hunter
Content Contributor
Will is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Will has 7 years of experience writing health-related content, with an emphasis on nutrition, alternative medicine, and longevity.
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