What Should You Eat To Heal a Leaky Gut?

April 5, 2012 in Categories: by

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(Created as a guest post for The Paleo Parents)

If you are concerned that you may have, or could develop, a leaky gut, then changing your diet to one that protects the gut is a natural next step for you.  If you are already battling health conditions related to having a leaky gut, then you will have to be more strict with your dietary choices and also address other lifestyle factors like getting good quality sleep, managing stress, finding time for low-strain exercise, and getting outside.

The first and most important thing to do to heal a leaky gut is to stop eating foods that damage and inflame the gut lining!  It can take six months or more for the gut to fully heal depending on the extent of the damage, the health of the gut microflora and your individual genetics (for people with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, recovery can take up to two years!).  Until the gut is completely healthy, it is important to abstain from all grains, all legumes, and all dairy products (some people may tolerate ghee and/or butter from grass-fed sources, but I recommend leaving it out for at least a month before trying it).  It is also important to avoid additives in processed foods (many of which irritate the gut) and refined sugars (which promote inflammation).  Some people will also need to eliminate vegetables from the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers of all kinds, and especially potatoes), eliminate egg whites (I actually rinse my egg yolks before eating them), and limit nut consumption (other than coconut and macadamias).  Changing your diet to avoid gut-irritating foods is critical.  But, it is also important to include foods that can reduce inflammation and help heal the damaged gut.

Eat foods that reduce inflammation.  It’s very important to be mindful of both your omega-6 and your omega-3 polyunsaturatedfatty acid intake.  Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, which are found in large quantities in modern vegetable oils, meat from grain-fed animals, and many nuts and seeds, increase inflammation.  Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in large quantities in wild-caught fish, pastured/free-range eggs, and meat from pastured animals, decrease inflammation.  To help reduce overall inflammation and heal the gut, aim for a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid intake in your diet.  There are several ways of doing this:  you can make sure that all of the meat in your diet is exclusively from grass-fed animals (beef, bison, goat or lamb); you can eat plenty of wild-caught seafood; and/or you can supplement with a good quality fish oil. 

Vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals which help control inflammation (and help with just about every other normal function of the body!).  Eating a variety of differently colored vegetables, a variety of dark green leafy vegetables, and a variety cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.) every day will provide all of the essential vitamins and minerals in a way that is easy for the body to absorb (no more need for a multivitamin!).  Fruits, especially berries, are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  However, most people will need to exercise some portion control with fruits due to the high sugar content.  I recommend eating vegetables at every meal (it can be a bit strange getting used to eating vegetables at breakfast, but it’s amazing what a difference it makes to how you feel for the whole rest of the day!).

It is also important to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D.  You can achieve this by simply spending some time outside in the sun every day, or from eating liver once or twice per week, or from supplementing with Cod Liver Oil or Vitamin D3 supplements.

Eat foods that restore gut microflora.  If you have a leaky and inflamed gut, chances are very good that your resident good bacteria are having trouble too.  To help restore their numbers and their diversity, eat as many different good sources of probiotics as possible.  You can do this by taking Probiotic supplements and changing brands every time you buy a bottle (the different brands all have different proprietary strains, which helps with increasing your gut microflora diversity).  Even better, you can consume probiotic rich foods, like unpasteurized Sauerkraut and other unpasteurized fermented vegetables, Kombucha Tea (my personal favorite), and coconut milk Yogurt or Kefir (which can be a little harder to find in stores but very easy to make at home).  All of these can be found at alternative grocery stores (like Whole Foods), and some can be found online, but all can also be made easily and inexpensively at home. 

Eat foods that promote healing:  As the body tries to heal itself, it’s important to provide it with plenty of good quality protein (needed to make all those new cells and connective tissues) as well as vitamins, minerals and good fats.  In this way, the best way to promote healing is to eat a paleo diet that includes wild-caught fish, meat from grass-fed sources, organ meat (preferably from pastured sources), and plenty of vegetables.  There are two other healing foods that are very important to include: coconut and bone broth.  Antimicrobial short- and medium-chain saturated fats, like those found in coconut oil and other coconut products, help to reduce overgrowth of bad yeast, fungus and bacteria in the small intestine.  Medium chain saturated fats are very gentle on the cells that line the gut since they can be passively absorbed without being broken down by digestive enzymes and used for energy without any modification.  This source of easy energy is very helpful for healing the lining of the gut.  Broth made from the bones of chicken, turkey, duck, beef, lamb pork and/or fish are anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and contain nutrients which help rebuild the integrity of the digestive tract.  Most importantly, broth is rich in the amino acids proline and glycine, which help regulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and promote healing in every part of the body.

While these dietary changes may seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that making them will keep you healthy, put many diseases into remission, and prevent dozens of other diseases from developing.  For the vast majority of people, using diet to prioritize gut health will mean a lifetime of good health.  

Comments

I am pretty sure I have leaky gut since I cannot tolerate most foods digestive wise. I also have severe tongue issues and reactions with cuts, bumps, irritation, pain with almost anything I try to eat. I eat mostly cold cuts (Boars Head), some meats and of course cheese which I know I need to eliminate. I cannot do nuts, raisins, most fruits, really do not love veggies. I avoid most grains/glutens. I have the nosiest stomach, awful tongue, get dizzy with lots of foods, blurry vision, respiratory symptoms. I do take Vit D, probiotics, papaya enzymes and thyroid meds. I may have candida issues as well and was told no sugar, dairy, grains, but have not eliminated everything yet. I was also given Diflucan 200 mg for 60 days, but have only tired a few because I worry about liver issues. I am thinking there is no hope for me as I am so limited with what I eat already.

You may benefit from the recommendations in The Paleo Approach: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1936608391?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1936608391&linkCode=xm2&tag=wwwthepaleomo-20. I also recommend finding a practitioner well-versed in Paleo and autoimmune disease if you haven’t already. Both http://www.paleophysiciansnetwork.com and http://www.primaldocs.com are excellent directories, and there will also be consultants available through The Paleo Mom in the near future. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

I also had problems with sores in my mouth from toothpaste. I used to use Colgate total until I found out it had triclosan in it. Triclosan is an antimicrobial that basically kills off both good and bad bacteria indiscrimenantly. Which like our gut with antibiotics, leaves our mouths defenseless against bad bacterial invasions. I haven’t had a single mouth sore since I stopped using toothpaste with triclosan. They put that stuff in everything anymore and it’s thought that that maybe why we’re having so much trouble with antibiotic resistant super bacteria like MRSA.

I had a lot of problems with my mouth also. I Thought I might have a venereal disease. Turns out I found out that chemicals in regular toothpaste was the problem. Try switching to a natural one found in trader joes store, or the brand Tom’s

Good day kris, paleo and also gershon therapy is the best way to eat, also try L-glutamine powder, solal has a very good one, or try to find one that is atleast 3000mg (3/g) per measure, also super colustrum, and A Voggel’s mulkosan. And then the diet, it works!!

If you have systemic Candida, colonics fixed me up very quickly. I had 9 sessions in 5 weeks and it cleared it all out of my blood. Probiotics are important and fermented foods such as raw organic unpasteurized sauerkraut.

Thanks for all of the info! I just discovered all of the symptoms I have been experiencing are from a leaky gut. I was wondering, why is it that egg whites are not ok, but the yolks are?

I drink a lemon elixer in the morning (apple cider vinegar, lemon, and warm water) but now that I am trying to heal my leaky gut is this still ok to have? Thank you! I also see that you have a health coach from IIN on your team, I graduated last July! Congrats to her. It’s such a great program.

I had a food allergy test done to be absolutely certain that I avoided the foods causing my leaky guy and chronic inflammation. Lemon was one of my top offenders meaning I have the worst reaction to it out of the 14 foods that I reacted to (out of about 90). I’m not a doctor, and this blog may not be right for everyone so I suggest that you listen to your body (or see a naturopath if you can). However, I know that after I have reintroduced a reactive food after a few weeks of total elimination, I can tell right away if that food needs to STAY eliminated because of the pain in my gut…I hope that’s helpful to someone out there!

I’m pretty sure I have a leaky gut and would love to change my diet to heal it and inevitably feel much better. However just reading this is very overwhelming, is there a simpler less daunting way of formatting this info that I won’t feel like I’m not allowed to eat anything. Do you have a sample menu somewhere? Thanks!

You can get a free Paleo Quick-Start Guide with simple food lists and other useful tips by subscribing to Sarah’s newsletter (in the sidebar on the right if you’re on a computer). – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

What is your take on the approach if you have leaky gut and (non-symptomatic) SIBO? Is low FODMAP necessary in addition to the restrictions you provide in this post? Or should you just take the gut healing approach and the SIBO will resolve as part of that?

If you have been diagnosed with SIBO, then a low-FODMAP approach is highly recommended. However, if you’d like to start with Paleo and see how you do before making additional restrictions, that’s fine. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

my little boy has ezcema and we can’t seem to figure out the offending food..if i just try and follow this protcol will it maybe help him even if we can[t figure out the irritant?

I had gastric bypass (14 yrs ago), I have no gall bladder and I’ve been suffering with Fibromyalgia for 3 yrs. I’ve been following a low carb Paleo diet, with dairy (just cheese and very little butter), for the last 2 1/2 mths and have not lost any weight yet (I have 80 to lose) and I’m getting very depressed. How do I know if I have a leaky gut and is this why I’m not losing weight? FYI…I regained these 80lbs over the last 12 yrs, I stay hungry all the time because my food does not stay in my stomach for more than an hour or two and I belch almost constantly no matter what I eat.
Have you had any experience with Paleo after gastric bypass?

I have not personally spoken to anyone following Paleo after gastric bypass, but you may find someone on ThePaleoMomCommunity.com who is (registration is free, but you must confirm your e-mail address and post an introduction before being able to access the site). This post can help you troubleshoot: http://www.thepaleomom.com/2013/04/how-do-i-know-when-its-working-a-quick-troubleshooting-guide-to-paleo.html and you might also consider the autoimmune protocol: http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

I also wanted to add that you may want to look into digestive enzymes to address your missing gallbladder and the belching. Also, ox bile is essential for people who have had their gallbladder removed. I suspect that you would feel full after a meal longer if you were properly digesting fat, and ox bile will help with that.

Thanks for the reply. I recently learned I’m hypothyroid as well. Could there be a link between thyroid and leaky gut?

Absolutely! If you have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (they say 90% of us that are hypo in US have Hashi’s). According to gluten expert Fasano, leaky gut is a required precursor to autoimmunity. I’m working on my gut in an attempt to put my Hashimoto’s in remission. It’s a long road.

My natropath thinks I have leaky gut. I suffer from fatigue. The delayed allergy test shows no food allergies. The skin prick allergy test shows I am allergic to every food. Except for a hive or two, on my face, per year I have never had an immediate or dangerous reaction to a food. What is the correlation between leaky gut and the skin prick allergy result? I thought it was the delayed allergy test that would show leaky gut.

Having a lot of allergies and inflammation can be a good sign of a leaky gut, which your skin prick results may indicate. The standard testing for leaky gut is a lactulose/mannitose test, but it won’t tell you if your gut is only a little leaky. You might consider an elimination diet like Paleo or the AIP to see how you do. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

I have possible sjogrens syndrome. I have never had any gut problems, but decided to try the aip diet. After 2 months the symptoms have improved. I have introduced dairy; feel bloated. A little white rice; within 24 hours symptoms returned but only last 48 hours. Is it possible to not have any gut problems prior to the diet but get them when you reintroduce? Is this a sign of leaky gut? The uk seems backward when it comes to the route causes if autoimmune diseases. Do you know if any consultants in the uk?

Yes, it is a sign of leaky gut. I don’t know of anyone in the UK, but Sarah’s consultants at ThePaleoMomConsulting.com can work with you long-distance. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

[…] What Should You Eat To Heal a Leaky Gut? (Created as a guest post for The Paleo Parents) If you are concerned that you may have, or could develop, a leaky gut, then changing your diet to one that protects the gut is a natural next step for you. […]

I’m 23 years old and still have acne. I thought I was lucky not to get as bad acne as my siblings but then at age 19 I started majorly breaking out and now I have scars and still get break outs. Does this mean I have leaky gut?
I started doing the paleo diet a little more than a month ago and it worked great. I notice whenever I broke it I’d break out. How long do I have to do it and after I do it will i be able to once in a while break it for special occasions without falling back to the same state?

Everyone is different. You may find over time that the foods causing you to break out no longer bother you as your gut heals, or they may always be a problem. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

My 11 year old son has low bone density and small stature due to Celiac. How can I beef up his calorie and calcium intake while healing his leaky gut?? Help, please!

Hi Karen,
With respect to bone health, calcium isn’t the only thing that is important. In fact, you need Vit. D3 and K2 and Magnesium as well. An excellent supplement for the D3 and K2 is Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil. My kids like it in the cinnamon flavor. In addition to that, a gut healing protocol like what PaleoMom recommends in her book or like what Diane San Fillipo describes in her book Practical Paleo would help his gut heal from the Celiac damage. Bone broth is an essential part of that and cutting out all grains. I’m sure those at Paleo Mom will have even more suggestions for you.

Best of luck.

If I am taking fermented cod liver oil every day do I still need to eat liver? I just cant get myself to eat organ meats (at least not yet)…

And on the flip side, when I finally CAN make myself eat organ meats, should I stop taking the cod liver oil on those days? Maybe it doesn’t matter…just want to be sure!

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