Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is syndrome where bacteria and toxins pass through the gut that shouldn’t, which can lead to digestive upset, such as IBS, bloating, gas, and a host of other health issues. Fortunately, there are some dietary approaches that you can take to heal leaky gut.
Healthy digestion is the foundation of overall health and well-being. Our digestive tract is the main barrier between us and our outside world, so if our gut is healthy, we are too. In fact, it is now said that many chronic symptoms including gas, bloating, allergies, acne, eczema, and joint pain are actually signs of impaired gut health. Because it is the job of the gut to keep toxins, antigens, and foreign invaders out, when our gut health is impaired negative symptoms can manifest in the body in many different ways. Fortunately, an approach known as the 4R program, which has its roots in functional medicine, can help to address the underlying causes, restore balance in the gut and help to alleviate symptoms. So, if you are concerned you have leaky gut, and want to improve it, here is a simple and effective 4-step approach on how to heal leaky gut naturally.
How to Heal Leaky Gut with the 4R Approach
The 4R approach offers 4 steps; remove, replace, reinoculate, and repair, which can help to address the underlying causes of leaky gut and therefore alleviate symptoms. Depending on the severity of the damage, healing leaky gut can take several months, however, the foundational steps always remain the same.
The first step in healing leaky gut is to remove all inflammatory foods. Although these foods may differ slightly from person to person, it is important to remove all foods that can potentially damage the intestinal lining. The most common inflammatory foods include; gluten, dairy, corn, soy, shellfish, peanuts, and eggs, as well as processed foods, vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, caffeine, and alcohol. These foods should be removed from the diet for a set amount of time, typically 2-4 weeks, until your symptoms have subsided or are no longer visible. Essentially, your diet should focus on whole foods including fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, gluten-free grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils. Furthermore, it is important to pay attention to lifestyle factors during the removal process in order to reduce or eliminate stress, as stress can impair your digestion and nutrient absorption which can heighten symptoms of leaky gut.
The second step is to replace the nutrients required for optimal digestion to take place. The digestive process requires sufficient amounts of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCl), and these are commonly depleted in individuals with leaky gut. In fact, they are often depleted due to a diet high in refined foods, medications, disease, stress, or aging, and further contribute to leaky gut itself. Adding digestive enzymes to your regimen will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses. If you are unsure if you have low stomach acid, you can take a simple at-home test to being, or speak to a functional medicine practitioner to be certain.
The third step is to reinoculate your gut with healthy bacteria to help restore balance. You can restore the beneficial bacteria in your gut with high-quality probiotics to help re-establish a healthy microbiome. In addition to taking a probiotic supplement, you can incorporate probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha, however, you still want to avoid fermented foods from potential allergens such as yogurt, since it is from dairy, which is part of the removal step. Finally, you can incorporate prebiotic-rich foods, which help the probiotic bacteria to thrive, such as leeks, onions, asparagus, jicama, bananas, garlic, and Jerusalem artichokes which will support gut microbiome and help to heal leaky gut.
The final step to healing leaky gut is to help repair and protect the gut lining itself. Remember, it is the gaps in the tight junctions of the gut lining that are one of the primary contributing factors to leaky gut, so repairing them is vital. This process can take several months depending on how much damage has been done so it is important to be patient if you truly want to heal leaky gut. In addition to following a low-allergenic diet, reducing stress, and supporting digestion, specific supplements can be incorporated to help heal the gut lining itself. L-glutamine is extremely beneficial for rejuvenating the gut wall lining, while collagen is rich in amino acids that help to “seal the leaks” by healing damaged cells and creating new tissues. Regularly consuming gelatin-rich bone broth is also very healing to the gut lining and therefore a great addition to the diet.
The Bottom Line
No matter what your health issue is, repairing your gut is the first step in restoring your health. The 4R program is a great first step to heal leaky gut and reducing chronic systems. It is incredible to see how often these simple steps can support healing in so many people, however, if you implement these steps and still struggle with symptoms it is best to speak with a functional medicine practitioner for specific testing and additional support.
Be sure to read part 1 and part 2 of my overview on gut health so you can understand if these are the right steps for you.
Part 2: 10 Signs You Have Leaky Gut