Foods For Leaky Gut: 10 Food That Causes It + 10 Foods That Heal It

foods for leaky gut

Foods For Leaky Gut: 10 Food That Causes It + 10 Foods That Heal It

Leaky Gut is an often misdiagnosed medical condition that can lead to a variety of health problems. The foods you eat can cause it to get worse, or they can help to heal it, depending on what you choose. Knowing which foods do what, and the reasoning behind this, in regard to your leaky gut is critical, and this is what we’re going to go over below.

Contents: 

What is Leaky Gut?
10 Foods that Can Cause Leaky Gut or Make It Worse

  1. Gluten
  2. Dairy
  3. Omega-6
  4. Non-Organic Meats (Contains Antibiotics)
  5. Sugar
  6. Food Additives
  7. Coffee
  8. Vegetable Oil
  9. Packaged Foods
  10. Processed Meat

10 Foods/Supplements You Can Take to Overcome Leaky Gut

  1. Bone Broth
  2. L-Glutamine
  3. Collagen Peptides
  4. Broccoli Sprouts
  5. Turmeric
  6. Wild Caught Fish
  7. Fermented Foods
  8. Healthy Fats
  9. Peppermint
  10. Pumpkin Seeds

Bottom Line

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky Gut is a condition in which the lining of your small intestine becomes damaged. Also called Intestinal Permeability, this damage allows bacteria, undigested food particles and toxic waste products to pass through your small intestine’s wall and flood into your bloodstream. Once these things make it to your bloodstream, they spread throughout your body, leading to serious issues.

Since these substances are not supposed to leave your digestive tract, they can prompt your immune system to set up an autoimmune response which floods your body with system-wide inflammation. This inflammation can lead directly to perforations and fissures which cause leaky gut, and can make existing cases of leaky gut worse because your damaged intestinal cells are not allowed time to heal. When this happens, the cells won’t be able to get the nutrients you need from the food you eat, and this can further complicate your symptoms. (1)

10 Foods that Can Cause Leaky Gut or Make It Worse

Unfortunately, the food you eat can contribute to leaky gut. In many cases, your diet is the root cause of your of the damage that causes so many problems throughout your system. The following 10 foods can either cause your leaky gut, or they can make it worse.

1. Gluten

Gluten is the name manufacturers use for wheat proteins. This is a generalised term that covers emmer, semolina, wheatberries, durum, farina, spelt, graham, farro, rye, triticale and barley. Gluten’s main function is to act like a glue that holds foods together and helps them maintain their shapes. You can find gluten in bread, cereals, flour, food colouring, soups, beer, pasta, sauces, malt and much more. (2)

Gluten is difficult for your system to break down, and some people have sensitivities that cause irritation. One controlled trial took 45 people and split them into two groups of 21 participants each. 22 people followed a diet that contained gluten, and 23 got a gluten-free diet. After four weeks, researchers found that the intestinal permeability of the group who had the gluten-rich diet was significantly higher than the gluten-free group. (3)

2. Dairy

Dairy is an inflammatory product for your gut. To make matters worse, Australian dairy has been shown to contain trace levels of antibiotics. These antibiotics find their way into dairy products in a variety of ways including poor sanitation practices and through the treatment of pregnant cows. These antibiotics can potentially increase a person’s sensitivity levels to dairy products, and this leads to increased inflammation. (4)

One cross-over study took 140 men and women who had subclinical inflammation and split them into two groups. Group A was instructed to add three servings of dairy into their diet each day for four weeks. Group B was instructed to eat no dairy, but to eat energy-equivalent food. At the end of the study, researchers tested both group’s inflammatory markers. Group A had higher levels of these inflammatory markers than group B, and so group A was at a greater risk of cell damage and intestinal permeability. (5)

3. Omega-6

Omega-6 fatty acids play a vital role in several body systems, but only when taken in moderation. These fatty acids are frequently found in fast foods due to the use of vegetable oils in the cooking process. Omega-6 fatty acid sources should make up between 5% and 10% of your diet because your body doesn’t produce them. However, getting too much of this fatty can cause your gut bacteria to shift and change. This can lead to a higher amount of pro-inflammatory bacteria in your digestive tract. (6)

A clinical trail demonstrated this phenomenon by selecting groups of rats and giving the control group standard food, and the other groups a diet rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. They collected faecal samples before the trial, during the trial, and at the end of the 30-day trial to check the levels of bacteria. They found that the rats that got the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids had elevated pro-inflammatory bacteria levels compared to the control group. These are “bad” bacteria that can cause your system to become unbalanced. When this happens, you sustain damage to your intestinal walls. (7)

4. Non-Organic Meats (Contains Antibiotics)

Non-organic meat often contains antibiotics. Farmers routinely add a variety of antibiotics to their livestock’s food in order to keep them from getting diseases or sicknesses. Additionally, growth hormone is common because it helps to bulk up the livestock so they have a higher yield of meat per animal. Antibiotics can cause low-grade inflammation. (8)

Very few human studies have given concrete answers to why non-organic meats alter intestinal permeability. However, animal studies showed that eating a diet of non-organic meats instead of organic meats led to the growth of “bad” bacteria like Leuconostoc, Campylobacter, Streptococcus and the Candida Albicans Yeast. Since these are pro-inflammatory bacteria strains, they play a key role in increased intestinal permeability. They can also reduce levels of “good” bacteria like Bacteroides and Bifidobacterium, leading again to increased intestinal permeability and inflammation. (9)

5. Sugar

Sugar or Sucrose, is a naturally-occurring sweetener that forms a diet staple for many cultures. This is why you can find it in medications, fruit, preservatives and more. There are several different sources of sugar, and your body uses it for energy in moderation. However, if you get too much sugar, it can lead to certain species of yeast overgrowing in your digestive tract. (10)

One study took 22 participants and split them into two groups. One group ate a high sugar diet, and the other group cut sugar out of their diet. The subjects’ stools were tested for candida levels before, during and after the trial. The found that the participants who ate a sugar-rich diet had higher candida levels than the control group. Candida overgrowth can lead to leaky gut and inflammation. (11)

6. Food Additives

Food additives are artificial ingredients that manufacturers add to food products to enhance the food’s flavour profile, texture, freshness and colours. These additives could contribute to leaky gut and chronic, low-grade inflammation. Food additives that cause problems are: (12)

  • Aspartame – Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that you can find in beverages and food. A study showed that in low, consistent doses, this additive altered the bacteria levels in the gut. It caused “bad” bacteria to thrive, and this led to inflammation. (13)
  • Guar Gum – In small amounts, Guar Gum can be beneficial, and it binds and thickens food. However, a study showed that Guar Gum expands to 10 and 20 times the normal size, and this can cause obstructions in your intestines. (14)
  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup – Test tube animal studies found indications that consuming high-fructose corn syrup can trigger inflammation in your digestive tract. This can increase your intestinal permeability. (15)
7. Coffee

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. It comes from grinding coffee beans, and it gives the drinker’s energy. Additionally, drinking coffee increases your cognitive function. However, caffeine withdrawal can cause muscle fatigue, headaches, abdominal pain and other issues with your digestive tract if you suddenly stop drinking it. (16)

Studies involving mice tested how coffee affected inflammation levels and intestinal permeability. They fed mice a diet with a supplement that mimicked drinking 1, 5 and 10 cups of coffee every day. At the end of the study, the found that the mice that had 5 or 10 cups of coffee each day had higher levels of intestinal permeability, a thinner mucosal barrier and higher levels of inflammation over the group of mice who had the equivalent of one cup of coffee. (17)

8. Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oils are fats that come from seeds. Popular vegetable oils include cocoa butter, soybean oil, olive oil and rapeseed oil. These processed oils go through a high heat extraction process combined with solvents. The heat destroys any antioxidants the oils may have, and it increases the amounts of unhealthy fats. (18)

One study involving young pigs split 108 of them into four groups to test vegetable oil’s effects on intestinal permeability. Group A received corn oil in their diet, group B received vegetable oil, group C received poultry fat and tallow, and group D received a control diet. They ate these enriched diets for 28 days, during which time blood samples and faecal cells were analysed. Researchers found that pigs who had the vegetable oils in their diet had higher inflammatory markers and higher intestinal permeability than the control group. (19)

9. Packaged Foods

Packaged foods typically contain high levels of chemicals, additives and artificial ingredients. These things make the packaged foods last longer, taste better, look better and maintain their shape better so they’re more appealing to consumers. Eating a lot of packaged foods can cause inflammation, trouble digesting it, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea and weight gain. (20)

A study tested the effects of packaged foods on the digestive tract. One group of participants ate organic and minimally processed foods while the other group ate highly processed foods for two weeks. The researchers tested the inflammatory markers and bacteria, during and after the study. The group who ate the processed foods had increased levels of inflammatory markers and higher levels of “bad” bacteria than the control group. This leads to an increased chance of cell damage and leaky gut. (21)

10. Processed Meat

Processed meat refers to any meat products that go through processes to alter their freshness or how long they last. Examples of processed meat include bacon, corned beef, salami, beef jerky, ham, sausages, meat-based sauces and canned meat. Eating a lot of processed meat can cause inflammation in your intestinal walls because it has additives and goes through a complicated process that alters the meat’s structure and components. (22)

Studies showed that rats who ate a lot of processed meat had altered levels of bacteria in their digestive tract. Scientists fed rats diets containing processed meat, soybean oil, fibre, mineral mix and cornstarch. After 90 days, they tested the rat’s faecal samples. They found that the rats fed with a processed meat diet had 71 strains of Firmicutes and 28 strains of Bacteroidetes. The “bad” bacteria thrived, and this led to low-grade inflammation. The low-grade inflammation stopped the intestinal barrier from healing, and this is how leaky gut starts. (23)

10 Foods/Supplements You Can Take to Overcome Leaky Gut

1. Bone Broth

Bone broth comes from bone marrow that you simmer in water to extract its nutrients, which are important in helping heal leaky gut and inflammation. Additionally, bone broth is a great source of Glutamine and collagen proteins. You can make your own bone broth or you can buy it pre-made in stores. To heal your leaky gut, you want to drink a cup of bone broth at least once a day. (24)

One study tested how bone broth could heal leaky gut. They took people who had problems with intestinal permeability and split them into two groups. One group got a supplement of bone broth, and the other group got the placebo for a four-week study. At the end of the study, they found that bone broth calmed the inflammation, and the Glutamine content started to heal the mucosal layer inside the intestines. (25)

2. L-Glutamine

L-Glutamine is a conditionally-essential amino acid, and it’s the most abundant amino acid in your body. Your body typically produces enough L-Glutamine to support all of your systems, but leaky gut or other chronic infections can drain this, leading to deficiencies. L-Glutamine has powerful properties that can help to heal your gut and calm the inflammation levels. In turn, this can help to reduce the level of intestinal permeability. (26)

There have been multiple studies showcasing L-Glutamine’s effectiveness at treating leaky gut. One clinical study took 20 patients who were admitted to the hospital for supplemental nutrition. Half of the group received an L-Glutamine supplement, and the other half got a placebo. The group who had the L-Glutamine supplement had a higher amount of intestinal villi, the small protrusions which increase the surface area of the intestinal wall, as well as repaired protein bonds in their intestinal walls. (27)

3. Collagen Peptides

Of all of the protein in your body, roughly 30% are collagen peptides. These peptides act like glue in your body, and they help to ensure that everything stays together as it’s supposed to. This includes the cells in your intestines. Additionally, collagen peptides help your body regenerate skin, tissue, tendons and cartilage. (28)

Healthy volunteers agreed to let researchers test how collagen peptides helped repair the damage of leaky gut. They found that collagen peptides play a critical role in repairing the mucosal layer by strengthening the protein bonds of the intestinal lining. They also prompt your digestive tract to secrete more gastric juices, and this can help to control your inflammation levels. Once the inflammation goes down, the cells will start to heal. (29)

4. Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli sprouts come packed with extremely high levels of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that can go to work treating a variety of conditions. Broccoli sprouts are three or four-day old broccoli plants that taste like radishes but look a little like alfalfa sprouts. You can eat them raw, or you can add them to a variety of foods to give yourself a nutrient boost. (30)

Broccoli sprouts can help heal leaky gut by healing the inflammation. A clinical trial took 40 overweight subjects and had them eat 30 grams of broccoli sprouts a day for 10 weeks. Then, they resumed a normal diet without broccoli sprouts for 10 weeks. They found that the participants’ inflammatory markers significantly decreased after eating the broccoli sprouts, and returned after they resumed their normal diets. This means that they had a greater chance of developing intestinal barrier damage and intestinal permeability as a result of inflammation once they returned to their normal diets. (31)

5. Turmeric

Although you may not know it by name, you most likely know Turmeric by sight. This is the spice that gives curry its signature bright colour. It’s an extremely popular spice in a variety of Asian and Indian dishes. Additionally, it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help to heal your leaky gut symptoms at a very rapid pace. (32)

Turmeric is an extremely popular solution for leaky gut because it is very fast acting. A 12 week clinical trial took 53 people and put them on a supplement of Turmeric at a rate of 325mg per day. Researchers noticed that the participants’ levels of inflammation started to go down after just two weeks. This showed researchers that Turmeric could be as effective at reducing inflammation as certain medications, helping cells to repair, and helping leaky gut to heal. (33)

6. Wild Caught Fish

Wild caught fish is ranked as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Fish comes loaded with essential vitamins and nutrients, and it has a high level of healthy fats. Because it’s so easy to prepare, and there are dozens of varieties available, you have virtually endless choices when it comes to adding it to your diet. (34)

Wild caught fish is the single most potent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for healing leaky gut. One study showed that adding wild caught fish to your diet two or three times a week significantly helped to repair the mucosal barrier in the intestines. It also helped to lower inflammation levels throughout your digestive tract. (35)

7. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods contain higher levels of acid, and this acid content can help to heal intestinal permeability. Examples of fermented foods include things like sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, pickles, miso and kimchi. These foods do tend to have stronger flavour profiles, so it’s a good idea to eat them in moderation. (36)

Researchers have performed several studies to test how fermented foods can positively impact leaky gut. One study had the participants add vinegar to their diet once a day throughout the duration of the trial. They found that the acid content could stimulate your stomach to produce more digestive enzymes, and this helps to regulate how quickly your stomach empties. This takes the stress off your digestive tract, and it promotes healing. (37)

8. Healthy Fats

In moderation, healthy fats like Omega-3s can help to improve your gut health. They come packed with fats that your body can’t produce by itself, and these fats perform several important functions. They can lower your cholesterol levels, regulate swelling in your extremities and help to control the clotting factor in your blood. (38)

One study involving krill oil tested how the Omega-3 content helped to heal leaky gut. Scientists checked the levels of bacteria in the test group and control group. The test group got a dose of healthy fats every day for two weeks, and the control group had a standard diet. At the end of the two weeks, the researchers noted that the test group had more balanced levels of bacteria in their digestive tract, helping calm inflammation and being the healing process. (39)

9. Peppermint

Peppermint is a herb that has a sharp scent. It’s a cross between spearmint and water mint, and grows wild in North America and Europe. Mint has a long history of medicinal use, especially for helping calm digestive problems. It’s excellent at helping alleviate nausea and upset stomach. You can use it in teas, food, as an oil or by itself. (40)

12 randomised trials took 835 participants and gave them peppermint oil for a variety of digestive problems including pain, constipation, intestinal permeability, bloating and more. They found that the control group had decreased symptoms over the placebo group. They had lower levels of inflammation and pain. (41)

10. Pumpkin Seeds

Although pumpkin seeds are small, they pack a lot of nutrients into every seed. You get a healthy amount of good fats, zinc and magnesium from eating these foods. They have a high antioxidant content that can help repair cellular damage, and can also reduce inflammation. (42)

Pumpkin seeds have powerful anti-inflammatory effects that have proven in animal studies to be very effective at treating intestinal permeability. One study involving animals found that when the test subjects ingested pumpkin seeds on a daily basis, the anti-inflammatory properties worked as well as Indomethacin. This is a very powerful drug that physicians prescribe for arthritis inflammation. (43)

Bottom Line

Leaky gut can be difficult to manage if you don’t know which foods to eat and which foods to avoid to help heal your leaky gut. Our list gives you an excellent starting point that you can use to help start the healing process. You do want to talk to your doctor before you make any drastic changes, but you should notice positive differences very quickly.

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