How can I manage leaky gut syndrome?

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Carmen Patrick Mohan, MD
Internal Medicine
"Leaky gut syndrome" is not a recognized diagnosis within the scientific community.  Providers of complementary and alternative medicine use the catch phrase "leaky gut" to describe a hypothetical malfunction in the complex relationship between the intestinal wall's function as a barrier and its ability to allow substances such as fluid and substances dissolved within the fluid to move through the intestinal lining -- what scientists call "intestinal permeability."   The variables making the intestines more or less permeable are poorly understood in rigorous scientific studies.  Talk to your doctor about any symptom you are having that makes you concerned about your health.
Robynne K. Chutkan, MD
Gastroenterology
There’s no miracle cure for treating leaky gut, but there are things you can do if you’re suffering from it that can help heal inflammation and restore the integrity of your gut lining.

An anti-inflammatory diet that eliminates refined sugars, dairy, gluten, alcohol and artificial sweeteners -- some of the biggest offenders when it comes to inflammation -- can be very helpful. Consuming lots of anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids in fish and nuts, and filling up on green leafy vegetables, high-fiber and fermented foods that help to promote the growth of good bacteria is also crucial.

A robust probiotic that contains large amounts of good bacteria can help heal a damaged intestinal lining by restoring balance in the gut flora.

Supplements like glutamine have been shown in some studies to help with intestinal injury after chemotherapy and radiation and may be beneficial in leaky gut.

Most people will notice improvement within 6 weeks, although it may take several months and even years to heal a damaged intestinal lining in extreme cases of leaky gut. Because we’re still learning about leaky gut, many of the treatment guidelines are drawn more from anecdotal observation than from rigorous scientific studies. But they’re sensible recommendations that can lead to improvements in your overall health, whether or not you have increased intestinal permeability.
Eva B. Cwynar, MD
Internal Medicine
There are many lifestyle and dietary recommendations that can help improve leaky gut syndrome, including:
  • Eliminate alcohol consumption during the gastrointestinal healing phase.
  • Completely avoid use of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Avoid constipation -- eat plenty of fiber-rich foods and drink eight glasses of water per day.
  • Control stress (you can use biofeedback, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, proper sleep, etc.).
  • Avoid excess consumption of coffee, tea, and soda.
  • Consume organic fruits and vegetables and free-range meat and poultry whenever possible.
  • Eat five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Avoid sugar and artificially sweetened products. Replace sugar with stevia or xylitol.
  • Concentrate on fish and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
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Leopold D. Galland, MD
Internal Medicine
Five steps to help heal Leaky Gut Syndrome focus on getting rid of anything that might be causing or contributing to increased intestinal permeability:

1) Stop drinking alcohol for at least a month.

2) Stop using aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

3) Have a stool test for intestinal parasites. There is extensive medical literature on intestinal parasites causing symptoms like fatigue, joint pain and skin disorders, without causing diarrhea.

4) Adopt an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern. The principles are simple to understand: avoid foods with added sugar and refined starches, made from white flour. Decrease consumption of saturated fat and most vegetable oils, using extra-virgin olive oil instead. Eat at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and at least 4 servings of fish per week.

5) There are dietary supplements that help the small intestine heal and restore its functional integrity. The most important of these are the amino acid L-glutamine and the amino sugar N-acetyl-glucosamine, which are readily available in health food stores.

These are but a few introductory steps toward an integrated approach to this condition.

Continue Learning about Digestive Disease Treatments

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.