Altered intestinal permeability is a common factor in all environmental illnesses and its negative effects are so widespread that it is an essential target for treatment. Fortunately there are a number of nutrients and herbs, as well as other measures such as stress reduction techniques, that can be used to help reduce inflammation and heal the damaged gut lining. This page will discuss all of the commonly used and effective treatment options for leaky gut syndrome.
Things to Avoid
There are quite a number of substances that will aggravate a leaky gut by causing irritation to the gut lining. The most important to avoid are as follows:
- Drugs - The worst offenders include NSAID's (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), antacids and pain med's like aspirin and ibuprofen.
- Environmental contaminants - Pesticide/Insecticide residue
- Food additives
- Spicy foods
As you probably already know, an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria will produce various forms of alcohol in damaging amounts. The organisms themselves, especially yeast will also directly cause damage to the lining of the gut so it is essential to restore the gut ecology to a more healthy balance if you are to heal a leaky gut.
Click to learn about anti-fungal treatment
Glutamine is a common amino acid that is found in many protein containing foods. It is important for a large number of bodily functions, an important example being the detoxification of ammonia. It is one of the most important nutrients for healing leaky gut syndrome because it is the preferred 'fuel' for the cells lining the mucosa of the small intestine (enterocytes). These cells have the ability to take up glutamine directly rather than waiting for it to be supplied through the blood. Glutamine is also required for the production of both intestinal mucus and Secretary Immunoglobulin Type A (SIgA). As a result of these functions, a generous supply of glutamine will help repair and maintain a healthy small intestinal lining. These functions, as well as glutamine's ability to prevent translocation of bacteria from the gut to the bloodstream, have been established in a substantial number of clinical studies both in animals and in human patients with diseases involving impaired intestinal permeability1,2,3,4.
You can purchase glutamine, in the form of l-glutamine, as capsules or powder and it is widely available in health stores. The powder is arguably a better option as quite large amounts need to be taken and it also ensures the glutamine is readily available when it enters the small intestine. The suggested dosage for moderate-severe leaky gut syndrome is in the range of 5-20g per day.
An essential nutrient for the production of the GI tracts protective antibodies (SIgA). Vitamin A also helps to maintain a healthy intestinal mucosa and soothes inflammation5.
Vitamin A can is available in a number of different forms, probably the best of which for this application is an emulsion. Although more expensive, this form is more effective as it effectively coats the intestinal mucosa and gets to where it is needed. Vitamin A can be used safely in doses of up to 20,000-25,000 IU's per day.
In the body zinc is required amongst other things for growth and healing and is more essential to cells with a rapid turnover. The cells of the small intestinal mucosa have an extremely rapid turnover, being replaced about every four days, so zinc is extremely important to the integrity of the intestinal lining. Clinical studies have shown that zinc supplementation can help heal leaky gut in Crohn's disease patients, Crohn's is an illness with a lot of evidence to support the role of leaky gut syndrome6. To underline it's importance, zinc is easily depleted in the body and Dr. Keith Eaton working for Biolab, London has found zinc to be one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in people with dysbiosis/leaky gut syndrome7.
Dosages in the range of 50-80mg per day are usually taken to correct deficiencies of zinc. Be careful not to take more than 100mg each day. Up to this level zinc has a positive effect on the immune system but above 100mg per day and it actually inhibits immune function. It is also wise to take 1mg of copper for every 15mg of zinc as they antagonize each other so taking zinc supplements alone will deplete copper in the body.
There are two distinct types of fibre in our diet, soluble and insoluble. Dr. Leo Galland has found that soluble fibre increases gut permeability (makes leaky gut worse) whereas insoluble fibre decreases gut permeability (heals a leaky gut). The insoluble fibre that Dr. Galland uses with his patients is cellulose and many supplement manufacturers now make cellulose powder and capsules. Cellulose always helps to remove toxins from the intestinal tract before they can be absorbed into the body. Common sources of soluble fibre that should be avoided include psyllium and bran. Ironically these are often suggested by naturopaths and other therapists for people suffering from leaky gut syndrome.
This substance is what is known as an 'amino-sugar', a combination of an amino acid and glucose. NAG is essential for the secretion of the mucus that creates a protective lining on top the the cells of the gut.
NAG is widely available and is most commonly sold in capsules.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
NAC is a very powerful supplement. It is a form of the amino acid cysteine that is highly bio-available, meaning the body can make use of it much more efficiently than other forms. NAC is a potent antioxidant and detoxifier and provides the body with vital cysteine which is the most essential nutrient for the formation of glutathione, the body's master detoxifying chemical. With regards to leaky gut specifically, NAC helps to detoxify toxins produced by intestinal yeast/bacterial overgrowth and stimulates immune function in the gut lining, increasing white blood cell numbers. This detoxifying action also helps beneficial bacteria to establish themselves in the gut if NAC is taken concurrently with a probiotic supplement. Another benefit is that NAC powerfully enhances liver function through production of glutathione and other conjugation enzymes by supplying vital sulphur molecules. This helps heal a leaky gut as the liver can cope with toxins better and hence spills fewer into the bile therefore irritating the lining of the small intestine to a lesser extent. Research has shown that oxidation may play an impoirtant role in increased intestinal permeability and that treatment with NAC can prevent this damage due to it being a powerful antioxidant8.
NAC is widely available as capsules. The daily dosage is usually between 500 and 1000mg in divided doses.
This is a unique product produced by Proper Nutrition, Inc. Seacure is a peptide supplement created by white fish pellets being partially digested by marine micro-organisms. Peptides are the building blocks of protein and are made up of a small number of amino acids bonded together. Seacure is an effective treatment for bowel disorders like leaky gut as some of the peptides appear to act like growth factors, stimulating the tissue of the gut wall to regenerate. The product has been "clinically proven" for a wide range of health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, colitis and Crohn's disease.
Epithelial Growth Factors
These molecules are found in a wide range of sources including peptides deglycerated licorice (DGL), glandular extracts and stevia, which is a natural sweetener and alternative to sugar. Epithelial growth factors have been effectively used in the treatment of various bowel disorders including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. There are likely to be a very useful treatment option for leaky gut syndrome also.
Botanical remedies can be very effective treatments for a wide range of conditions. Below are the most useful herbs for healing a leaky gut and restoring the mucosal barrier. A few of them also powerfully enhance detoxification pathways which is a further benefit for the leaky gut patient.
DGL has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and is very soothing to the upper GI tract. It has been comprehensively researched and shown to be an effective treatment for ulcers of the GI tract and also to prevent damage to the intestines by aspirin9,10.
Silymarin (Milk Thistle)
This is one of the most powerful healing herbs there is. Most well known for its ability to protect liver cells from potent toxins, it also has a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining. Silymarin is a very good antioxidant and also increases levels of glutathione in the cells11.
Slippery elm has a soothing, calming effect on inflamed and damaged gut lining. It is used widely for a range of gastrointestinal disorders. This soothing action can be attributed to its antioxidant action in the gut which has been proven in a number of clinical studies, some on inflammatory bowel disease patients where severe inflammation is present12,13. In addition, slippery elm provides mucilage which coats and protects the intestinal lining from toxins and pathogenic organisms.
Aloe is a fantastic natural healing agent that has found uses treating a wide range of different conditions due to its multiple beneficial actions. One of aloe's active component are called mucilaginous polysaccharides which give the plant its powerful anti-inflammatory healing action. It has been widely shown to have a beneficial affect on a number of conditions involving inflammation of the gut14,15. In addition to its healing effect on the gut lining, aloe is also an immunomodulator and antimicrobial, both of which are beneficial to anyone suffering from leaky gut syndrome and environmental illnesses16.
The digestive tract is the most responsive system in the body to the influences of the brain and the mind-body connection. In fact the digestive system is the only part of the body that contains and uses identical tissues and chemicals to the brain. This has led to the gut being referred to as the 'second brain'. There is a lot of interest in this area at the moment with researchers trying to determine the extent that the brain plays in digestive disorders.
As a result of this strong connection, stress and negative emotional states can have a profound effect on the health of the GI tract. One of the major physiological reactions to stress is the diversion of blood away from the digestive system to the skeletal muscles in readiness to either fight or flee. Effectively, the digestive system is shut down. Without the normal flow of blood, the digestive system is deprived of oxygen, glucose and essential nutrients. Chronic stress therefore leaves the tissues of the digestive system starved of the things it needs to maintain a healthy intestinal wall and produce adequate amounts of protective mucus. It's clear therefore that chronic stress plays an important role in leaky gut syndrome and other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
Dr. Walt Stoll, one of a growing number of doctors turning to an integrative style of medicine, believes that stress is THE most important factor in recovering from leaky gut syndrome. He suggests that everyone suffering from leaky gut syndrome should practice a relaxation technique twice a day that puts the brain into an 'alpha' or 'theta' state. These names relate to the frequency of the brain waves with alpha waves having a frequency of 8-12Hz and theta of 4-8Hz. In these states the brain is able to release the stored stress response 24 times faster than normal sleep which creates 'delta' waves with a frequency of 2-4Hz.
Any technique which is able to produce alpha or theta waves will be very beneficial to the leaky gut sufferer. Some of the techniques that are effective include:
- Self Hypnosis
- Breathing Techniques
- Meditation and other spiritual practices
- Listening to specially prepared sound frequencies that induce the same frequencies in brain waves as meditation. (Audio cassettes/CD's and sound devices are available for this purpose)