How to Heal Your Gut (And Why You Need to Care)
Leaky Gut could be the main source of your health issues. Here’s how to heal it
You’re at work, sitting at your desk and working diligently when suddenly…it hits you.
The clock on your computer monitor reads 4:15pm. “Seriously?” you think to yourself. “Again?!”
You’ve already gone 4 times today. Or was it 5? I’m sure you’ve lost count by now.
It’s the end of the workday, and you try to resist — but who are you to deny Mother Nature? When duty calls, duty calls.
At last, you make it to your most frequented destination: the toilet. As you sit there, you wonder to yourself: “Why the heck do I have to go to the bathroom all of the time?”
The answer? You may have a leaky gut.
What is Leaky Gut, and How Do You Get It?
Glad you asked!
Inside our bellies, we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. An unhealthy gut lining (commonly known as leaky gut) may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it.
Leaky gut may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond. In fact, there are tons of studies showing that modifications in the intestinal bacteria and inflammation may play a role in the development of several common chronic diseases.
If that’s not enough to freak you out, 70% of your immune system resides in your gut…so, if you find yourself getting sick a lot — it might be time to look at what exactly is happening with your gut.
Essentially, your gut is your 2nd brain. Ever heard of the brain-gut connection? In laymens terms, our brain and gut are connected by a network of 500 million neurons, chemicals, and hormones. These are connected from the gut to the brain through our nervous system.
…so needless to say, your gut is worth caring about!
If you’re experiencing leaky gut — you’re not alone. But you might be wondering — how did this happen? Here are common ways to get it:
- Eating highly processed foods
- Eating foods to which a person has sensitivities
- Severe infections
- NSAIDs: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Excess alcohol
- Tobacco abuse
- Excess sugar consumption
How Do I Know if I Have Leaky Gut?
There are some common tell-tale symptoms to know if you have a leaky gut. Here are some of the common ones:
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food allergies or food intolerances
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, ADD, or ADHD
- Depression, anxiety
- Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Hormonal imbalances such as irregular periods, PMS, or PCOS
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
How to Heal Leaky Gut
Fear not — for all is not lost! I’m happy to tell you that it is possible to heal your leaky gut for a life of optimal energy, immunity, detoxification, and nourishment.
So, how do we do it? Here’s how you can start healing your gut today:
1. Identify, Remove, & Replace
…all problem foods/food intolerances. This may be the most difficult, yet essential, step in the equation. I would definitely suggest taking a food allergy test or working with a hormone doctor/naturopath for this unless you already know of your food intolerances. Common food intolerances for many individuals include gluten intolerance & dairy intolerance.
Once you are able to identify and remove the foods that are not cooperating with your body, you can then replace them with healthier foods that are easier on the digestive system and overall better for you.
2. Consider gut supplements that are right for you
Remember: supplements are like medicine. It’s vital to take what’s right for you and your body! Some gut-healing supplements to consider adding to your everyday include L-glutamine, collagen peptides, zinc, vitamin D, and quercetin.
3. Manage your stress
You might be over there wondering, “Is managing stress even possible?” It very much is, and it’s one of the most essential aspects of healing your gut. Remember when we talked about the gut-brain connection, and how the two like to keep in touch via those 500 million neurons, chemicals, and hormones? When we experience stress, you had better believe that our brain is letting our gut know that there’s a problem!
According to The Shift Clinic, stress reduces the numbers of colonizing gut bacteria, creating an overall imbalance of the gut microbiome. Our microbes, unfortunately, can then stay in stress response as a result. The neurotransmitters within your body are mostly produced by the microbes in your gut, so if a disruption within the gut microbiome happens, it can lead to a reduction in neurotransmitters, resulting in potential anxiety and depression.
Stress also does a great job in halting the acid pumps within your stomach, which results in a wide variety of digestive issues such as constipation, bloating, or IBS.
Of course, it’s simply not possible to remove every point of stress from your life — there will always be stress. The key is learning how to manage life’s stresses in a way that works for you, whether that’s through daily meditation, going to therapy, journaling, or practicing yoga.
4. Implement a daily probiotic + probiotic foods
In addition to the gut-healing supplements, make sure to include a probiotic and start eating plenty of probiotic foods!
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed, generally by improving or restoring the gut flora. They support healthy body systems from your mouth to your gut and help control harmful microorganisms like germs. Probiotics can also aid digestion and improve nutrient absorption, helping to heal leaky gut.
There are tons of varying daily probiotic supplements you can take specific to the digestive issues you’re experiencing. Make sure to do your research to find the one that’s best for you! Probiotic foods include yogurt, saeurkraut, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha.
5. Opt for organic foods (if possible!)
Organic foods tend to fall on the pricier side, but choosing organic over nonorganic may have a major impact on your gut health.
Essentially, organic foods are produced through practices that are entirely natural. According to Inspired Health, the lack of additives and artificial elements during production means that organic foods may contain more nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants — making it a better option for your gut health.
If shopping completely organic is out of the budget, check out the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen for a list of produce with the most pesticides vs. the least. Using these guides will help you pinpoint what produce you should opt for organic!
6. Choose nontoxic products
Healing your gut can be a tricky task, because the products that you use for beauty, hygiene, and even cleaning have just as much of an effect as the foods and drinks you’re putting into your body.
Exposure to toxic chemicals alters the gut microbiome by killing microbes, changing microbe growth rates, changing the nutrients in the gut, altering the networks between microbes. Many chemicals found in a lot of our everyday products can even disrupt hormone functions, which also messes with the microbiome.
7. Eat 30+ plant foods per week
Eat 30+ plant foods? Every single week? You heard it here, folks! According to the world’s largest microbiome study, eating more than 30 different plants per week yields optimal gut diversity for better health.
The findings from this study showed that the number of plant types in a person’s diet plays a role in the diversity of his or her gut microbiome — the number of different types of bacteria living there. Despite the different diets they prescribed to (vegan, vegetarian, etc.), participants who ate more than 30 different plant types per week had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plants per week.
Additionally, those participants that ate more than 30 plants per week also had fewer antibiotic resistance genes in their gut microbiomes than people who ate 10 or fewer plants.
8. Get enough sleep every night
This should be something you strive for daily, despite gut health. But, getting enough Z’s every night also greatly benefits your gut health! Keeping a similar sleep and wake pattern each day helps set the body's circadian rhythm, which directly affects the rhythm of the gut microbes, too — whose activities depend on our day & night schedule.
9. Stick to consuming whole foods
The last point seems like the most obvious, but sticking to whole foods over processed provides your body with the nutrients needed to build good bacteria and protect your gut health.
Processed foods often contain added sugars, fat, and excess amounts of sodium. Additionally, they may have lost many — if not all — of their original nutrients during the food manufacturing process. Processed foods are high in food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut.
If you’re interested in a plant-based diet, check out my article: 20 Foods to Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet for how to get started.
If leaky gut is taking a toll on your health, just know that you are not alone. It’s actually quite common — especially in Western culture, with the amount of high-processed foods and quick bites lining grocery store shelves.
But, it is something worth acknowledging and taking care of. Developing a healthy gut microbiome can help you maintain a healthy weight, benefit heart & brain health, control blood sugar, lower your risk for diabetes, improve digestion, and more!
Always listen to your gut.
Kelsey Kryger is a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, and freelance writer. For more health & workout tips, subscribe to her newsletter, The Health Nut.
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