You may not associate problems like fatigue, brain fog, skin issues, achy joints, and weight loss resistance with gut health.
When you eat a particular food and suddenly get a headache or your skin breaks out two days later, you may not connect the dots. Neither do many healthcare practitioners… and that’s why problems like leaky gut often go unacknowledged.
The symptoms of leaky gut can be delayed for hours or even days. Things like stress, gluten, fructose, environmental toxins, certain medications, and altered gut flora make it even worse.
You really have to Sherlock the connection between what you’re feeling and what you eat.
What is Leaky Gut?
We sometimes call leaky gut increased intestinal permeability. “Increased” meaning your gut lining is supposed to let some things through, like vitamins and minerals. Other things should not go through the gut wall.
Tight junctions in your intestinal wall are the bouncers that let some things through and keep others from slipping by. Those tight junctions should be… well, tight. They keep things that shouldn’t go through the gut wall contained.
When those tight junctions become loose, bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles seep into your bloodstream.
If these things make it through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream, your body will fight like crazy to get rid of them. It attacks these invaders by launching an immune response.
The result is chronic inflammation, a condition that makes fat loss nearly impossible. (As if any of us needs it to be any harder!)
Now the immune system will start to make antibodies against these food molecules because it thinks they are foreign invaders. Previously harmless foods now get treated like bad guys and greeted with an inflammatory immune response every time they enter the body.
Over time, this is how you develop food sensitivities and even autoimmune disease. The immune system becomes super-stimulated and over-reactive to foods that are not normally seen as dangerous.
You don’t have to have gut problems to have leaky gut, either. They can certainly be part of the mix with gut problems like gas, bloating, and acid reflux. But leaky gut can cause a lot of problems outside of your gut, so don’t just dismiss what you’re experiencing if it’s not a digestive problem.
How Did Your Gut Get Leaky to Begin With?
Rarely does one culprit contribute to leaky gut.
Instead, it occurs when you’re constantly being assaulted with things like…
A processed diet
Genetically modified (GMO) foods
Certain medications (especially long-term antibiotic use, aspirin, pain medicine, and antacids)
All of these things can loosen those tight junctions that line the intestinal wall, which over time disrupt your microbiome.
Let’s look more closely at these culprits. For most people, leaky gut stems from a variety of factors, including:
- Diet. More specifically, I’m talking about grains, dairy, processed foods, and GMO foods, which can lead to food allergies and intolerances. Common offenders include:
- Grains. Gluten in grains is the best known and most damaging to your gut. Grains also have lectins, which can cause damage and inflammation. Gluten may also contribute to increased levels of zonulin, a protein that opens up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining, making your gut leaky.
- Dairy. Conventional cow’s milk is another food that may contribute to leaky gut, because our body has a hard time digesting casein and lactose.
- Allergens and intolerances: Allergens and sensitivities are part of a cycle where particles of food get into the intestinal lining, create inflammation, and make your gut even leakier. You probably know if you have an allergy, but food sensitivities can sneak up on you and wreak holy havoc.
- Processed and GMO foods. Sugar and added sugar is everywhere and in everything… and it feeds yeast, which is a huge contributor to leaky gut. GMO foods are high in lectins and anti-nutrients added to increase resistance to pests.
- Pathogens. These are the ‘bad guys’ that declare war on your gut. The most common that cause a leaky gut are candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Too many bad bugs in your gut can also cause you to pull more calories from your food and store them as fat. An overgrowth of yeast can trigger carb cravings and also lead to weight gain. Yikes!
- Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is an imbalance in your gut, meaning you don't have enough good bacteria to fight the bad guys. Good bacteria can also help you break down proteins like phytates that prevent nutrient absorption. I write more about dysbiosis and its ugly repercussions in this article.
- Toxins (including medications). Studies suggest that toxins from alcohol cause intestinal permeability. (1) So do environmental toxins like bisphenol A (BPA), mercury, pesticides, and fluoride. (2) Medications like pain relievers also irritate the intestinal lining, create inflammation, and may lead to a leaky gut. (3) Plus, antibiotics kill off the good bacteria. Use them judiciously (if at all), and always talk about alternatives with your healthcare practitioner.
- Stress. It doesn’t matter whether it’s physical or emotional. Stress is terrible for your gut in so many ways. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system, leading to more inflammation and a leaky gut. (4)
- Genetics. Some people are just more susceptible to leaky gut than other people. Gluten and stress may lead to a leaky gut in you but not in someone else.
The Top 3 Ways to Tackle Leaky Gut
The constant onslaught of years or even decades of overusing antibiotics, eating crappy foods, being bombarded with environmental toxins, and feeling stressed out all take their toll on your gut.
Fortunately, you can reverse this damage and heal your gut in far less time!
For almost everyone, these three steps will help you to heal your leaky gut so you get back to looking and feeling great… not to mention dropping that extra weight fast.
Step 1: Swap ‘em Out
Chronic inflammation is at the root of leaky gut. That nasty, low-grade inflammation contributes to brain smog, headaches, bloating, gas, cramps, overall achiness, and pounds packed around your middle.
To heal your gut you have to start with your diet…. with a focus on anti-inflammatory, nutrient-rich foods.
First, you’ll want to remove inflammatory foods and the specific food bombs that go off in your gut. I go over these in more detail in The Virgin Diet. The good news is that they only need to be eliminated for three weeks. You can do anything for three weeks!
Here are the biggies:
- Gluten. You don’t have to have celiac disease to benefit from cutting gluten. I find that 90 percent of the people I pull off of gluten feel better without it, and I’m convinced the other 10 percent didn’t really get it all out. Intolerance symptoms pop up as weight gain, digestive upset, headaches, joint pain, anxiety, depression, and especially leaky gut.
- Dairy or casein. Lactose intolerance is pretty common, right? But you may not be sure. If you have any stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or gas after you eat, cut out dairy for three weeks and give your gut a chance to calm down. And then reintroduce it after that slowly.
There are others, but gluten and dairy are especially inflammatory and can cause food intolerances, which are miserable. Sometimes the symptoms of those intolerances don’t happen immediately and it’s hard to connect the dots between what you eat, how you feel, and what you weigh.
If you’re dealing with extra pounds you can’t drop or symptoms you think may be connected to food intolerance….do this right and spend these three weeks on The Virgin Anti-Diet.
Ultimately, this is not a diet. It’s a therapeutic intervention that heals and detoxes your gut. Then it walks you through reintroducing seven inflammatory foods one by one, so you can see which ones you can handle and which you need to keep out for good.
Other inflammatory foods that need to go to heal leaky gut include:
- Hydrogenated oils
- Refined flours
- Saturated fats in packaged food and poor-quality animal protein
Most of all, go low Sugar Impact. (I go into this in more detail in my Sugar Impact Diet book.)
Here's what anti-inflammatory foods you should SWAP IN:
- Bone broth. Bone broth is the Holy Grail of gut healing. It contains collagen and gelatin, both of which reinforce the integrity of your intestinal lining and reduce inflammation. Bone broth also contains the amino acids proline and glycine, which help support tight junctions and heal the gut. About 90 percent of your gut lining is made up of collagen and those other amino acids. Sip on bone broth as a meal replacement every single day to heal leaky gut!
- Cooked and fermented veggies like sauerkraut and kimchi have lots of healing probiotics. By the way, cook your veggies. Raw foods are harder on your gut.
- Fiber, fiber, fiber! Increase your non-starchy veggies and slow-low carbs. Your goal is 50 grams a day. Work up to that amount, drink lots of clean filtered water as you move up the fiber ladder, and take Extra Fiber if getting that amount from your diet is a challenge.
- Healthy fats like those from wild salmon, avocado, walnuts, and flaxseeds help reduce inflammation. When you avoid the nasty fats that cause inflammation, accelerated aging, and weight gain, you can focus on the healthy fats that are essential to weight loss and a healthy metabolism. The good fats keep you mentally sharp, your moods stable, and your energy high. They also play a huge role in weight control by keeping your blood sugar stable and regulating the amount of insulin released after you eat.
- Coconut oil and coconut milk are antimicrobial and can help balance your gut bugs.
- Blueberries are great because they’re really high in antioxidants and fight off oxidative stress which helps you heal.
- Drink up! Drink lots of water or green tea to flush out toxins.
Step 2: Add Supplements
If you have leaky gut, you’re dealing with systemic inflammation, which creates symptoms like rashes, joint pain, headaches, and fatigue.
These top gut-supporting supplements can help.* After all, you want to hit leaky gut with everything you’ve got.
- Probiotics. Look for a product that contains a high number of strains to fight off all the bad guys.* Flora Harmony combines a proprietary blend of 10 of the most highly researched probiotic strains.*
- Digestive enzymes. Support your digestive system while you are healing.* They come in and break down food macromolecules, decreasing the chance that these large molecules are damaging your gut wall.* You’ll get natural enzymes to aid digestion in fermented foods like sauerkraut but I always supplement for peace of mind. Protein First Enzymes is a blend of digestive enzymes plus botanicals so you break down food like a champ!*
- L-glutamine is a crucial amino acid that lines and protects your intestinal wall from irritants and stress.* It also provides intestine building blocks to heal your gut lining.* If you’re not drinking bone broth you’ll want to supplement with L-glutamine and collagen.* Glutamine Powder packs therapeutic amounts of this workhorse amino acid in an easy-to-use powder.*
- Collagen. Take Collagen Peptides Powder to give your body the building blocks it needs to heal your gut lining.* That's so important.
- Vitamin D helps your gut lining as well.* Vitamin D Plus is our new, improved vitamin D product. We combine therapeutic doses of vitamin D3 along with bioavailable vitamin K1 (Phytonadione) and vitamin K2 (Menaquinone-7), as well as geranylgeraniol (GG) to complement those benefits, all in one easy-to-take softgel.*
- Antimicrobial herbs can be used to treat gut dysbiosis and bacterial overgrowth, and conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).* Sometimes they can be just as effective as pharmaceuticals, and with fewer side effects.* My favorites include grapefruit seed extract, oregano oil, garlic, and berberine.
Step 3: Incorporate Intermittent Fasting
When you fast for 12–16 hours a day, you’re giving your gut a rest and a huge chance to heal.
Intermittent fasting is sooo much easier than you think. You think you’ll be so hungry but let’s be honest—you’ll be sleeping for most of it. Here’s how that might look:
Stop eating at 7 p.m.
Go to bed at 11 p.m.
Wake up at 7 a.m. Have some black coffee, tea, or water. Maybe even work out.
You’re already 12 hours in. You did it!
And if you can work out before you break your fast, you’ll get even more weight loss benefits.
Intermittent fasting delivers huge benefits for your brain, too. Studies show fasting shifts the balance of gut bacteria to protect you against metabolic syndrome. (5) And of course you’re likely to lose weight, too.
If you go all in and do the one-meal-a-day (OMAD) strategy, you’re sending gut healing into overdrive and balancing your blood sugar to boot. You won’t start with OMAD, but you’ll work your way up to having only one meal a day once in a while, within a one-hour window.
If you're saying, Hey, I have bloating, cramping, brain fog, skin issues… You have food intolerance. That's leaky gut syndrome, the root cause of your symptoms.
The solution is to get the crap out of your diet…the sugar, the dairy, the gluten, the refined grains.
Instead, eat a lot of non-starchy veggies, healthy fats, and clean lean protein. And then take some of the supplements I talk about to maintain a healthy microbiome and create a garden in your gut.* Bring in some fasting, and you’ve got a powerful trifecta to fight leaky gut and all of its miserable repercussions.
The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before using these and any other supplements.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Wang Y, Tong J, Chang B, Wang B, Zhang D, Wang B. Effects of alcohol on intestinal epithelial barrier permeability and expression of tight junction-associated proteins. Mol Med Rep. 2014 Jun;9(6):2352-6. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2014.2126. Epub 2014 Apr 9. PMID: 24718485.
- Feng L, Chen S, Zhang L, Qu W, Chen Z. Bisphenol A increases intestinal permeability through disrupting intestinal barrier function in mice. Environ Pollut. 2019 Nov;254(Pt A):112960. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.112960. Epub 2019 Jul 31. PMID: 31394344.
- Bhatt AP, Gunasekara DB, Speer J, Reed MI, Peña AN, Midkiff BR, Magness ST, Bultman SJ, Allbritton NL, Redinbo MR. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug-Induced Leaky Gut Modeled Using Polarized Monolayers of Primary Human Intestinal Epithelial Cells. ACS Infect Dis. 2018 Jan 12;4(1):46-52. doi: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.7b00139. Epub 2017 Nov 10. PMID: 29094594; PMCID: PMC6013262.
- Zong Y, Zhu S, Zhang S, Zheng G, Wiley JW, Hong S. Chronic stress and intestinal permeability: Lubiprostone regulates glucocorticoid receptor-mediated changes in colon epithelial tight junction proteins, barrier function, and visceral pain in the rodent and human. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2019 Feb;31(2):e13477. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13477. Epub 2018 Oct 4. PMID: 30284340; PMCID: PMC6347514.
- Su J, Wang Y, Zhang X, Ma M, Xie Z, Pan Q, Ma Z, Peppelenbosch MP. Remodeling of the gut microbiome during Ramadan-associated intermittent fasting. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 May 8;113(5):1332-1342. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa388. PMID: 33842951; PMCID: PMC8106760.