How to Heal Leaky Gut

heal leaky gutThis post is a long time in coming… almost 2 years, in fact. It was two summers ago I first wrote about FODMAPs, and my intolerance to them. I discovered my sensitivity to these foods while Hayley and I were writing our first cookbook, Make it Paleo.

What are FODMAPs?

  • FODMAP stands for fermentable – oligo- di- monosaccharides and polyols.
  • Osmotically active, so, after ingesting, they drag water from the intestinal vessels into the intestinal lumen, thus causing diarrhea.
  • Fermentable foods – degradable by intestinal bacteria yielding large amount of gases, like hydrogen or carbon dioxide, thus causing abdominal bloating

When an intolerant individual eats a FODMAP food, they experience severe discomfort, bloating, and sudden onset diarrhea. FODMAPs are foods that contain short chain carbohydrates. Unfortunately, these foods aren’t as easy to simply identify as a major food group like dairy or nuts. FODMAP foods can be found in all the food groups!

I’ve written three posts so far on my gut issues, so to get the whole picture, you can read the posts:

Part 1 (July 2011): Paleo and FODMAPs – Discovering my Food Intolerances

Part 2 (Sept 2012): FODMAPs and Gut Health – When Strict Paleo Isn’t Enough!

Part 3 (Oct 2012): Paleo and Leaky Gut – Shedding Light on my FODMAP issues

To paraphrase those three posts (but seriously, read them), an intolerance to FODMAPs is not a condition – it’s a symptom of a gut condition. In my case, that condition was Leaky Gut, and I wasn’t able to fix it by just eating Paleo. That may come as a shock to most of you, but just eating Paleo wasn’t enough in my case; and knowing what I now know about leaky gut, I’m guessing it may not be enough for most people. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve come to learn what was causing me to have IBS-like symptoms (Part 1). Last fall, I decided I was tired of just managing my symptoms and wanted to see a doctor (Part 2), which I recommend for anyone experiencing gut distress. After going through a stool test and getting a diagnosis from our family holistic doctor, I found out that I had Leaky Gut (Part 3).

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky Gut is usually caused by eating foods with anti-nutrients, causing small perforations in your small intestine lining. Typically, people that eat or have eaten grains and legumes for a long time are prone to getting Leaky Gut. When you have Leaky Gut, small perforations in your small intestinal lining allow larger-than-desired food particles to pass through and enter the bloodstream. This leads not only to malabsorption, but it also triggers an ongoing immune response in your body. When the food gets through the lining in that manner, the body perceives it as invasive and initiates an immune response. This is problematic, because being on “high alert” all the time lessens the effectiveness of your immune system. As someone that got sick 4-6 times a year, I can attest to having a compromised immune system from Leaky Gut.

Diagnosing Leaky Gut

This is where things get interesting. Dr. Berez recommended that I do a stool test so that we could all get a better idea of what was going on in my gut. Leading up to the stool test, I had to eliminate any foods with probiotics for 2 weeks. This meant that I had to curb my daily kombucha addiction. In its place, I started drinking aloe water every day. Ironically, I believe drinking aloe water started the healing process in my gut even before I took the stool test. I started experiencing some symptom relief before the stool test, and was ironically symptom free during my 3 day sampling. I was worried the test would thus prove inconclusive. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, although my results did come back negative for a host of gut problems such as:

  • Candida
  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Colitis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Food Allergies
  • Pathogens, and parasites

What the test DID show was that I had great gut flora (go Paleo!) but I had a tremendous imbalance of Beta-glucoronidase from eliminating cruciferous vegetables (most of which are FODMAPs). This imbalance can lead to big problems if gone untreated, like colon cancer. Fortunately for me, that imbalance was just temporary from my avoidance of crucifers, so nothing to worry about. I also had blood work done at that time, which showed that I had a lot of food sensitivities (not allergies). These sensitivities included nearly all grains and dairy, which I’ve luckily avoided for several years now. It also included ginger, green beans, curry, and sunflower seeds.

Dr. Berez concluded that my gut disruption must be linked to Leaky Gut, which is a common problem for people to have that have followed a conventional, food-pyramid based diet (Which I did for 26 years of my life). I’ve had IBS-like symptoms since high school, so that part made sense. Dr. Berez concluded that my former gluten-filled diet constipated me enough to balance things out at times, thus not having an overwhelming host of symptoms, at least gastric symptoms. However, throughout my life, I’ve always felt sickly – getting colds and sinus infections several times a year, every year. A common cold would knock me out for 5-8 days, whereas it would take a healthy person 2-3 days to get over it. Immunity starts in the gut, and if you have a leaky gut, you have severely compromised immunity.

Healing Leaky Gut

Given the Leaky Gut diagnosis, Dr. Berez prescribed a host of supplements and med’s to start the healing process. (This is not intended to be medical advice, but just to relate my own experiences.)

  • Lycopodium (Homeopatic remedy)
  • GI Complete drink mix: slippery elm powder, marshmallow root powder, and aloe (drink 2x daily mixed with water)
  • Lactoinflamx: probiotic typically used for for crohn’s and colitis treatment
  • Calcium D Glucarate – to counteract the high Beta Glucoronidase levels
  • Add a lot of fiber back into diet (vegetables)

In addition to Dr. Berez’ protocol, I also continued to drink aloe water on a regular basis for the first 3 months of the healing process, and occasionally on an ongoing basis. I largely avoided coffee for 4 months, to avoid disrupting the benefits of the homeopatic remedy. I also largely avoided sugar in the diet, and followed a sort of relaxed GAPS diet. My basic meals were meat and veggies, with very little fruit. I drank a lot of bone broth, and slowly introduced FODMAPs back into my diet. During this time, we were working on our latest book, The 30 Day Guide to Paleo Cooking – which has almost 100 great recipes for squeaky-clean Paleo eating.

How long does it take to heal Leaky Gut?

Dr. Berez said to follow the protocol for 4 months. I’ve heard others say 6 months. I even got a few people on our Facebook Page that said 1.5-2 years. In my personal experience, true total relief came between 5 and 6 months. Significant progress was noted 2-3 weeks into following the protocol, but episodes did not fully cease until a few months later. Being symptom free for me means I can now eat virtually all FODMAPs without any irritation (except red onion and shallot). I’ve been relishing the opportunity to have dishes with onions, garlic, coconut milk, avocado, and cruciferous vegetables that I haven’t had in many months. It also means that I’m not getting deathly ill several times a year. I’ve been sick only once in the last 9 months, and it was for 36 hours. I’m not kidding – I kicked a sinus infection inside of two days. That would have been a 8-10 day ordeal for me before healing my gut.

I was reluctant to write this post for a long time, as I wanted to be 100% sure I was at least on the track to getting healed. No matter what length of time you believe, all sources agree that fixing a Leaky Gut is not a quick process. From the time I decided to make a doctor’s appointment to the time relief from symptoms, it was about 6 months. Also understand that feeling relief from symptoms does not necessarily mean you’re “cured” … but following a Paleo diet will most likely prevent you from backsliding.

You have to be diligent with the supplements (particularly, in my opinion, the Aloe, Slippery Elm, and Marshmallow Root). If you have Diane Sanfilippo’s book Practical Paleo, there is a handy guide on page 88 for Leaky Gut. She describes the 4 R’s of Leaky Gut healing:

  1. Remove common dietary irritants
  2. Repair (what to eat, drink, and supplement with)
  3. Reinoculate with probiotics
  4. Reintroduce removed foods (for me, that was FODMAPs). *Don’t reintroduce junk!*

Last but not least, I’ll just harp on this one point. If you feel like you might have leaky gut or something similar going ongo see a doctor. I would have never been able to properly diagnose my condition without seeing Dr. Berez, and getting a stool test. It is a tricky condition to diagnose (despite being so common). Be patient. Eat the right foods. And don’t lose hope – it can be fixed!!


To read more about my story, check out parts 1,2 and 3!

Part 1 (July 2011): Paleo and FODMAPs – Discovering my Food Intolerances

Part 2 (Sept 2012): FODMAPs and Gut Health – When Strict Paleo Isn’t Enough!

Part 3 (Oct 2012): Paleo and Leaky Gut – Shedding Light on my FODMAP issues

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    1. Alicia Valdez
      Alicia Valdez
      June 27, 2013

      tku for your post, I suffer the same for many, many years it was not until I started paleo almost 2 years ago that I saw a difference but as you said “it was not enough”, reading this has help me to stay on tract and to notice the importance on seeing a Dr. Also the importance of reintroducing, which I haven’t done quite well I’m kind of afraid..I’m still reading the 3 parts but for now i’m liking this from the deep of my almost healed gut!

      keep on, PS I like the aloe thing!

    2. joannalo
      June 28, 2013

      Thanks for sharing! I think some people might be hesitant to see a physician or naturopath due to the cost incurred with all the testing. I know money is a sensitive subject for some – care to share approximately how much the testing cost you?

    3. annpbaker
      Supporting Member
      June 28, 2013

      Thank you so much for posting – you give me hope! I feared the fodmap intolerance was a life long thing since I was dx with lactose intolerance 25 yrs ago. My problem is that i start feeling better and then add things back in and then start the bloating cycle all over again. Patience is indeed a virtue in healing a leaky gut. My question is regarding the GI complete – is that the nutritional frontiers brand? Any safety issues with aloe consumption?
      Did you take l-glutamine, had heard that was OK in the short term but can mess up the flora if taken for a long time. I am doing the NAET tx but have had mixed results – probably because my gut hasn’t healed. Sigh…will give it more time!

    4. smplocher
      June 28, 2013

      Thanks SO much for posting and hooking the older posts with this one. I have been pretty much paleo (somewhat casual as you had stated) for the past 18 months. I have not lost weight, and in many ways I am suffering more from digestive issues than ever. So your comments about your own situation helps me to understand a) I’m not crazy and b) I’m not alone. I was just joking with my DH that since starting Paleo I am worse off than when I started – that probably the chemicals I was ingesting before were keeping me from really feeling what was going on with my body. I haven’t given up, and I have visited my osteopath doc (who did the stool test but not the blood test) about three years ago. According to the test, I have yeast, IBS, leaky gut and a sensitivity to gliaden but not to dairy (although I’m lactose intolerant). He doesn’t feel I need to retake the test and is still going on the results of that in treating my issues as well as the severe almost debilitating anxiety that has now cropped up. I’m going to go back and re-visit Practical Paleo for Leaky Gut and be more diligent in following that protocol. Thanks again SO much for your honesty and timeliness in posting this. It sure has helped me not feel quite so hopeless.

    5. aluck
      July 29, 2013

      Thank you for posting this, and congrats on healing yourself! Eliminating FODMAPs has been the only dietary change (other than eliminating gluten) that has noticeably improved my gut symptoms, but I haven’t been able to figure out what’s causing the FODMAP intolerance. Would you mind sharing the name of the stool test you got? I’ve been looking at the Metametrix GI Effects stool test, but I need to find a doctor who can order it for me.

      And just to clarify – was it the combination of the multiple food sensitivities, the absence of any other gut condition, AND the elevated Beta-glucoronidase that led your doctor to conclude that you were suffering from leaky gut?

    6. nita83
      November 14, 2013

      Thanks for sharing this post, it feels good to know that I am not alone and that there is hope! Question: is there a particular brand of aloe water that you recommend? I can’t seem to find any that doesn’t have sugar or weird additives.. Thank you 🙂

    7. November 14, 2013

      Hi Nita,

      We use “George’s” Aloe water. It’s the cleanest we’ve found!

    8. lordcooler
      June 25, 2014

      Bill sounds to me like you found a crummy doc.
      the main food groups you can not eat what so ever are.

      Then you need to have a blood test done to see if you have any other food allergies. Bone broth is a must make sure it is organic.

      L glutamine is a huge one the cells in your intestines will not heal without this.

    9. rhousle
      May 3, 2016

      Great that you were able to heal! I’m in the midst of that journey myself. I started seeing a homeopathic Doctor 1 year ago and have seen massive improvement. Before I finally found this doctor, I had been having IBS symptoms for about 8 years with lots of testing but no help from traditional gastroenterologists. Paleo helped but wasn’t the full story, then low FODMAP did the same thing. My gut health was so poor that I had constant pain and struggled to digest literally any food. It turns out I had both parasites and candida. I have been integrating very small amounts of FODMAPs, but still definitely have very clear FODMAP intolerance even after being clear of infections for several months. It’s very slow going and very costly. I feel great compared to how I used to feel, but 4 years without FODMAPs doesn’t feel right. I’m glad to hear that you reversed your intolerance with gut healing, because I could sure use some hope that I’ll be able to do the same. It’s hard to hang in there and stay strong in your treatment choices when they are expensive and go against accepted western medicine.

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