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How long does it take to heal a leaky gut?

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Article Summary

  • Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the lining of your small intestine breaks down.
  • Symptoms of leaky gut can include chronic fatigue, allergies, skin problems, and autoimmune disorders.
  • Lifestyle factors, diet, and medical treatments are a few factors that can cause leaky gut.
  • Leaky gut can start healing fast but the full length of time will depend on your symptoms and causes.
  • To speed your healing try the 11 tips included in this article.

A leaky gut wreaks havoc on your health. Once you think you have it, you start to wonder: how long does it take to heal a leaky gut?

You might even wonder if you can.

We have some good news. Research indicates that, given a chance, your gut will heal. More importantly, if you want good health, you must heal it.

But before you can start to encourage healing, you need to understand leaky gut.

In this article, we explore leaky gut in detail so you can get an idea of how long it takes to heal a leaky gut.

What is leaky gut syndrome?

The term leaky gut refers to a break down in the lining of your small intestine that allows for toxins and other harmful substances to enter the bloodstream. Nutrients from your food should cross into your blood. Later, waste and toxins should pass into the colon (your large intestine) for release.

If the barrier breaks down, substances like dangerous gram-negative bacteria and toxins like pesticides could leak into your blood. Research suggests substances like these can contribute to problems with inflammation throughout the body.[i] If you have leaky gut, your intestines are also inflamed.

Your doctor might refer to leaky gut as increased intestinal permeability or a weakened intestinal barrier. And while research acknowledges this problem can occur, currently it is not considered a condition of its own but rather a symptom.

Either way, you don’t want it.

How do you know if you have a leaky gut?

While there are not currently any tests to confirm leaky gut, the passage of toxins into the blood has been attributed by some doctors to disorders like[ii],[iii]:

  • Allergies
  • Fatigue
  • Skin conditions
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Achy joints
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression
  • Weight gain or even unexpected weight loss
  • Autoimmune disorders

Additional research suggests leaky gut may contribute to[iv]:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Headache
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Even brain-related psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia[v]

Other more subtle signs could be frequent indigestion, gas, and bloating after eating. Constipation could be another sign. “Brain fog” or feeling a little sluggish in your thinking after you eat might be another sign. If you suffer from irritable bowels, that would be another good sign that you may likely have a leaky gut.

Causes of leaky gut  

For maximum absorption of nutrients, your small intestine has a lot of surface area covered by epithelial cells that regulate permeability – effectively they decide what gets in and what doesn’t. A type of protein called a tight junction protein holds these cells together.

Studies report bacteria like H. pylori and C. difficile disrupt these proteins and create gaps.[vi]

The modern Western diet with its high-carb and high-fat foods weakens the health and permeability of the gut.[vii]

Other causes research indicates contribute to leaky gut include[viii],[ix]:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Probiotic imbalance
  • Antibiotic use
  • Infection
  • Stress
  • Inflammation
  • Food allergies that contribute to conditions like celiac disease

How long does it take to heal a leaky gut? 

One study reported healing can take place in as little as twelve weeks.[x] An earlier study with celiac disease patients indicated a much longer recovery time, over a year.[xi] Other studies suggest possibly longer.[xii]

Ultimately, the time it takes for a leaky bowel will be personal and involve:

  • The cause of your leaky bowel
  • How long it’s been a problem
  • And whether, once you find an approach that brings you relief, you stick with it

The research shows with corrective measures, a leaky gut can heal. Your challenge will be to avoid the factors that led to it in the first place.

With healing, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You must evaluate your situation, even as you go, and make decisions based on your progress.

Fortunately, there are ways you can help to heal your leaky gut faster – and steps you can take to keep it healthy.

11 Tips on how to heal a leaky gut faster

To heal faster, you need to give yourself the opportunity to do so. The following tips will give you a solid foundation to promote intestinal healing.

Tip #1. Lower, or at least manage, your stress

Research shows stress is a cause of leaky gut.[xiii]

Reducing stress, then, helps to remove a cause of leaky gut, positioning you for better healing. Finding ways to reduce stress – whether you prefer meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, exercise, or a hobby – is a must.

Tip #2. Exercise

Not only does exercise help to ease stress, but research also shows it helps to restore your gut’s microbiota, the probiotic bacteria that live in your gut and promote great overall health (not just digestive health).[xiv]

Tip #3. Get more sleep

Fail to get enough sleep, and you’ll disrupt the balance of those good probiotic bacteria in your gut. And it turns out, an imbalance in the balance of healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut impacts the quality of your sleep.[xv]

This means it may be hard at first to sleep well with a leaky gut. It’s vital that you make the effort. By getting more sleep, you’ll be helping both your body to relax and the good bacteria that help keep your intestines healthy to thrive.

Tip #4. Eliminate junk and processed foods from your diet

You won’t get better if you consume chemicals and artificial ingredients your body does not recognize. Starchy foods and those loaded with fats also stress your digestive tract. This is a must for healing.

Tip #5. Limit or cut out alcohol consumption

Alcohol impairs those tight junction proteins from doing their job, increasing intestinal permeability. You’ll want to severely limit alcohol consumption while healing, if not completely eliminate it, at least for a time.

Tip #6. Stop smoking

Smoking has been found to negatively affect the probiotic bacteria in your gut, destabilizing your gut health, and increasing your vulnerability to other factors that can cause leaky gut.[xvi]

Tip #7. Avoid Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Research shows NSAIDs cause increased permeability, creating an ideal situation for a persistent leaky gut to develop.[xvii] If you take NSAIDs regularly, you may want to look into alternatives or stop taking them. One alternative, for example, could be metabolic enzymes which research has found can work as well as common relievers.[xviii]

Tip #8. Take digestive enzymes

If you have leaky gut, your intestine is not operating at 100%. This means you are not properly digesting your food, which will only make the problem worse. Undigested food will cause additional irritation and inflammation in your gut, slowing healing – or even just preventing it.

By taking a digestive enzyme, you help your body break down all the food you eat. In this way, you help your body in two ways.

First, you give your body a full supply of the nutrients it needs to heal.

Second, you remove undigested food that would irritate the lining of our intestine and slow your healing.

Tip #9. Eat natural, raw foods

When you want to heal, your body needs lots of vitamins and minerals. The best sources of the nutrients you need come from natural, raw foods.

You want to eat vegetables, nuts, and legumes. In fact, a vegan diet may be ideal for anyone recovering from leaky gut.

Now, you might notice we didn’t mention fruit or probiotics. These can be good. But you might have to work your way up to them, reintroducing them later, as you heal. Some people find fermented foods and the fiber in fruit can be hard on an irritated digestive tract.

Bananas are a safe fruit. Apples often are too.

Tip #10. Add probiotic-rich foods to your diet or take a probiotic supplement.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and tempeh contain probiotic bacteria, the good species of bacteria natural to our guts that deliver numerous health benefits. (Read more about probiotics in our article, “Probiotics: How and when to take them”. [link to article])

If probiotic-rich foods don’t appeal to you or are hard to get, you can also take probiotic supplements. Both foods and supplements support digestion and can also help support recovery from leaky gut syndrome.

It should be noted, however, that sometimes probiotic foods and probiotic supplements may be better introduced later. High acidity in the digestive tract can make these probiotics a little harsh on an inflamed digestive tract, which can happen along with leaky gut.

You see, factors that can cause leaky gut may not immediately cause high acidity, in which case probiotic foods and supplements may aid recovery. If factors that increased acidity led to the leaky gut, then probiotics may be better delayed until the situation improves.

What are some common symptoms of high acidity?

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • A burning feeling in the belly

If you have these symptoms, it might make better sense to take a digestive enzyme for a while. Once the symptoms fade or go away completely, then you can introduce the probiotics.

Many people report probiotics do help to resolve leaky gut. (They could help protect against damage due to antibiotics, for example.) You only need to determine the best time to introduce them.

Tip #11. Promote healing with vegan protein

Animal fats can potentially disrupt the healing process. To avoid this situation, add vegan protein to your daily regimen. You’ll get the amino acids your body needs for healing without the digestive stress of animal fats and proteins.

When to call a doctor

You need to listen to your body, especially since there is no current way to diagnose a leaky gut.

See a doctor if you feel intense or frequent abdominal pain, heartburn becomes painful and regular, you struggle with constipation, or your discomfort simply prevents you from going about your day-to-day business.

Of course, if you have severe pain, a fever, blood in your stools, or consistent nausea or vomiting, you should seek medical treatment immediately.

Situations like these are not likely leaky gut.

Preventing leaky gut from coming back

Much of the time, leaky gut can be addressed through lifestyle changes like those noted above. To keep the issue from returning, you’ll likely need to embrace the lifestyle changes. At first, it may seem hard, but give it time and you’ll be amazed how good you start to feel – you’ll have more energy, think and remember more clearly, and mealtime will become a source of joy again.


REFERENCES

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[1] Odenwald MA, Turner JR. Intestinal permeability defects: is it time to treat?. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013;11(9):1075–1083. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2013.07.001

[1] Mu Q1, et al. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017 May 23;8:598. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598. eCollection 2017.

[1] Obrenovich MEM. Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain?. Microorganisms. 2018;6(4):107. Published 2018 Oct 18. doi:10.3390/microorganisms6040107

[1] Simeonova D, et al. Recognizing the Leaky Gut as a Trans-diagnostic Target for Neuroimmune Disorders Using Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Immunology Assays. Curr Top Med Chem. 2018;18(19):1641-1655. doi: 10.2174/1568026618666181115100610.

[1] Bischoff SC, Barbara G, Buurman W, et al. Intestinal permeability – a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterology. 2014;14:189. doi:10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7.

[1] PENDYALA S, WALKER JM, HOLT PR. A High-Fat Diet Is Associated With Endotoxemia That Originates From the Gut. Gastroenterology. 2012;142(5):1100-1101.e2. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2012.01.034.

[1] Bischoff SC, Barbara G, Buurman W, et al. Intestinal permeability – a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterology. 2014;14:189. doi:10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7.

[1] Kelly JR1, et al. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015 Oct 14;9:392. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2015.00392. eCollection 2015.

[1] Blikslager AT, et al. Restoration of barrier function in injured intestinal mucosa. Physiol Rev. 2007 Apr;87(2):545-64.

[1] Duerksen DR, et al. Intestinal permeability in long-term follow-up of patients with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet. Dig Dis Sci. 2005 Apr;50(4):785-90.

[1] Chang J, et al. Impaired Intestinal Permeability Contributes to Ongoing Bowel Symptoms in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Mucosal Healing. Gastroenterology. 2017 Sep;153(3):723-731.e1. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.056. Epub 2017 Jun 8.

[1] Kelly JR, Kennedy PJ, Cryan JF, Dinan TG, Clarke G, Hyland NP. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015;9:392. Published 2015 Oct 14. doi:10.3389/fncel.2015.00392

[1] Monda V, Villano I, Messina A, et al. Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:3831972. doi:10.1155/2017/3831972

[1] Smith RP, Easson C, Lyle SM, et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS One. 2019;14(10):e0222394. Published 2019 Oct 7. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0222394

[1] Biedermann L, Zeitz J, Mwinyi J, et al. Smoking cessation induces profound changes in the composition of the intestinal microbiota in humans. PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59260. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059260

[1] Bjarnason I, Takeuchi K. Intestinal permeability in the pathogenesis of NSAID-induced enteropathy. J Gastroenterol. 2009;44 Suppl 19:23-9. doi: 10.1007/s00535-008-2266-6. Epub 2009 Jan 16.

[1] Bolten WW1, et al. The safety and efficacy of an enzyme combination in managing knee osteoarthritis pain in adults: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis. 2015;2015:251521. doi: 10.1155/2015/251521. Epub 2015 Jan 31.

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