Leaky gut is a condition provoked by intestinal permeability. When infinitesimal holes in the gut lining become loose, toxins and undigested food participles can seep through into the bloodstream and cause certain health conditions, including autoimmune disorders. In fact, many symptoms, seemingly unrelated to digestive function, link back to a leaky gut.
To treat leaky gut, we must figure out what is disrupting gut function. In many cases, there are too few beneficial bacteria, allowing harmful microorganisms to pervade the large intestine. Probiotics and prebiotics are two critical nutrients that can help repair a leaky gut. They reestablish a healthy balance of gut flora, improve gut dysbiosis, and repair those enlarged holes in the intestinal walls.
Probiotic therapy requires a supplement that has a diversity of strains and a high count of colony-forming units (CFUs). It is best used in combination with prebiotics, a type of fermented fiber that probiotics feed on. In this article, we’ll look at how probiotics can heal leaky gut, and how to choose the best probiotic and prebiotic supplements.
Gut Health Supplements
Got gas? Bad breath? Acne? Trouble sleeping? Quick to anger or craving sugar more than usual? Leaky gut may be the culprit, and gut health supplements may be the panacea you need to restore intestinal order.
More and more research is revealing that an annoyed, confused, and angry gut may be the reason. Is it possible for your gut to feel so much emotion? Absolutely, and you can probably vouch for it based on your own experience. One day you feel great––flat, settled tummy––and the next day, you looked like you swallowed a basketball, and you’ve got enough gas to light a fire. These are clear signs that the billions of bacteria that reside in your large intestine are disrupted.
Your Gut Health Affects Everything
According to ancient therapeutics and modern medicine, the entire digestive system is the seat of health, and your gut is where a lot of the important action takes place.
Whether it’s the degree of stress our modern life bestows upon us, the prevalence of antibiotic use for a runny nose, or the highly manufactured food that has become a common part of our daily diets, your gut is suffering––and you’re suffering for it. Gut health supplements are becoming more critical for maintaining a healthy digestive tract.
Our bodies are composed of food––literally. We are what we eat. When we consume stuff that doesn’t have living enzymes or diverse beneficial bacteria and are void of other vital nutrients, we’re putting a lot of undue stress on our digestive organs and disrupting their healthy functioning.
Pseudo food covered in mysterious neon-shaded powder, stashed in shiny bags, does harmful things to the populous world of living microorganisms in your large intestine. It kills off the good guys, creating way more opportunity––and room––for the bad guys to reproduce. And if it happens regularly for a long enough time, the consequences can become dire.
Mental health, joint function, hormonal imbalances, and body weight are all influenced by the state of the gut. If you’re wondering where a set of symptoms magically arose from, your gut is an excellent first place to start looking because it may be what scientists are referring to as “leaky”. Although it is more a hypothetical or proposed health condition in the medical community, leaky gut holds a lot of weight when we take a look at what underlies it and anatomically, how it affects the structure of the gut.
Let’s take a look:
What Is Leaky Gut?
Some of the foods we consume aren’t the best for our health, but they’re a part of life’s pleasures. Thankfully, our intestinal walls, or gut lining, are brilliantly designed to act as a barrier, controlling what passes from our gut into our bloodstream. After all, we only want the very best stuff hitting our blood.
This lining contains small gaps called tight junctions that block harmful substances while allowing nutrients and water to pass through. In some cases––and there are several suspected causes for this––tight junctions become loose, allowing toxins and whole proteins to pass through before being broken down (1). This is known as intestinal permeability, and it’s one of the under-riding features of leaky gut. It permits viruses, partially digested particles, and harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream and eventually meet the organs.
What Is the Risk of Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is a root cause of every major health condition because it affects digestion. If we don’t treat secondary health conditions at their source, then we risk the onset of chronic inflammation and a perpetually compromised immune system. People with a healthy gut tend to be sick less often because the gut lining acts as an immunological barrier. Anything that messes with the health of the gut will impact the immune system.
For example, if the protein in gluten can’t be properly metabolized, like in the case of celiac disease, it leaks through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream, prompting immunological antibodies to recognize that protein as a foreign organism. The immune system attacks itself because those proteins appear like some part of the body and the immune system doesn’t know the difference. It is, in a sense, confused. This causes any number of autoimmune conditions to develop.
Intestinal permeability is associated with several chronic conditions, such as celiac disease, diabetes, Chrone’s disease, IBS, and even food allergies (2). It’s a suspected cause of many other common health issues, but whether it’s actually a cause or an effect is difficult to tease out. With changes in modern agriculture and dietary habits, and with leaky gut on the rise, we have to be much more attentive to the health needs of our gut. It’s not made to handle whatever we throw at it.
When the gut experiences dysbiosis, it requires time and proper nutrition to heal, and leaky gut supplements can help the repair process. But some preparation is required first. Let’s look at the suspected causes of leaky gut.
Several conditions are associated with leaky gut, including trauma, infection, chemotherapy, radiation, and chronic or severe emotional distress (3).
Some of the more common suspected indirect causes include:
- Excessive consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can cause intestinal permeability
- Too much alcohol
- Nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, and vitamins A and D
- Chronic inflammation
- Chronic stress, which can cause a variety of gastrointestinal disorders
- Imbalanced gut bacteria, and yeast overgrowth (2)
Check out the following section on Symptoms of Leaky Gut. If you suspect you may have it, notice if any items on the list above apply to your lifestyle. Then consider making changes and including leaky gut supplements, like high-quality prebiotics in your diet.
Did you know that chewing gum can kill the beneficial bacteria in your gut and mess with your metabolism? It can also lead to food intolerances, impair blood sugar levels, interfere with digestion, and make you crave sweets. It sounds like a recipe for gut dysbiosis and risk of leaky gut!
Leaky Gut Symptoms
How do you know you have a leaky gut? Symptoms may include:
- Chronic or consistent digestive problems including diarrhea, constipation, and bloating
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Regular infections
- Headaches and migraines
- Difficulty concentrating
- Brain fog
- Memory loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
- Cravings for sugar or carbs
- Arthritis or joint pain
Repairing Leaky Gut
A leaky gut does not have to be a permanent problem, but leaving it too long can have serious consequences for your health. The problem is that many people treat symptoms as the primary issue, which is kind of like repairing the roof of your house when the foundation is the problem. For example, many people with eczema will take the obvious route of applying topical creams or taking pharmaceutical drugs to heal their skin, and all the while, gut dysbiosis is the driver. What’s more, those pharmaceuticals can actually worsen gut bacteria imbalance.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the gut is the seat of good health. It’s also the storage site for melancholic emotions like sadness, loss, guilt, grief, mental stagnation, and an inability to flow, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
It never hurts to start with the gut when experiencing illness of any sort. Dr. Amy Myers recommends taking the 4 R’s approach: remove, restore, reinoculate, and repair (4).
Remove: Eliminate substances that pose harm to the gut, such as foods that contain gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and sugar, and irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, and synthetic drugs. An elimination diet is a good place to start, though kicking it off isn’t any easy process. You will experience uncomfortable detoxification symptoms as your body adjusts––hang in there.
This is also high time to recognize potential food intolerances or allergies. In one example: a study that investigated the link between celiac disease and intestinal permeability, 87% of participants had a healthy gut lining after one year on a gluten-free diet (5).
Restore: Add digestive enzymes, fermented foods, and hydrochloric acid to support optimal digestion. Incorporating more raw, organic foods into your diet can boost enzymes. Fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, apple cider vinegar, tempeh––even coffee and dark chocolate, but go easy on them.
Reinoculate: Take a high-quality, multi-strain, high-potency probiotic supplement to restore beneficial gut flora. Continue reading to learn more about how probiotics can help treat leaky gut.
Repair: Add in key supplements (see Other Leaky Gut Supplements below), eat fresh, wholesome foods, and minimize processed, fried, or sugary foods to repair gut lining and restore immunological strength.
Why eat fermented foods?
The combination of salt and a lack of oxygen ignites the process of fermentation, discouraging pathogens so Lactobacillus species of bacteria can grow unimpeded (6).
How Do Probiotics for Leaky Gut Work?
There is a dearth of human-trial research on probiotic treatment for repairing leaky gut, however, the evidence that does exist is strong. Once we understand how probiotics function in the body, their benefits for repairing leaky gut become clear.
Leaky gut supplements, like high-quality probiotics, can give the immune system a boost. That’s because 80% of our immune system depends entirely on beneficial bacteria, which means probiotic therapy can result in less illness (7).
Probiotics replenish healthy populations of intestinal gut flora. When consumed in the right quantity, they replace harmful bacteria, restore a healthy balance, and reverse gut dysbiosis. When dysbiosis is corrected, those tight junctions become tight again, repairing the cellular wall.
Probiotics also help maintain the normal functioning of gut mucosa and protects it from toxins, allergens, and pathogens (3).
There is evidence that Dr. formulated probiotics can stabilize gut barrier function and decrease gastrointestinal symptoms in children with eczema (8), and relieve symptoms of leaky gut, such as abdominal pain and IBS (9).
Best Probiotic for Leaky Gut
The best probiotics strains are naturally-occurring ones, that is, the ones alive and well in your gut but probably not in sufficient numbers to ward off harmful bacteria.
You may consider taking a probiotic that includes a prebiotic or taking them as separate supplements. A prebiotic is recommended because it feeds the beneficial bacteria, making it an ideal gut health supplement.
Probiotics are measured in colony-forming units (CFUs). The higher the CFUs, the more beneficial they are. CFU will fluctuate according to strain, and there is some strain specificity when it comes to treating certain conditions. Consider these points when choosing a probiotic supplement:
- Probiotics are not regulated so ensure you’re choosing a trustworthy brand
- A CFU count of at least 50 billion
- Diversity of strains
As one of the best probiotics for leaky gut, Flora Revive offers 100 billion CFUs and 15 unique strains of probiotics.
Fasting Can Boost Probiotic Effect
Probiotics require space to populate and colonize, so probiotic therapy is most effective on an empty stomach. A unified approach to intestinal healing also includes digestive enzymes, the body’s catalysts for all mental and physical functions, and can have profound healing effects (7).
Best Prebiotic Supplement
First of all, what are prebiotics, and how are they different from probiotics? And in case you were wondering, there are indeed postbiotics too, which are metabolic byproducts of probiotic bacteria. But we’ll stop there in the interests of not biting off more than we can chew. Probiotics and prebiotics on their own are a lot to cover, and you can get a deep understanding of both in our comprehensive guide here.
Every living thing needs food to survive, and probiotics are no different. Prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria in your digestive system, helping them to grow and thrive. They indirectly give you body a potent dose of living bacteria. High fiber foods and resistant starch are natural prebiotics that can help heal the gut. The five different types of prebiotics include inulin, psyllium husk, wheat dextrin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).
Though they sound vague, these terms describe some familiar foods we eat every day. Let’s take a look:
Inulin: A type of carbohydrate (FOS to be exact) extracted from chicory root fiber. There is some evidence that inulin helps with weight loss too (10).
Psyllium husk: A form of fiber made from the husks of the Plantago ovata plant’s seeds. It soaks up water in the gut and eases bowel movements.
Wheat dextrin: A soluble fiber extracted from wheat starch and is broken down in the colon. It regulates digestion and stabilizes blood sugar.
FOS: A chain of fructose carbohydrates naturally occurring in a variety of plant-based foods such as chicory root, blue agave, asparagus, bananas, and more.
GOS: GOS is a fermentable fiber produced from lactose, the sugar found in milk. It doesn’t digest until it reaches your gut, where it promotes the growth of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli, improves the diversity of the microbiome, and reduces inflammation (6, 11). When GOS is made with enzymes produced by Bifidobacteria (rather than commercial enzymes), more Bifido is produced, in a rather symbiotic cycle of growth (12).
Food naturally rich in prebiotics include artichokes, chicory, endive, lentils, asparagus, beans, onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, beets, broccoli, fennel root, and cooked, cooled rice.
Prebiotics Benefits, Selection & Dose
Prebiotics are effective leaky gut supplements because they help heal gut dysbiosis, which is one of the underlying causes of leaky gut. They boost the integrity of the beneficial indigenous flora and strengthen the cells of the intestinal walls.
Choose one that has a diversity of fibers, is organic, additive-free, and manufactured in cGMP-certified facilities.
There’s no consensus in the scientific community regarding prebiotic dose. It seems to depend on the type of fiber consumed. However, most prebiotics require a minimum dose of 3 grams a day to have a benefit, with 5 grams the ideal dosage for FOS, GOS, or other plant-based sources of prebiotics (13).
Recent research has found that Gum Arabic, from the gum acacia tree, may be an effective prebiotic and gut health supplement. A four-week study that compared different doses of gum arabic with a 10g dose of inulin showed a significant increase in Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli and Bacteroides without noticeable side effects. The optimal daily dose was 10 grams (14).
Other Leaky Gut Supplements
As previously mentioned, digestive enzymes are the catalyst for whole body functioning. Some experts believe that collagen can also help heal the gut. It has a robust amino acid profile that can reduce gut inflammation and regulate the secretion of gastric acid.
L-glutamine is the most prevalent amino acid in our blood, and it’s becoming well recognized as an effective treatment for leaky gut. It’s also a conditionally essential amino acid because it depletes in response to stress, extreme exercise, or in the presence of disease. L-glutamine acts as a sealant to the intestinal lining, so a deficiency in this nutrient has the same symptoms as leaky gut.
Another, rather inconspicuous gut health supplement that can help treat leaky gut is aloe vera gel. The plant’s natural gel contains healing, anti-inflammatory polysaccharide sugars that heal the epithelial cells of the digestive terrain.
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced by bacterial fermentation of fiber in the colon. Your digestive system requires it for optimal functioning. It controls cellular recycling in the gut and acts as an important source of energy for those cells that comprise the intestinal wall. Butter, milk, and other high-fat foods are good sources of butyrate.
Turmeric contributes to healthy digestion because it is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help heal intestinal permeability. Ensure you choose one that has Bioperine, or black pepper extract for optimal bioavailability.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is optimal for brain health. It may help to increase the diversity and number of species of healthy intestinal flora.
Most of us are familiar with the relaxing powers of magnesium, and it may also help to reverse low numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Check out Omni’s magnesium glycinate, the most absorbable form of magnesium.
Go With Your Gut
When it comes to starting a gut health supplement, you want something that addresses the whole picture. Like Dr. Myers recommends, starting with a clean slate is the best way to get a leaky gut back to a healthy state. Supplementing with probiotics when your body is inadequately nourished can help offset some of the effects of bad-food behavior, but they can’t clean up the whole mess.
Getting the most out of prebiotic and probiotic therapy requires giving your digestive system a break from inflammatory foods and other irritants and choosing healthy, whole foods that are rich in fiber and good fats. Greater diversity in your diet leads to a diverse microbiome, and when it comes to probiotics, that’s ideal. The pro-gut standard is big numbers in big ranges: large colonies of beneficial heterogeneous bacteria.
The best probiotics for leaky gut have diverse strains, a CFU count of at least 50 billion, and have survived manufacturing, transport, storage, and stomach acid by the time they get to your gut. How can you ascertain survivability? By choosing a reputable brand. Omnibiotics Flora Revive offers 100 billion CFUs and 15 unique strains of probiotics with the bonus of L- glutamine in each capsule.
Prebiotics are essential treatment for leaky gut, and they’re found in some of our everyday foods. If you want the best prebiotic supplement, choose an organic one that has a diversity of fibers, free of additives, and manufactured in cGMP-certified facilities.
Going with your gut is always the right thing to do. If you’re not sure whether a leaky gut is causing your symptoms, digestive repair is still in order. Consult with your doctor about your symptoms and ask about how probiotics and prebiotics can help.