Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is not a recognized medical diagnosis. That said, the treatment depends on the underlying cause.
There’s limited clinical data about the leaky gut, including how long it takes to recover from it. But estimates can be made from research that has explored similar conditions.
For example, a
Keep reading to learn more about leaky gut, including symptoms, causes, diet recommendations, and tips for prevention.
Your gut, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, includes over 4,000 square feet of intestinal epithelial lining that controls what gets into your bloodstream.
If unhealthy, this lining may be “leaky” with holes or cracks that allow bacteria, toxins, antigens, and partially digested food to penetrate the tissues beneath it.
That can trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria), which could lead to problems within your digestive tract and beyond.
Although leaky gut is not recognized by mainstream medical professionals as a condition, it’s generally recognized as a symptom.
According to a
Although not generally accepted as a cause by the medical community as a whole, damage to the intestinal epithelial lining has been associated with the following conditions:
Symptoms of leaky gut may vary depending on the underlying cause. For example:
- Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, bloating and gas, and weight loss.
- IBD can cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and bloody stools.
- IBS can cause abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, constipation or diarrhea, mucus in stools, and excess gas.
- If you’ve been diagnosed withceliac disease, following a gluten-free diet may help heal your gut.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with IBD, anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics, pain relievers, and supplements such as iron, calcium, and vitamin D may help the lining of your gut to recover.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, anticholinergic medications, tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs, antidepressants, antibiotics, pain relievers, or medications specifically for IBS (alosetron, lubiprostone, linaclotide) may help reduce your symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend adjusting your diet to remove inflammatory foods that could impact gut flora, such as:
- processed foods
- high-fat foods
- high-sugar foods
- foods that may trigger allergies or sensitivities, such as gluten or dairy
They may also recommend a low FODMAP diet. This diet is often recommended in people with IBS, but it may help relieve some of your symptoms from leaky gut.
You may also want to try adding foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics and prebiotics can help promote healthy bacteria in your gut. Some examples include:
- probiotic yogurt
Taking self-care steps that promote overall digestive health may be the best way to protect yourself from leaky gut.
- Increase your intake of high-fiber foods. The soluble fiber found in vegetables, legumes, and fruit support your gut’s beneficial bacteria, according to a
- Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates. Too much sugar can negatively impact gut barrier function, according to a
- Reduce your use of NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can increase intestinal permeability, according to a
- Take probiotic supplements. The beneficial bacteria of probiotics are considered helpful for many gastrointestinal conditions, such as IBS, according to a
- Reduce your stress levels. Gut bacteria can be harmed by chronic stress, according to a
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Overindulging in alcohol may increase intestinal permeability, according to a
- Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke may increase digestive tract inflammation and is a risk factor for a number of bowel conditions, according to a
See a doctor if:
- Your abdominal pain is causing you concern.
- Your abdominal pain lasts for more than a few days.
- You experience persistent heartburn or heartburn that becomes increasingly severe.
- You experience pain when passing stool.
- Your discomfort interferes with your daily activities.
Seek emergency medical attention if you experience:
- severe pain
- severe abdominal tenderness when touched
- bloody stools
- abdominal swelling
- persistent nausea and vomiting
Leaky gut — also known as increased intestinal permeability — is generally recognized as a symptom, not a condition, by mainstream medicine. Most clinical studies have focused on correlation as opposed to cause and effect, which makes it difficult to determine the amount of time needed to heal leaky gut.
The healing time will be based on the underlying condition, such as IBS or IBD, and the time it takes you and your doctor to get that condition under control.
Part of treatment will most likely include lifestyle changes, which are also suggested for reducing your risk of leaky gut. This can include:
- eating a healthy diet
- taking probiotics
- limiting alcohol and NSAIDs
- reducing stress
- quitting smoking