You may have heard of leaky gut syndrome before. Leaky gut happens when your intestinal lining gets damaged, allowing the contents of your small intestine — undigested food particles, gut bacteria, and more — to leak into your bloodstream, triggering an immune response.
Leaky gut is becoming more and more common thanks to food sensitivities, chronic stress, inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, and imbalances in gut flora.
The good news is that a ketogenic diet can help improve symptoms of leaky gut and the health problems associated with it. A high-fat, low-carb diet like the keto diet can relieve a lot of the inflammation and intestinal barrier damage that contributes to leaky gut.
This article will cover what leaky gut is, its causes and symptoms, how keto can help with leaky gut, and a few other ways you can repair your intestinal wall and get rid of leaky gut.
Leaky gut is a condition in which your intestinal barrier (the lining of your gut) develops holes, allowing the contents of your small intestine to leak into your bloodstream.
Your gut lining is designed to separate the contents of your digestive system from the rest of your body. Its goal is to isolate toxins, pathogens, poisons, inflammatory compounds, and other damaging things that you might eat, protecting the rest of your body from any ill effects they may cause[*].
However, your gut lining isn’t totally impermeable. It lets certain beneficial molecules out of your gut and into your bloodstream, including signaling molecules that allow your gut to communicate with the rest of your body.
For that reason, your gut has tiny holes called tight junctions that are like gatekeepers between your gut and your bloodstream. Tight junctions stand guard at your intestinal wall, deciding what gets out of your gut and what stays.
But if your intestinal wall becomes damaged, those tight junctions begin to open up. They stop regulating the right molecules, allowing damaging compounds and foreign substances to leak out of your small intestine and into your blood[*]. Researchers call this issue leaky gut syndrome.
There are a few different symptoms of leaky gut.
- Brain fog and fatigue are common early symptoms of leaky gut. In fact, leaky gut may be misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, or may be a root cause of it[*].
- Skin problems like eczema or dermatitis may be a result of leaky gut as well[*]. Intestinal permeability only seems to link to skin issues in certain people[*].
- Digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and other types of inflammatory bowel disease can either develop or worsen as a result of leaky gut[*]. Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and general digestive distress.
- Celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases may be influenced by leaky gut. An increasingly supported theory in the medical community suggests that leaky gut causes foreign substances to leave the small intestine, which triggers an excessive immune response and can make immune system issues worse[*].
- New food intolerances and/or food allergies are signs of leaky gut syndrome[*].
If you have several of the symptoms listed above, you may want to consider improving your gut barrier. Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do to bring your gut into balance and strengthen your digestive tract.
There are several potential causes of leaky gut.
Alcohol increases intestinal permeability and also prevents proper nutrient and water uptake in your digestive system, which inhibits intestinal repair and can worsen leaky gut symptoms[*].
Stress may also affect gut permeability. Growing evidence suggests that chronic psychological stress plays a role in gut health, including the strength of your digestive tract and gut barrier function[*].
Obesity is a risk factor for leaky gut. People who are carrying extra body fat have more intestinal permeability[*].
Chronic inflammation increases gut permeability and can contribute to leaky gut syndrome[*].
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and acetaminophen can cause your intestinal tight junctions to loosen, especially if you take NSAIDs regularly over a long period of time[*].
Antibiotics can kill off good gut bacteria that protect and maintain your gut barrier, leaving you open to intestinal wall damage, colonization by harmful gut bacteria, and, eventually, leaky gut[*].
A ketogenic diet is one of the best ways to reverse leaky gut. Diet is one of the biggest factors in gut health, and a high-fat, low-carb, whole foods-based diet like keto is especially good for gut function.
Keto improves gut health in several ways:
Low in Sugar and Refined Carbs
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are major contributors to gut dysfunction and leaky gut[*,*]. Fructose — the sugar found in fruits, high-fructose corn syrup, and agave — is especially bad for your gut permeability[*]. A keto diet has virtually no sugar or refined carbs, which eliminates one of the biggest sources of gut problems.
High in Fiber
In a well-designed keto diet, you get virtually all your carbs from nutrient-dense vegetables. In addition to their nutritional value, veggies are one of the best sources of fiber. Eating lots of fiber reduces intestinal permeability and can help you recover from leaky gut[*].
Vegetables also contain a special class of fiber called prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fiber acts as food for your good gut bacteria. They ferment it to get energy, and as a result, they produce short-chain fatty acids that actively heal your gut lining and reduce intestinal inflammation[*]. Aim for five to six servings of low-carb vegetables a day on a keto diet to start improving your gut health.
Keto turns on your body’s antioxidant system, fighting systemic inflammation and decreasing oxidative stress[*,*]. This anti-inflammatory effect is particularly valuable if you have leaky gut, which is triggered and worsened by chronic inflammation[*].
Good for Weight Loss
Weight loss is one of the main reasons ketogenic dieting has gained so much popularity in recent years. Keto is great for weight loss, and because excess body fat is a risk factor for leaky gut, losing weight on keto can help you restore your gut function and heal your intestinal barrier.
In addition to a keto diet, there are a few other things you can do to restore your intestinal barrier and improve overall gut health.
Probiotics relieve intestinal permeability by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut[*]. A quality probiotic supplement may repair your gut lining and help fix leaky gut.
Fermented foods provide additional healthy gut bacteria that strengthen your gut[*]. Try adding foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha to your diet to improve your gut health.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that helps repair your intestinal wall and protects the tight junctions that line your gut[*]. Research shows that consuming more L-glutamine can improve symptoms of intestinal permeability[*]. The simplest (and cheapest) way to get L-glutamine is in supplement form. Try taking 1-2 grams of L-glutamine every morning to improve your gut health.
Repair Leaky Gut with a Keto Diet
A ketogenic diet is an excellent way to restore your gut lining and help repair leaky gut. If you have gut issues and you want to try a keto diet, you can start right now with this complete beginner’s guide to keto.
For even better results, try adding probiotics, plenty of fermented foods, and L-glutamine to your keto diet as well. Thanks for reading!