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Last Updated on July 11, 2021
How Long Does it Take to Heal a Leaky Gut?
Studies show that 44% of people worldwide suffer with digestive health issues at any one time (1). Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, refers to a condition that can leave the sufferer with a plethora of uncomfortable symptoms that can affect their daily life, and even cause serious illness.
Leaky gut is technically not acknowledged as a clinical medical condition, making it a source of debate in the medical community. This means that the field lacks significant research and it is difficult to know exactly how long leaky gut takes to heal. However, it is thought that repair time can be anywhere between a few months to a few years.
So if you think you have a leaky gut, read on to discover everything you need to know about the syndrome, how to heal it, and how long it will take before your gut is back to health.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky Gut Syndrome refers to when the lining of your digestive tract becomes damaged or more permeable, meaning it can gain small holes. This can essentially ‘leak’ toxins or waste into your bloodstream from the gut.
The digestive tract (or gastrointestinal tract) is essentially a long tube that goes all the way from your mouth to your anus which helps to digest food and absorb nutrients. This is done with the help of various organs which include:
- The esophagus
- The stomach
- The small intestine
- The large intestine
The intestinal walls have small gaps called tight junctions that usually allow water and nutrients through, while keeping harmful chemicals and bacteria out. When the tight junctions of the intestinal walls loosen, they can let toxins or bacteria enter your blood.
When foreign matter enters the bloodstream, it can provoke a serious immune reaction from your body as well as chronic gut inflammation.
Leaky gut has not been officially recognized as a medical condition by many medical professionals. Therefore there are few studies that include leaky gut. However, there is significant research to show that increased permeability of the intestinal walls does exist.
In fact, increased intestinal permeability is thought to be linked to many autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, among others (2).
Is leaky gut real?
Leaky gut is not technically recognized as a legitimate condition by medical professionals and therefore there is little scientific data to conclude whether or not leaky gut is real. However, there is significant research to back up the existence that the intestinal wall can become more permeable and toxins can leak through causing inflammation.
One study tested the impacts of microbes and toxins in the blood from increased intestinal permeability in order to diagnose leaky gut. They found a link between hyperpermeability and inflammation in relation to various diseases including IBS and Chrons (3).
Therefore it seems like while the existence of leaky gut can not be confirmed, there is substantial evidence to suggest that it does exist. Numerous studies suggest that increased permeability certainly can occur in the digestive tract and that this is liked to chronic inflammation and various gastrointestinal conditions.
Proponents of leaky gut are mostly practitioners of alternative medicines. Many even suggest that most modern diseases and illnesses originate in the gut, including autism, cancer, anxiety etc. However, these claims are not backed by science and lack research.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
How can you tell if you have leaky gut? There are a number of different symptoms you may experience, and many of these are similar to symptoms of other conditions making it hard to identify.
Symptoms can include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic constipation
- Bloating and discomfort
- Skin problems like acne
- Bad breath
- Joint pain
- Acid reflux
What causes leaky gut?
There are several different factors that can cause a leaky gut. The intestinal walls are protected by a layer of mucus which helps to absorb nutrients while preventing most large particles and toxins from passing to the blood.
If this lining is irritated it can become less effective and ‘leaky’. Many substances and external stressors can irritate the bowel lining and cause a leaky gut. Here are some of the potential contributors to leaky gut:
- Aspirin and ibuprofen – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can irritate the intestinal walls and damage seals between cells
- Antibiotics – it can take at least 8 weeks to re-establish the gut after antibiotics
- Excessive alcohol intake – this can increase intestinal permeability
- Poor nutrition – excessive sugar intake or deficiencies in nutrients such as Vitamin A and D can increase intestinal permeability
- Gluten-consuming gluten can trigger the release of the protein zonulin which regulates the permeability of the intestine
- Autoimmune diseases – some research suggests links between leaky gut and diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis
- Stress – Chronic stress can contribute to gastrointestinal conditions
- Food allergies – these may irritate the gut lining
- Conditions and treatments – certain conditions and treatments can damage the seals in the bowel lining such as IBS, SIBO, celiac disease or chemotherapy
- Yeast – an overgrowth of yeast in the gut could contribute to leaky gut
The intestines are also home to a huge quantity of bacteria and microorganisms, known as gut flora. These usually work to help digestion, metabolism and the immune system (4). leaky gut can be caused by an imbalance in the gut flora which can cause inflammation and trigger an immune response.
Conditions associated with leaky gut
The idea that leaky gut or general gastrointestinal conditions are the root cause of many diseases and conditions is not proven by science. It is difficult to prove whether leaky gut is a cause or effect.
However, the condition is still thought to have links with a variety of different chronic conditions, and there is evidence to support that leaky gut is present in people with certain chronic diseases. These include:
- Celiac disease
- Food allergies
How to heal leaky gut?
Due to the fact that leaky gut is not a recognized condition, there is little concrete advice on treating it. However, looking to alternative medical practitioners and specialists in nutrition, there are certainly things you can do to help heal leaky gut.
The 4R Approach
The 4R Approach (5) is a common way to help heal your gut. This technique is about identifying and cutting out foods that trigger imbalances in your gut flora, cause inflammation and damage the gut lining. The four-step process refers to the following four Rs. Remember it is best to speak to a nutritionist or medical professional before starting this approach.
- Remove – the first step involves eliminating potentially inflammatory or allergenic foods from your diet for a period of time and monitoring results. These can include processed foods, dairy, eggs, gluten, meats, alcohol, coffee, soda and refined sugar
- Replace – you can add elements that reduce inflammation and provide the things you need for healthy digestion such as high-fiber foods, digestive enzymes and a nutrient-rich diet
- Reinoculate – Restore the balance of your gut flora by taking probiotic supplements
- Repair – help repair your gut lining with careful nutrition that helps support cell growth. You may increase your omega-3 fatty acids, Zinc and Vitamins B5 and D.
Improve your gut health
Here are also some steps you can take to generally improve your gut health which can relieve and help heal leaky gut.
1. Reduce refined carbs
The excessive intake of refined carbs can encourage growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. These can also damage the functions of the intestinal lining. You can find refined carbs in processed sugar and grains. Therefore, reducing your intake of these can help your gut stay healthy.
2. Take probiotics
There are many studies that show that probiotics can help restore balance to the gut flora and bacteria in the gut (6). This can help reduce and prevent inflammation and be beneficial for gastrointestinal conditions.
3. Increase fiber
Boosting the amount of fiber you eat can be beneficial for your gut. Studies have identified that there is a link between fiber intake and a healthy gut microbiome, and that even a 2-week fiber increase could have a significant impact on the gut (7).
4. Eat yogurt
Yogurt and other fermented foods like kimchi or kombucha contain natural probiotics which can be beneficial for the health of your gut.
5. Reduce use of anti-inflammatories
If you often take ibuprofen or aspirin for your aches and pains you could be doing damage to your gut and intestinal lining. Avoid taking NSAIDs which can contribute to leaky gut and increase intestinal permeability.
6. Reduce stress
Reducing stress and exercising more can also help your gut health improve. Stress can produce cortisol and other hormones that exacerbate leaky gut.
So how long does leaky gut take to heal?
As leaky gut is not an official diagnosis and therefore has no set treatment procedure, the time taken for leaky gut to heal can vary greatly. The time it takes can depend on the method of healing you choose and can be different for everyone.
There is not enough information to define a definite healing time, but here are some general timeframe indicators of how long it can take to heal leaky gut.
Some studies have found that nutritional therapy and elemental diets can increase the healing of the intestinal lining in as little as a few weeks (8). In fact, one study showed that with dietary changes, there could be changes to the gut’s bacteria from just a few days (9). It takes the gut somewhere between two and three weeks to generate a whole new lining.
For people with autoimmune conditions, this could be increased to 12 weeks (10). Therefore, if you significantly change your diet, you may be able to reset your gut to health in just a few weeks. This takes identifying the irritants and triggers and putting in consistent work.
Generally, if implementing changes to your diet and nutrition, it is more likely it will take several months to feel significant effects.
It can take an initial period of time to identify the foods that don’t work for you, and then a period of consistent implementation. Studies have shown improvements from Probiotics in periods of 4 to 12 weeks (11, 12).
Gut health is ongoing
While it can take just weeks or months to see some improvements to leaky gut and general gut health, the process of healing is something ongoing.
To enjoy continued gut health you will need to consistently avoid irritants to the gut and the types of foods that upset your intestinal balance and cause inflammation.
How to speed up leaky gut healing?
The fastest way to speed up leaky gut healing is to change your diet. Look to cut out and identify foods that can be triggers for your symptoms. Avoid foods that you may have allergies to and that can increase intestinal permeability.
Aim to enjoy a high-fiber diet that avoids processed sugars and grains. Aim to eat fibrous vegetables, some fruits, fermented foods, healthy fats and unprocessed meat.
What slows your leaky gut from healing?
While there can be changes to the bacteria and gut flora in your digestive tract in as little as a few days with changes to the diet, many people have other health conditions and food sensitivities that can slow this down.
People with autoimmune conditions will take longer to reset their gut health. Continuing to eat foods that increase poor gut health can also significantly slow down the healing process.
How do you know your leaky gut is healing?
So once you start on the journey of improving gut health, what are the signs that your gut is actually healing? The main indicators are a reduction in your symptoms. Have a look at the following signs that your gut is on the road to recovery.
- Reduced diarrhea or constipation
- Less gas and bloating
- Reduced heartburn or acid reflux
- Reduced sensitivities to certain foods
- Reduced fatigue or headaches
- Improved skin issues
- Stronger immune system
While Leaky Gut Syndrome is not an official diagnosis, it is something that can affect many people. Increased intestinal permeability can cause inflammation, daily discomfort, health issues and immune reactions in many.
Although there is a lack of information about the exact causes, effects and treatments that specifically relate to leaky gut, from the research available, there are still steps and actions you can take. So if you suffer with leaky gut or another digestive condition, we recommend changing your diet and nutrition.
Cutting out items that provoke inflammation and damage the intestinal wall, and introducing more beneficial foods and supplements to your diet, can leave you feeling better in a matter of weeks. So don’t dismay, start taking the right actions to heal your gut and regain your health.
Related Health Resources:
1) Sanofi ISCD Global Report 2018, retrieved from https://www.sanofi.com/-/media/Project/One-Sanofi-Web/Websites/Global/Sanofi-COM/Home/en/science-and-innovation/docs/200718-Sanofi-ISCD-Global-Report-FINAL.pdf
2) Alterations in intestinal permeability M C Arrieta, L Bistritz, and J B Meddings, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1856434/
3) Increased Intestinal Permeability and Decreased Barrier Function: Does It Really Influence the Risk of Inflammation, Hiroshi Fukui, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5988153/
4) The role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health, Harry J Flint 1, Karen P Scott, Petra Louis, Sylvia H Duncan, retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22945443/
6) Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation, Peera Hemarajata and James Versalovic, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539293/
8) Polymeric diet alone versus corticosteroids in the treatment of active pediatric Crohn’s disease, retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16682258/
9) Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3957428/
11) A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicenter trial of saccharomyces boulardii in irritable bowel syndrome, retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21301358/