The importance of gut health on overall wellbeing, immunity, disease prevention, and the ability to lose weight and keep it off is well known.  But could you answer the question, “What is leaky gut?” Or even, what are leaky gut symptoms? And do you know how to heal a leaky gut?

To answer these and all your other questions about leaky gut we went to the leaky gut expert, Dr. Steven Gundry, who has written several best-selling books on the topic, including The Plant Paradox, The Longevity Paradox, and The Energy Paradox.

Dr. Gundry’s expertise is in gut health and how to help anyone who thinks they are eating healthy – but is still gaining weight, feeling low-energy, bloated, or suffering from a myriad of mysterious digestive symptoms and believes that leaky gut syndrome may be to blame. In short, anyone who, no matter how many salads and green smoothies they make, just doesn’t feel better, have lasting energy or succeed in losing weight, since leaky gut syndrome can be connected with a variety of symptoms, including an inability to achieve lasting or healthy weight loss.

Gut health is often the starting point for diagnosing everything from mood disorders to immunity to maintaining a healthy weight. The healthy foods you think are helping to achieve gut health could actually be one of the problems, Dr. Gundry explains.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome and What Causes It?

A leaky gut is, as it sounds, a weak and porous lining of the intestines that, when it gets inflamed, or aggravated by certain foods, allows nutrients to permeate into the bloodstream and the body, including bacteria, undigested food particles or allergens like gluten that can be toxic when not metabolized properly. These so-called “anti-nutrients” cause damage when they are not filtered and disposed of in a healthy way.

Dr. Gundry believes that not all plant-based foods are beneficial for everyone, and if you have an autoimmune disease or an adverse reaction to certain foods, instead of turning your back on a plant-based approach, the better course is to steer clear of compounds such as lectins, which may be aggravating. "The way to solve leaky gut is to eliminate what's aggravating you," Dr. Gundry says.

"Once we heal that, the immune system can be retrained to forget that it gets bothered by these compounds," says Dr. Steven Gundry, author and expert on gut health. "That being said, for 22 years, I've asked patients to remove troublesome foods from their diets – foods that they thought were really good for them. When they remove these foods, we can show them that their leaky gut goes away and their auto-immune disease gets resolved."

His point: If you know which whole foods to eat and which to avoid, you can enjoy a plant-based diet and feel amazing. It's actually the key to longevity, weight loss, and consistent health.

The exact cause of leaky gut is not known, other than the fact that people with gluten intolerance experience it more often than others.


Foods that can trigger leaky gut include:

  • Alcohol, carbonated beverages, and sugary drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin
  • Cookies, cakes, and muffins, as well as pies and pastries
  • Crackers and chips including granola bars potato chips and pretzels
  • Dairy milk, creamer, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese
  • Gluten in beer, barley, rye, seitan, and oats as well as soy sauce
  • Processed meats, including ham, bacon, salami, and hot dogs
  • Vegetable oils, including canola, sunflower, soybean, and safflower oils
  • Wheat flour in bread, pasta, and cereals

Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky gut syndrome can present with any number of digestive symptoms including bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

“To live longer, feel better, lose weight, and enjoy clear, glowing skin, and the energy and lithe movements of an athlete, all you have to do is eat more foods that agree with you and stay away from the ones that cause inflammation,” says Dr. Gundry.

He is not a fan of foods that contain lectins, which is a full array of foods, from pasta and grains to tomatoes, eggplant, other nightshades, and legumes. Because leaky gut is essentially an allergic-style reaction to lectins, once you solve what’s triggering it, you could allow back some of these foods with little or no reaction, he explains.

Dr. Gundry has been plant-based for over 20 years and has power research to back up his claims and has conducted his own original research into lectins, leaky gut, and the stories of patients who lose weight and lower their markers for major diseases, while they live lectin-free. "Eat plants, but not all plants," Dr. Gundry tells his patients and readers. He espouses a strict anti-lectin approach.


How to Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome From a Doctor

Tip 1. Stay away from lectins. 

"Believe it or not, plants don't want us to eat them, Gundry says. "They were not put on Earth for us to eat them, and they want to live. They want their seeds and babies to live. Their only defense system is compounds – like lectins – so they try to dissuade an animal or preditor that it's not a good thing to eat them.

We have a defense mechanism against these plant proteins, including acid in our stomach, our gut microbiome, but as I talk about, our gut microbiome has been decimated by antibiotics that are sprayed on all of our vegetables, and so we're pretty defenseless against these plant toxins.

In Western society, we've set ourselves up to fail, to be sensitive to these plant toxins. For my patients with celiac disease, when we took other lectin-containing foods away from them, their celiac disease dissolves.

Tip 2. You May Have Leaky Gut and Not Know It

"All disease begins in the gut or a leaky gut," says Dr. Gundry, since it's tied to inflammation in the body. "If you have any disease process, which includes diabetes, arthritis, mental health, depression, acne, anxiety, you name it, we'll find that you have a leaky gut."

"If you remove these plant issues, then you'll repair yourself and everything will return to normal. We will one day find out about the effects on lectins and brain function and memory loss."

"I was speaking at a meeting at Harvard and one of the professors challenged me and said, 'Well I believe everything in moderation.' And I said, "That's great if you want a moderate amount of diabetes, a moderate amount of arthritis, or a moderate amount of artery disease, then I agree with you. But why would I want that?

Tip 3.  Eat Whole Foods But Eat Them Whole

"Jack Lalanne used to say, 'If it tastes good, spit it out!' And guess what? He was right!" Added sugar, animal fat, processed oils, and processed flour, all make up the junk food that is now over 60 percent of the American diet.

"Another mistake we make, and this dates back to our great grandparents, is that when you eat whole foods eat them whole! Only then are they healthy. When you line up wheat and process it and turn it into a "whole wheat" bread, it's no longer whole wheat. It's bread." Adds Dr. Gundry: "Our ancestors ate whole foods, if you're going to eat foods whole, then eat them whole."

The same is true of fruit: If you're going to eat a grapefruit whole, it's a lot better for you than drinking a glass of grapefruit juice, which is a mainlining a glass of fructose.

"We're beginning to learn a lot more than fructose, in whatever form. It used to be only available to us in the season for fruit, which was usually late summer and early fall when we are active with the harvest," Dr. Gundry explains, so we would burn off all that excess sugar. "But now we have 365 of endless summer, which is also endless sugar, because of high-fructose corn syrup and we are not designed to handle that."

Tip 4. Eat More Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a great source of polysaccharides, which are long-chain sugars that our gut microbiome biome loves to eat and is healthy for us, Dr. Gundry explains.

"Certain mushrooms have one of the most amazing brain-stimulating mitochondrion-boosting compounds," he adds. "The more mushrooms you eat, the more nutrients you get. People who eat two cups of mushrooms per week (that's not even that much) have a 90 percent reduction in dementia, compared to those who don't eat two cups of mushrooms a week, according to a recent study.

"If we had a drug that promised you a 90 percent reduction in Alzheimer's, I can tell you everyone would pay for it. But if you could pick up mushrooms at the store for three bucks then why not?"

Tip 5. Use Sorghum Flour

Sorghum produces a high-quality, high-protein grain, Dr. Gundry explains. It's an ancient grain that uses the least amount of water to produce of any crop. In the US, we used it as cattle food. It's a cash crop. In the Middle East and Africa, it's their grain.

"Sorghum is also one of the ways we can have a positive impact on climate change and reduce the amount of water we need to grow our food. Let's use what we know about climate change and grow a grain that's good for us and saves the planet."

Tip 6. Eat for Gut Health and Anti-Aging

Dr. Gundry explains that the gut is also a key to slowing down the aging process, and feeding your microbiome, or the trillions of gut bacteria that inhabit your intestines, a diet full of healthy fiber-filled plant foods (and avoiding lectins and gluten if you're sensitive to them), it will reward you by keeping you healthy.

"We know now how to influence our microbiome and give it what the bacteria in our gut want to eat, they want to have a home, and if you give the microbiome what they need, they will, in turn, take care of you, which is their home.

"The really exciting thing in animal and human research is that the bacteria in our gut have the most effect on our lifespan than anything else. We should actually be eating for our microbiome rather than our tongue. That is temporary, and the gut has long-term ramifications.

Don't sit around and wait for your genes to create conditions that don't have to come at all.

Tip 7. Eat Less Overall

The truth is most Americans eat more calories than we need, adds Dr. Gundry. "The more we can not eat, within reason, the better our health will be long-term. The amazing effects of intermittent fasting or time-restrictive eating are that it prevents diabetes, boosts your immune system, and protects you against certain diseases."

Foods that help heal leaky gut

Unhealthy gut bacteria have been linked to inflammation and eventually a higher risk of diseases, from heart disease to cancer, and including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Plant-based foods that improve digestion, and gut health and can help heal leaky gut include:

  • Avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil
  • Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries,
  • Citrus fruit such as oranges, kiwi, pineapple, lemon, limes, and papaya
  • Chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and. broccoli
  • Fermented vegetables: kimchi and miso
  • Leafy Greens such as spinach, kale, arugula, and Swiss chard.
  • Mushrooms of and mycoprotein
  • Nuts such as almonds and nut milk
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and turnips
  • Whole grains that are gluten-free such as buckwheat, sorghum, and rice

 Bottom Line: If You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome Change Your Diet and Heal

Dr. Steven Gundry explains that a leaky gut is an allergic-type reaction to certain foods like lectins and gluten, and can cause inflammation and disease long-term, as well as digestive issues. Eliminate certain trigger foods to heal, then add back those that your immune system can handle. Eat healthily, avoid junk and prioritize a plant-based diet for optimal health.


For more expert advice, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles


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