5 Best Supplements for Leaky Gut

Leaky GutLeaky gut occurs when spaces between cells of the large intestine become wider than normal or to stay open for too long. This can be due to damage to the cells or when something interrupts their proper functioning. With these large gaps in place, the colonic membrane becomes “hyper-permeable” or “leaky” and bad substances cross from the colon into the blood.

Bad news, right?

Don’t worry – there’s an underlying reason why a gut can become “leaky” and it’s easy to fix.

Leaky Gut Science Explained

The technical term for leaky gut is intestinal “hyper-permeability”. That gives you a clue about what’s going on when you have leaky gut – the intestinal barrier has become too permeable. The membrane of the large intestine (or colon) is normally selectively permeable so that the colon can do its job in regulating hydration, minerals and waste. There are special gaps between intestinal cells called “tight gap junctions” which can expand and contract depending on what needs to be eliminated from, or reabsorbed into, the blood. When everything is working well, gap junctions stop large molecules and waste from entering while allowing nutrients and water to flow in and out of the blood as needed [1].

The large intestine is also the site of the body’s largest colony of bacteria, yeast, and fungi – the probiotic microbiome. These beneficial bugs eat prebiotic fiber from food and create nutrients like vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids. These nutrients feed the cells of the large intestine and keep the tight gap junctions functioning properly. Probiotic bacteria and yeasts also produce mucous and chemicals to stop harmful substances or pathogens attacking the colon cells and causing the spaces in the tight barrier from opening too much [1] [2].

Leaky gut has been associated with a number of serious conditions including:

  • Food allergies
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Asthma
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus [1][3][4][5]

Leaky Gut, Auto-Pollution and Autoimmune Conditions

When the gaps between the cells of the large intestine aren’t properly regulated, large molecules may have direct access into the blood. This can cause “auto-pollution”, where unwanted waste that was on its way out of the body via the digestive system is now on its way back in. This waste travels through the blood to the liver. This can result in an over-worked liver, causing symptoms of fatigue, irritability, moodiness, and poor concentration. In some cases, auto-pollutants can be bacteria or viruses that the body was trying to eliminate to prevent infection.

Along with these auto-pollutants, other molecules such as peptides and proteins make their way into the blood. Normally, only single amino acids or mineral ions would be moving from the gut into the blood, but with increased permeability, large molecules can gain entry too. These molecules can be mistaken by immune cells for pathogens (e.g. unwanted bacteria), triggering an unnecessary immune response. This process is suspected to be a factor in triggering many autoimmune diseases [1].

Long story short: leaky gut allows bad stuff back into the body.

Common Symptoms of Leaky Gut

General symptoms of leaky gut are rather vague and could be caused by many other problems. They include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas and flatulence
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Frequent colds & flus
  • Slow wound healing
  • Irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain

How do you know if you have leaky gut? There are functional medicine tests that a naturopath or nutritionist can order for you. Speak to your heath care provider if you would like a confirmed diagnosis.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

Anything that directly damages the protective lining of the colon or disrupts the balance of probiotics in the gut can contribute to leaky gut. This includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Stress
  • Coffee
  • NSAIDs
  • Antibiotics
  • Low fiber diets
  • Diets high in animal protein
  • Poor digestion
  • Inflammation from any other cause [1]

5 Best Supplements to Help Leaky Gut

#5 Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzyme supplements are the frontline for leaky gut healing. By breaking down food into its smallest possible forms, enzymes may help to increase the absorption of nutrients and the breakdown of pathogens before they reach the colon. This can lower the risk of bad bugs from causing damage to the intestinal cells, reduce inflammation, and prevent big molecules from invading circulation through the colon wall. And don’t forget that well-digested food is essential for probiotic health.

We recommend:

Nested Naturals Super Enzymes (90 Capsules)

intestinal permiability and digestive enzymes

Nested Naturals Super Enzyme capsules include 11 types of digestive enzymes along with peppermint, ginger and fennel extracts to support natural digestion processes. This is a super natural, clean supplement – vegan friendly with no GMOs, soy or gluten. This supplement is particularly effective if you experience bloating or discomfort after eating.

#4 Turmeric

Breaking the cycle of inflammation is an essential step in healing leaking gut. Cells can’t begin to repair themselves in an inflammatory environment. Think of it as a battleground – the intestinal wall is under attack and constantly defending itself. An anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to break the cycle, but sometimes you need something more potent. Curcumin, the active component of turmeric, is a strong anti-inflammatory extract that has been shown to have particular affinity for gut inflammation. Studies also show it may help establish healthy probiotic bacteria colonies, and to keep the immune system from over-reacting. [3] [4]

We recommend:

VitaDirect Turmeric  Plus (500 mg, 90 Capsules)

Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements

This VitaDirect Turmeric supplement contains concentrated turmeric along with black pepper. This combination of herbs can improve the bioavailability of the turmeric, boost anti-inflammatory actions, and increase circulation. Two capsules a day deliver a therapeutic, anti-inflammatory dose that may help to reduce gut inflammation.

You can learn more about Turmeric and Curcumin Here

#3 Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for cell proliferation – it supports the growth and repair of cells to heal the intestinal barrier and tight gap junctions. It is also a key nutrient for immune regulation and can help to keep the immune system balanced when faced with auto-pollution [6].

CAUTION: Don’t take zinc long term as it can throw off the balance of other minerals in the body. Try a dose of 30mg per day for 2 weeks and see a nutritionist for personalized advice.

We recommend:

Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate (15mg, 60 Capsules)

Zinc and intestinal health

This supplement by Thorne Research contains zinc picolinate, a highly absorbable and bioavailable form of zinc. All Thorne supplements are free from nasties like metallic colorants, dairy, gluten, artificial preservatives and other additives that might aggravate intestinal hyper-permeability. Each capsule contains 15mg of zinc, so double the dose for a therapeutic 30mg per day, or stick to a lower maintenance dose.

#2 Fiber

Fibre can bind pathogens, waste and inflammatory debris to the stool, neutralising their passage through the colon. It has a “brushing” effect on the colon, helping to remove any dead cells and allowing repair to begin. Prebiotic fibre is also essential for the health of beneficial probiotic bacteria and yeasts that support the colonic cells.

We recommend:

Organic India Whole Husk Psyllium

Psyllium for leaky gut

Psyllium husk is a great source of soluble fibre. Just add 1 tablespoon to a big glass of water each day – the husk swells up in the digestive system to add bulk to stool, cleaning the colon and supplying a prebiotic fibre for probiotic bacteria. This Organic India supplement is kosher, non-GMO certified, and sources the psyllium from small family farmers in India.

CAUTION: Because of its water-binding properties, you must increase your water intake when taking psyllium husk to remain hydrated and support bowel motility.

#1 L-Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and a major fuel source for colon cells. Research has shown that supplementing with glutamine can tighten the gaps between intestinal cells and repair leaky gut. The gut wall also uses glutamine to form secretions that protect the colon and prevent further damage [7]. You can get a hefty therapeutic dose of glutamine by drinking raw cabbage juice, or you could skip the nasty taste and opt for an L-glutamine supplement.

We recommend:

Country Life L-Glutamine Caps (500mg, 100 Capsules)
Best supplements for Leaky Gut
Glutamine is available in powdered form, but capsules can be more convenient when taking high doses regularly. Country Life offer this affordable, good quality supplement that contains 500mg of the L-glutamine and 10mg of its nutritional cofactor, vitamin B6, per capsule.

TIP: Take glutamine away from food to avoid absorption competition with other amino acids.

BONUS: Probiotics

Rebalance the microbiome of your gut with high quality probiotics to help protect your gut from further damage. Check out our article on probiotic supplements here.

Further Reading:

[1] Mu, Q., et al. (2017) Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol., 8, 598. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/

[2] Barbara, G., et al. (2012) Mucosal permeability and immune activation as potential therapeutic targets of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome. J Clin Gastroenterol. 46:2-5, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22955358

[3] Rapin, J. R., et al. (2010) Possible Links between Intestinal Permeability and Food Processing: A Potential Therapeutic Niche for Glutamine. Clinics., 65:6, 635 – 643. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898551/

[4] Rona, R. J., et al. (2007) The prevalence of food allergy: a meta-analysis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 120:3, 638 – 646. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17628647

[5] Visser, J., et al. (2009) Tight junctions, intestinal permeability, and autoimmunity: celiac disease and type 1 diabetes paradigms. Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1165, 195-205. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19538307

[6] El-Tawii, A. M. (2012) Zinc supplementation tightens leaky gut in Chron’s disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis., 18:2, E399. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21994075

[7] Hubert-Buron, A., et al. (2006) Glutamine Pretreatment Reduces IL-8 Production in Human Intestinal Epithelial Cells by Limiting IkBa Ubiquitination. The Journal of Nutrition, 136, 1461 – 1465. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-014-1670-x

About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.

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