Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is a common issue for most people consuming the modern day American diet, most of whom have no idea they are effected by it at all. What is it? Well first of all, what is considered the “gut”? The gut is your entire digestive tract, starting with your mouth and ending you-know-where, but this condition mostly pertains to the small intestine.

Leaky gut is a condition in which the cells of the small intestine become damaged, allowing contents of the gut to leak out into the blood stream and lymphatic system, either through the damaged cells themselves or between the damaged cells. That means that food that's not fully digested, healthy bacteria that should remain in the gut, and/or particles that your gut is trying to pass as waste or harmful substances, seep out of where they are supposed to be, and instead enter your blood stream. Your body sees these leaked substances as foreign invaders since they are not supposed to be in your blood stream or lymphatic system, and it launches a full blown attack on the invaders through an inflammatory response, either locally in the gut, systemically (throughout the body), or both. The big issue here is that this chronic inflammation not only attacks the foreign invaders, but also the healthy normal tissues in the body. This inflammation can manifest itself in myriad ways, with symptoms and conditions that seem entirely unrelated to the gut, but all stem from the same inflammation response; common symptoms are achy joints, arthritis, exhaustion, acne, psoriasis, asthma, and even depression, for example. Most autoimmune diseases (i.e., the body attacking itself) stem from this inflammation response brought on by intestinal permeability.

What causes leaky gut? One of the main culprits is grains! Grains naturally contain compounds called anti-nutrients that wreak havoc on the small intestine. Lectins and phytates are found in all grains, whether they be whole grains or refined, as well as legumes. Dairy, OTC painkillers, antibiotics, sugar, and stress also contribute to leaky gut.

So how do you heal leaky gut, you ask? Cut out the grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, industrial seed oils, and processed foods completely, which pretty much leaves you with... ta-dah! The Paleo template.  Eating Paleo-friendly foods is a great place to start, and adding in other great things like fermented vegetables and bone broth can do wonders for leaky gut, as the probiotics in fermented vegetables replenish the healthy bacteria in the gut, and bone broth contains nutrients that help sooth and heal. Including lots of omega-3 fats in your diet will also help fight the inflammation caused by intestinal permeability. Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO) is a great way to get omega-3 fats, but you can also get them from whole foods like walnuts, fatty cold water fish, pastured eggs, and grass-fed/pastured meats. Last but certainly not least, lowering stress and getting adequate sleep can help tremendously in healing leaky gut and resolving inflammation issues overall.

For a more in depth look at what leaky gut is, what causes it, and how to treat it, Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, aka “The Paleo Mom”, really knows her stuff when it comes to autoimmune issues and the Paleo lifestyle. Read all about it here.