Healing Leaky Gut with Fasting and Liquid Nutrition
It seems like digestive disorders are growing in their prevalence in our society. Poor digestion, gas, bloating, heart burn, and colon disorders are increasingly common to have. These things are not normal and they can be quite a disruption to daily interactions. Leaky gut in particular is causing a lot of health issues. Healing leaky gut may just be the one thing holding you back from getting well.
By learning about what it is and what causes it, we can begin to devise a plan to help reverse it. As you may have gathered by the title of this article, fasting and liquid nutrition are critical in the healing process. Later on in this article we will discuss my go-to strategies.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is when the intestinal barrier loses its ability to properly regulate what does and doesn’t pass through it. This is something that often develops over time as a consequence of many different stressors.
Once this break-down occurs, things like undigested food particles cross into the blood. These particles are typically foreign to the body and this create an immune response. When we continue to eat foods that contain those same particles, we get chronic inflammation that affects the entire body.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Because of the chronic inflammatory response mentioned above, the symptoms of leaky gut can range widely. First and foremost, those with leaky gut will likely experience digestive issues like gas, bloating, indigestion, poorly formed stools, or constipation.
Additionally, these effects can span throughout the body and even lead to things like brain fog, mood disorders, autoimmune conditions, and fibromyalgia. Because of the wide range of systems affected by a poorly functioning gut, healing leaky gut is extremely important for optimal health.
The Importance of Gut Health
We often think about the skin as a protective barrier to keep invaders from entering our blood. Well, the digestive tract plays the very same role for things that we ingest.
The critical difference to note is that the skin contain 3 thick layers of protection that are each several layers of cells deep. The digestive tract on the other hand, only has one layer of cells that act as a barrier.
This means that the digestive tract is much more fragile when it comes to incurring damage. When that one layer of cells become compromised, we lose an important aspect of the immune system. This opens up the doors for a wide range of undesirable health effects.
The GI lining also contains tiny hair-like projections called villi that are largely responsible for breaking down and absorbing the nutrients from food. The villi often become damaged before leaky gut occurs which can result in malnourishment regardless of diet.
Healing leaky gut will therefore have a massive impact on your overall health.
Major Contributors of Leaky Gut
In my experience, there are many common factors that provoke gut inflammation and damage. Addressing these factors is critical for healing leaky gut.
Essentially, we must remove as many stressors as possible in order to allow healing to occur. The following are major stressors that must be addressed to get well in this regard.
Grains are one of the most pervasive leaky gut stressors. The first step in healing leaky gut is removing grains and sugars. When I refer to grains, I generally refer to any kind of food that can become planted and grow into a new organism. This includes nuts and seeds as well. Regularly consuming these foods contribute both to chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions by breaking down the intestinal barrier (1).
The reason these foods are not great for the gut is due to their built in protective mechanisms like phytates and lectins. These compounds help grains to resist digestion so that when animals eat them, they can pass through the digestive tract untouched and become planted once they are expelled from the body.
Alcohol is toxic for the gut and brain. Eliminating it from your diet is important for healing leaky gut for two reasons.
One, it disrupts beneficial bacteria in the gut. This opens the doors for opportunistic bacteria and yeast to overpopulate. This causes inflammation and stresses the gut lining.
Two, once leaky gut conditions have begun, alcohol can permeate the gut lining and have an exaggerated effect in the body without proper processing by the liver. This can be very harmful to the brain in particular.
This combination effect also places a heavy toxic load on the liver as harmful bacteria and toxic byproducts enter circulation and must be removed by the liver (2).
Each person has their own unique food sensitivities. These can potentially be genetic or be developed due to increased intestinal permeability. Foods that might be beneficial for one person, could be potentially harmful and destructive to the gut for someone else.
The key is to identify your food sensitivities so that you can eliminate them from your diet while healing leaky gut. This is an approach that is being considered clinically for treatment of ADHD and autism spectrum disorder – two conditions which commonly have a component of leaky gut involved (3).
Strategies to identify food sensitivities will be discussed later in this article.
When the body is under stress, digestion is not prioritized. This results in an under-production of stomach acid and enzymes. Digestive juices actually provide a protective role in sterilizing the food we eat which maintains an optimal balance in the microbiome.
Eating while chronically stressed can slow down bowel motility, causing food to remain in the small intestine and colon for longer than necessary. This further promotes dysbiotic bacterial growth and inflammation. This dysbiotic overgrowth of bacteria produces toxins that enter the bloodstream and cause more problems throughout the body.
Infections or Dysbiosis
As has been mentioned a few times already, having an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria, viruses, or parasitic infection all create toxicity and inflammation. This is obviously a major factor to address in healing leaky gut.
Not only addressing unwanted microbes, but repopulating the gut with beneficial microbes will be key. The strategies we will discuss later will be the critical first steps to take in order to create a more desirable environment in the gut microbiome.
Having a history of antibiotic use increases your chances of suffering from leaky gut by lowering the population of beneficial microbes in the gut. In fact, antibiotic use is associated with long-term cognitive impairment, potentially due to a dual compromising of the gut and blood-brain barriers (4, 5).
Taking past antibiotic use into account when healing leaky gut is important. Running a lab to assess the current microbial makeup of your digestive tract can very beneficial in determining if this is a leaky gut stressor.
Non-organic food, for the most part, is sprayed with different chemicals to protect it from being eaten by bugs. The way a lot of these chemicals work is by destroying the digestive tract of the bugs that try to consume the sprayed crops.
One example of the harmful effects of these chemicals is glyphosate. Glyphosate is one of the most heavily sprayed herbicides in the world. Research has shown that exposure to glyphosate contributes to dysbiosis, depletion of vital minerals, and disrupts bile flow. This combination of effects may contribute to a variety of neurological conditions (6).
Medication Use – NSAIDs and PPIs
Medications like NSAIDS and PPIs have the capacity to disrupt intestinal barrier function and contribute to leaky gut conditions (7). These medications have been implicated in conditions such as IBD, IBS, chronic infection, and celiac disease.
PPIs in particular are especially destructive to the gut as they lower stomach acid production. This effect opens the doors to harmful infections as well as malnutrition.
Low Stomach Acid Production
At this point in the article, you likely understand the importance of proper stomach acid production when it comes to healing leaky gut. Just to reinforce this idea, stomach acid is important for digestion and sterilization of food we consume.
If you have low stomach acid, this opens the doors to malnourishment and different types of infections in the gut. This ultimately contributes to leaky gut and the many branching health effects we have covered so far.
If you chronically deal with indigestion and heart burn, this is likely a sign that you have poor stomach acid production.
Healing Leaky Gut Naturally
At this point, we have discussed the symptoms, causes, and consequences of leaky gut syndrome. If it is not taken care of, leaky gut will eventually lead to chronic inflammation, autoimmune conditions, cognitive impairment, and all around poor health.
The following are some of the most effective strategies for healing leaky gut once and for all.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a great starting point for reducing stress on the gut. IF is basically going longer periods of time without eating, which naturally confines eating to a smaller window of time.
In milder cases of leaky gut, IF can be helpful in conjunction with an elimination diet that cuts out your unique food sensitivities.
Begin with a 12 hour no-eating window between dinner and breakfast for 2 weeks. When you are comfortable, progress to 14 hours for two weeks. Continue like this until you have reach a daily fasting window of 16-18 hours.
Prolonged Water Fasting
While intermittent fasting is helpful for healing the gut, prolonged water fasting will accelerate the process significantly. This is simply where you consume no food and drink plenty of reverse osmosis water for a period of time.
Doing so quickly reduces stress and inflammation in the gut, allowing it to heal and rebuild. Fasting also helps to bring down dysbiotic microbial growths that are causing digestive issues.
A window of time that seems to provide the most benefits is 3-5 days. Begin with a 1-day fast. If you do well with that, progress to 2-3 days. Oftentimes, people find that when they reach the 3-day mark, they actually get a burst of energy and mental clarity. This is likely due to entering a state of deep ketosis. If you feel good on day 3, you can work up to 5 days. 5-7 days is likely the maximum span you will want to experiment with.
Bone Broth Fasting
Bone broth fasting is another excellent strategy for healing leaky gut. This can be done on its own or even following a water fast.
Bone broth contains a wide range of minerals and amino acids that help to heal and strengthen the gut lining. It is especially rich in gelatin, collagen, and glutamine which are all powerful gut healers.
Doing this kind of fast is great on its own or can even be a great follow-up from a water fast. A great way to incorporate both would be to start with a 3-day water fast and follow that up with a 5-7 day bone broth fast. Finally, finishing that off with the liquid nutrition or elemental diet outlined below for 30 days will be a powerful protocol.
Testing for Food Sensitivities
When you come off of a fast, it will still be important to incorporate a nutrition plan that is devoid of inflammatory foods to ensure continued healing. Working with a functional nutrition practitioner can be great for getting set up with the necessary lab work to identify your unique food sensitivities.
I have written extensively about what options exist for identifying your food sensitivities in this article: What is the Best Food Sensitivity Testing Method?
Testing for Infections
As we discussed extensively already, infections or microbial dysbiosis in the gut is a chronic stressor that can prevent the gut from healing properly. This is another aspect of gut health that can easily be identified through functional lab work.
One of the most comprehensive labs that currently exist for this purpose is the GI MAP which looks at both beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It also takes a look at markers of inflammation and upregulated immune response in the gut. These are all valuable tools in determining the best approach for healing leaky gut.
After completing a water and/or bone broth fast, using liquid nutrition for a period of 30 days is great for gently stimulating digestive processes, ingesting more gut-healing nutrients, and providing adequate nutrition for the body. For this purpose, the following is my go-to gut healing stack:
Mucosal Barrier Support: Gut Repair
GI Immunity Support: Gut Defense
These can be mixed with water or coconut milk such as this one. Adding in ¼-1/2 cup of blueberries can be great as well.
Using these products together in a shake for breakfast lunch and dinner, or within a confined eating window in conjunction with intermittent fasting, is a great way to heal leaky gut. Together these will provide a full array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and compounds that lower inflammation while supporting the formation of a healthy mucosal barrier in the gut.
For especially challenging cases of leaky gut, the liquid nutrition phase needs to be a little more specific. For example, if someone has food sensitivities to rice or peas, then the gut healing protein mentioned above may not be the best option.
An elemental diet is a liquid nutrition plan that provides already broken down and hypoallergenic ingredients. An effective option for this is the Integrative Therapeutics Physicians’ Elemental Diet which can be ordered through a qualified healthcare professional.
Alternatively, the elemental diet can be somewhat replicated using the following ingredients:
This mix can be combined in water 3 times a day and the proportions can be easily changed to meet nutritional needs.
Summary and Protocol
Leaky gut is when the protective barrier of the gut becomes compromised and allows undigested food and toxins into the blood. This causes an inflammatory reaction that can have many negative consequences for your health.
Fasting and liquid nutrition (including the elemental diet) are key strategies for healing leaky gut for good. Additionally, identifying food sensitivities and underlying gut infections are key strategies in healing.
The following is a protocol involving the strategies discussed in this article that may be helpful for you:
Water Fast Phase: 1-3 days of water, herbal teas and sea salt (can be extended to 5 days if you feel good, listen to your body)
Bone Broth Fast Phase: 5-7 days
Liquid Nutrition Phase (Elemental Diet): 30 days
Reintroduction Phase: Reintroduction of Cooked Solid Foods – Ideally this would include non-sensitive foods as discovered on a food sensitivities panel.
After 60-90 days of only eating non-sensitive foods, you can begin adding back in new foods one at a time. During this time it can be helpful to keep a journal to document any adverse reactions to new foods. This way you can really hone in on the ideal diet for you.