Leaky gut syndrome has a peculiar name brings on a host of unpleasant symptoms, including gas, bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Some practitioners will make a diagnosis based simply on a patient’s symptoms, but others frown on this approach.
“You can’t diagnose leaky gut from symptoms alone,” says New York City physician Leo Galland. “If your diagnosis lacks scientific precision, you can call a lot of things leaky gut that aren’t.” To be certain, you need a clinical test called the lactulose/mannitol challenge, which can be ordered only by a physician.
It’s a simple test. You’ll be given two types of sugar to eat—one made up of large molecules, the other of small ones. If many of the larger molecules escape into your bloodstream and show up in your urine, the test is positive. For treatment, though, you may need to seek out a naturopath, an integrative physician, or an alternative-minded nutritionist, as many conventional docs are skeptical about the syndrome, unfamiliar with how to treat it, or both.
Mending a Leaky Gut
Most likely, everyone’s gut gets a little leaky now and then, says integrative physician Leo Galland. Everything from food allergies to aspirin to stress can irritate its lining. Fortunately, a healthy body repairs itself and moves on, so in most cases no specific treatment is necessary.
But for people with underlying infections, like candida, or chronic ills, like HIV or Crohn’s disease, minor damage to the small intestine may go without repair, and the syndrome can become chronic.
While there are no quick fixes for leaky gut syndrome, you can take steps to gradually improve digestion, restore healthy bacteria, and heal microscopic holes in the gut’s lining. These will help heal the syndrome, and reduce your chances of a recurrence. Here’s what’s most commonly recommended.
Chew your chow
By chewing each bite until it turns to liquid, you give your digestive enzymes an easier job to do.
Take food sensitivities seriously
If you know you are sensitive or allergic to some foods, such as gluten or lactose, stop eating them. Certain foods may trigger the body’s immune response, which irritates the gut. If you don’t know if you have food allergies or sensitivities, consider seeing an allergist or holistic practitioner for testing.
Watch the pills you pop
If you take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen frequently, ask your doctor about switching to a more gut-friendly option. One good bet is to try anti-inflammatory herbs such as curcumin, boswellia, and bromelain instead. Galland suggests taking 1,500 milligrams of each, divided into two or three daily doses, on an empty stomach. If you take NSAIDs to treat osteoarthritis pain, joint-strengthening supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help you cut back.
Get friendly with glutamine
This amino acid enables the small intestine to repair microscopic holes. “The small intestine runs on glutamine,” says Lipski. She recommends between 5 and 10 grams of powdered L-glutamine a day for people with the syndrome. This is generally considered safe. But if you’re sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG), you may want to avoid it, as the body converts glutamine into glutamate.
Boost the good belly bugs
If you have leaky gut syndrome, chances are your gut’s ratio of good to bad bacteria is out of whack. You can replenish good bugs with a mixed probiotic supplement. Lipski advises taking 2 capsules three times a day.
Don’t let low-grade infections get out of hand
If you have an underlying infection, like candida, don’t let it fester. When the body is fighting infection, the immune system is always on high alert, which feeds inflammation throughout the body—including the gut.