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What to Eat (and Avoid) When You Have Leaky Gut

Holtorf Medical Group

Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal hyperpermeability, is an increasingly common condition that can lead to severe dysfunction throughout the body. Although there are many factors involved in the development and continuation of leaky gut, diet is perhaps one of the most influential. Knowing what foods support the gut, what foods disrupt it, and structuring your diet accordingly can help alleviate existing cases of leaky gut and protect against its development.

What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome is a chronic condition wherein the semipermeable lining of the intestine loosens. Specifically, leaky gut causes the breakdown of protein-based structures in the gut called tight junctions. The weakening of these barriers allows larger substances in the form of bacteria, toxins, partially digested foods, and other particulates to escape into the bloodstream.

As harmful substances escape the intestine and enter the bloodstream, the immune system responds by inducing inflammation to eliminate the offenders. If leaky gut goes unresolved, the immune system remains activated and ultimately becomes fatigued. This significantly increases the risk of autoimmune dysfunction such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and other forms of chronic disease including type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In addition to increasing the risk of other chronic illnesses, leaky gut may trigger symptoms similar to IBS and other gut-related conditions including headache, rash, muscle or joint pain, extreme fatigue, and mood disorders.

The Importance of a Gut-Friendly Diet

The foods we eat can support or hinder overall gut function. Studies suggest that those who consume a high volume of gut-supporting foods are less likely to experience intestinal distress and leaky gut. In contrast, diets filled with intestinal stressors are associated with poor gut function and greater occurrence of leaky gut. Knowing which foods are helpful and which are detrimental can help you make better dietary decisions that support gut function.

Foods to Eat If You Have Leaky Gut

One of the best ways to alleviate leaky gut is by eating foods that support intestinal repair, bacteria balance, and digestion. In addition to improving intestinal permeability, following a gut-supporting diet can help reduce inflammation, improve sleep quality, and normalize immune activity. If you are suffering from leaky gut, try incorporating more of the following foods into your diet.


Ghee is clarified grass-fed butter that contains many gut-supporting nutrients. Substances such as Vitamin A, D, E, K2, and omega 3s found in ghee, all support intestinal health while limiting inflammation. Additionally, unlike other dairy products, ghee contains a minimal amount of lactose, casein, and whey, all of which are found in traditional dairy products and can cause intestinal stress.


Ginger contains several antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic agents that help prevent intestinal malfunction and leaky gut. Increasing your intake of ginger also helps safeguard the body’s supply of glutathione. This powerful antioxidant acts as a protectant against oxidative stress and free radicals. Fermented Vegetables

Fermented foods contain a high volume of helpful microorganisms, enzymes, acids, and B vitamins all of which support the production of digestive acids. Increasing acid production improves digestion and helps eliminate harmful bacteria and other potential contributors to leaky gut. Furthermore, fermented foods often contain a high volume of probiotics that improve the bacterial balance in the gut.

Some healthy fermented foods include: kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, pickles, and kefir.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are an important part of digestion and help to maintain the resiliency of the intestinal barrier. One of the best fats regarding gut health is coconut oil. This natural fat contains a high volume of medium-chain triglycerides, which help reduce inflammation and restore the gut lining. Coconut oil also contains a compound called lauric acid, which supports the removal of harmful bacteria and yeasts.

Other sources of healthy fat include: avocado and avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, fish, and nuts.

Bone Broth

Bone broth contains gelatin and many other basic elements needed to rebuild cells in the intestine and mucosal lining. With access to these nutrients, the body is better equipped to repair the intestine. Leaky gut patients who have a high degree of bacterial stress in the gut may benefit greatly from drinking bone broth.

Foods to Avoid if You Have Leaky Gut

Many common foods contain toxins, intestinal stressors, and other harmful substances that can contribute greatly to leaky gut. Eliminating the following foods from your diet can help improve intestine function and alleviate leaky gut.


Gluten causes a greater release of zonulin, which studies show may be a common cause of intestinal permeability. Unfortunately, gluten is found in many products making it difficult for some to avoid. Foods containing gluten include: noodles, breads, pastries, granola, beer, barley, rye, bulgur, and seitan.


Sugar in any form causes some degree of intestinal stress. Research shows that harmful gut bacteria feed on sugar, meaning that increased sugar intake can lead to bacterial imbalances or dysbiosis. Cutting out all unnecessary sugars especially those found in foods like soda and candy can significantly improve intestinal permeability.

Processed Foods

Processed and prepackaged foods frequently contain toxins and other substances that are difficult to digest. Consumption of these foods can increase the gut’s toxic load which contributes to intestinal stress, chronic immune activation, and leaky gut.

Avoid prepackaged and processed foods such as: cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, crackers, popcorn, potato chips, candy bars, and artificial sweeteners.


Soy is often touted as an excellent substitute for many products including dairy and animal-based proteins. However, processed soy products typically contain genetically modified soy that can result in imbalances of the intestinal microbiome that lead to leaky gut.

Restore the Gut by Following a Discerning Diet

The close connection between food and leaky gut exemplifies the importance of understanding how various foods affect the body. Appreciating the influence of the foods mentioned above and using that information to improve your diet may lead to a notable improvement of gut function. Protect your gut and alleviate intestinal permeability by learning how the foods you eat impact the body and adjusting your diet accordingly.


  1. Bischoff, Stephan C et al. “Intestinal permeability–a new target for disease prevention and therapy.” BMC gastroenterology vol. 14 189. 18 Nov. 2014.
  2. Ulluwishewa, Dulantha et al. “Regulation of Tight Junction Permeability by Intestinal Bacteria and Dietary Components.” he Journal of Nutrition, Volume 141, Issue 5, 1 May 2011, Pages 769–776.
  3. Li, Chuanwei et al. “Zonulin Regulates Intestinal Permeability and Facilitates Enteric Bacteria Permeation in Coronary Artery Disease.” Scientific reports vol. 6 29142. 29 Jun. 2016.
  4. Singh, Rasnik K et al. “Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health.” Journal of translational medicine vol. 15,1 73. 8 Apr. 2017.
  5. Dr. David Jockers DNM, DC, MS. “Top 10 Foods to Heal Leaky Gut.” Dr. Jockers.

Holtorf Medical GroupThe Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.

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