If you’ve got celiac disease, food allergies or an autoimmune bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease, you probably have leaky gut syndrome. Also known as gastrointestinal permeability, leaky gut syndrome is a condition in which microscopic “holes” develop in the lining of the digestive tract as a result of medications, allergies to foods, genetics and other causes. Your digestive tract, or gut, is designed to keep food particles in your intestines and out of your bloodstream. When food is properly digested and broken down, food nutrients pass through the filter of the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. This is how your body gets the nutrition it needs to survive.

With leaky gut syndrome, your gut wall is like a torn window screen. Insects that are meant to stay outside enter your home. When leaky gut occurs, overly large food molecules pass through these microscopic holes into your bloodstream. To the body, these large molecules are an enemy. The immune system responds protectively and makes defenders known as antibodies. If you have a lot of food-related antibodies, you have food allergies (or a food sensitivity). You’ll also have an inflamed bowel and leaky gut syndrome.

One way to heal the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, which include indigestion, irregular stools, generalized fatigue and inflammation, skin rashes and migraines, is to avoid the foods to which you are allergic. That can help. However, if you don’t repair the intestinal wall, you’ll continue to suffer with many of the above symptoms and may even become allergic to other foods.

How, then, do you treat the gut wall? What I recommend…

• Eat the right foods. Sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, which help crowd out pathogens that damage the gut wall. Do not use canned sauerkraut—the probiotics are killed in the heating process that is required for canning. Plant-based oils, such as olive, sunflower and borage, are nourishing to the intestine. Fish, baked or cooked on a grill, can also help heal a leaky gut. It is easy to digest, anti-inflammatory and contains helpful proteins and oils. Just be sure to avoid fried fish and fried foods generally. You may also want to try a probiotic supplement. Follow label instructions. Caution: People with weakened immune systems (such as those using chemotherapy) should consult their doctors before eating probiotic-rich food or taking a probiotic supplement.

• Consider these herbs. My favorite herbs for leaky gut are slippery elm…marshmallow root…and plantain (a medicinal plant not to be confused with the banana-like food). You can use one of these herbs or combine two or more. To treat leaky gut: You need to take herbal medicine between meals—60 minutes or more after a meal or 30 minutes or more before a meal—to ensure that the herb comes into direct contact with the gut wall.* You can take these herbs in capsules, tea or bulk powders. Typical daily dose: Three standard-sized capsules two times a day…three cups of tea…or two teaspoons of the bulk-powdered herb. For convenience and taste, put the powdered herb in a small amount (one-eighth cup or less) of applesauce or oatmeal.

With my patients, treatment usually takes about three months to heal leaky gut. Assuming that one’s diet stays healthy, the regimen above can often be discontinued when symptoms subside.

*If you use any prescription medication, have a chronic medical condition (such as diabetes) or are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor before taking any herbs.

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