Leaky gut is exactly what it says. The gut leaks. It has many different causes: antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation, non-steroidal and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, candida, parasites, food sensitivities, excessive alcohol and sugar, stress, poor food choices and overeating.

Each of these work in a slightly different way, but all cause inflammation and irritation of the cells of the intestines and damage to the hair-like brush border where nutrients are absorbed. Once damaged, the tight control over what goes in and what stays out of the blood stream is lost.

Food particles, bacteria, toxins and other substances can make their way into the blood stream. The immune system is stimulated into producing antibodies resulting in food sensitivity reactions and a hypersensitive or distracted immune system. The liver, which must filter out all toxins, can become over burdened, preventing it from carrying out the necessary functions of detoxification, hormone breakdown and digestion. At the same time, essential vitamins and minerals may not be absorbed as efficiently, resulting in poor nutrition. This situation greatly affects how we feel, physically and mentally.

The treatment of leaky gut requires dedication and determination, but the results can be dramatic. An elimination diet, which removes common food sensitivities, prevents further irritation and allows healing. This is safe for most people; however, it should be supervised by a trained health care professional if you have a serious health condition such as cancer, an autoimmune disease or hyperthyroidism or are under 19 or pregnant.

The Elimination Diet

Consume only the following: rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet, any vegetable (except potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper, and corn), locally grown fruits, olive oil, sunflower oil, pure water, fresh organic lemon or lime juice in water or on salads, real herbal teas such as nettle, meadowsweet, red clover, cleavers, licorice, dandelion root, burdock and organic green tea for the truly caffeine addicted.

People who do physical labor may also require a concentrated protein source. All can be potential food sensitivities, but most people tolerate cold water ocean fish and rice protein powder.

A two-day, vegetable-only fast is highly recommended during the first week. Vegetables may be juiced, raw or cooked.

Some people experience a 24-48 hour "detox" reaction during the first week. Symptoms mimic the flu, but pass quickly if you rest, drink lots of water and stick to your diet. Saunas, epsom salts baths and castor oil packs over the liver will enhance the detox process.

This diet is most effective if continued for two to four weeks. It is advisable to add a source of protein after the first week, using the guidelines above.

When you come off this diet, foods should be reintroduced slowly, one new food every two to three days, and rotated, so you are not eating the same thing more than once in four days. Food sensitivities can manifest in almost any type of symptom, but most common are: itchy skin, irritability, digestive problems, swollen lymph, headaches, achy joints, sore throat or sinus problems. If you suspect one of the introduced foods is causing a problem, remove it and try it again the following week.

The longer you eliminate your food sensitivities, the better. A minimum of six to 12 months is recommended. Use this time to introduce new vegetables and grains into your diet. Eventually, most people find they can eat most foods, avoiding only those that cause serious problems--usually wheat, dairy, eggs, beef and/or pork. Food sensitivities can be challenged every few months, but be honest and observant in how they make you feel.

Fill in the Holes

Several supplements are part of an effective treatment. First and foremost is a probiotic. Rotate the type you use for a maximum array of beneficial bacteria. An average dose is two capsules (one to two billion live organisms per capsule) twice a day, between meals. Unpasteurized miso and sauerkraut are also good sources of beneficial bacteria, as is live yogurt for those who tolerate dairy.

Fructooligoscaccharides is a type of sugar that enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria and is sometimes found in good quality probiotics or may be taken separately (four grams, twice a day with the probiotic).

Demulcent herbs soothe the mucus membranes that line the digestive system, acting as a sort of bandage. Examples of demulcent herbs are: slippery elm powder (one tablespoon in a little water, twice a day between meals), plantain, marshmallow root (200 to 300 mg capsule or one tablespoon steeped in one cup of water, twice per day) and licorice root (300 to 400 mg capsules or steeped as marshmallow root).

SeaCure is a hydrolyzed fish protein powder that is highly effective for healing leaky gut by providing free amino acids essential for repair. An average dose is two capsules two to three times per day with meals.

Digestive enzymes (one to two capsules at the beginning of each meal) ensure that foods are being fully digested, lessen the likelihood of partially digested food particles being absorbed and ensure maximum nutrition for optimum healing.

Hydrochloric acid improves protein digestion and mineral absorption by increasing stomach acid. It also reduces the risk of bacterial and parasitic infections. A recommended dose is one to two 300 to 600 mg capsules with each meal.

Glutamine is an amino acid that is an anti-inflammatory and essential for growth of the cells lining the intestines. Take 500 mg twice per day with food.

N-acetyl-D-glucosamine promotes growth of beneficial bacteria, inhibits candida and E coli, and is needed for intestinal mucus production, which prevents irritation and inflammation. A common dose is 250 mg twice per day with food.

Antioxidants prevent oxidative damage and contribute to repairing damaged cells. Options include: quercetin (400 mg two to three times per day, 20 minutes before meals), vitamins A (as beta carotene, 20,000 to 30,000 IU per day with meals), C (1,000 mg twice per day with food) or E (800 IU per day with food.

If you suspect you also have a candida infection this must be treated.