A phenomenon related to deterioration of the gut wall, known as “leaky gut,” is becoming a major concern in the medical community.

Chances are you’ve heard of leaky gut either directly or indirectly, but what exactly is it?

More importantly, what causes it? Can keto treat leaky gut?

The average human gut microbiome, found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, contains upwards of three pounds of microbes – comprising over 1000 different species – that support digestion and absorption of nutrients from food.[1] 

Research continues to demonstrate that the human gut microbiome is essential for a multiplicity of physiological functions, such as:

  • hormone signaling
  • disease prevention
  • neurotransmission
  • immunity
  • body weight regulation
  • and much more [2]

Read on as this article will teach you everything you need to know about leaky gut, how leaky gut manifests, and why you might want to consider the keto diet for leaky gut.  

What Is Leaky Gut & Why Is It Harmful?

Properly digesting and absorbing nutrients from food, while removing noxious substances (toxins), are the primary roles of your gastrointestinal tract (GI).

However, when the permeability of the gut wall (specifically the small intestine) is chronically compromised, larger particles of undigested food, endogenous toxins like lipopolysaccharides, and chemicals from the environment invade the bloodstream, which can cause health and well-being to deteriorate rapidly.

This damage to the gut wall is known as “leaky gut.”

In simpler terms: When you have leaky gut, undigested food particles and toxins are able to effectively “invade” your bloodstream.

Why is this a bad thing, you ask?

Ever wondered how you can eat a certain food throughout your entire life and feel no adverse consequences, then one day you eat that same food and feel like something is wrong internally?

This may be because a large undigested particle of that very food has seeped its way into your bloodstream as your intestinal wall has degenerated.

Naturally, your body initiates an immune response to try and destroy this “foreign invader.”

Symptoms of leaky gut may include:

  • Bloating
  • Excessive inflammation
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Hormonal abnormalities
  • Mood disturbances and cognitive malfunctions
  • Reduced libido
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Poor sleep
  • Decreased energy
  • Blood sugar imbalance

As you can see, your gut impacts pretty much every aspect of your health and quality of life. Intuitively, encouraging healthy microbiota balance is not only critical to help us survive but also to thrive.

The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” and in many ways, the gut is the “command center” of the human body. Therefore, like your brain, it’s imperative to take care of the gut so it can support you when you need it most.

Keto Diet For Leaky Gut & Improving Gastrointestinal Health

The first order of business for treating leaky gut is to eliminate pro-inflammatory foods from your diet. When you chronically eat foods that initiate a low-grade inflammatory response, your gut wall can lose its integrity and exacerbate symptoms of leaky gut.

According to research, the primary food culprits of low-grade inflammation include [3]:

  • Added sugars (and foods/drinks containing them, such as soda, candy, pastries, etc.)
  • Refined flour (e.g. processed bread, crackers, pasta, tortillas, chips, etc.)
  • High-fat dairy products
  • Vegetable oils (particularly soy, corn, sunflower, and palm oils)
  • Grain-fed and processed meat products

It’s crucial to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) consumption of these pro-inflammatory foods for avoiding/treating leaky gut.

This is why it seems almost intuitive to follow the keto diet for leaky gut, as these pro-inflammatory foods are typically consumed in far lower amounts compared to more traditional diets. 

Moreover, you should replace pro-inflammatory foods with nutrient-dense, gut-balancing whole foods; this is another way the keto diet can treat leaky gut.

So, which foods encourage the growth of healthy gut microbes and protect against leaky gut?

Prebiotic Fibers On Keto For Treating Leaky Gut

Healthy gut microbiota feed on undigested fiber and prebiotics.

As such, by eating a diet rich in soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, and special types of carbohydrates such as digestion-resistant starch and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), you give healthy bacteria the nutrients they need to flourish.

These types of carbohydrates are typically found in foods like sweet potatoes, oats, bananas, tapioca, and artichoke. Most of those foods are a little too high in carbs for keto, but that’s not a big deal since you should be eating plenty of fiber from veggies.

Moreover, if you’re following the keto diet for leaky gut, one of the best prebiotic options is to supplement directly with inulin – a special type of dietary fiber from chicory root that is rich in FOS. 

What About Probiotics?

Contemporary research is rapidly uncovering the importance of the human gut microbiome and how it impacts our well-being. Naturally, probiotic supplements are taking off as of late.

The general public believes that probiotics should be the first line of attack for encouraging healthy gut balance. While the right probiotic supplements can be useful, the focus should be placed on the dietary changes mentioned in the previous section.

Given this, only use a probiotic if you’re already making the necessary nutritional adjustments to improve your gut health and treat leaky gut.

What Are Probiotics?

You’re probably wondering what exactly probiotics are and why there is so much hype about them?

In short, probiotics are the diametric opposite of antibiotics. Remember the last time you had a bacterial infection and the doctor gave you amoxicillin (penicillin)? That was to destroy the bacteria causing the infection.

Probiotics, however, provide a supplemental form (typically in a capsule) of “friendly” living microbes that support your gut microbiome and benefit your health. By ingesting certain probiotics, you effectively give your body the healthy microbes it needs to treat/prevent leaky gut.

In years past, the primary limiting factor of probiotic supplements was their inability to deliver microbes through the highly acidic digestive tract intact. The stomach of humans is naturally low in pH (meaning it’s acidic) and this tends to destroy/kill bacteria.

However, recent advances in biotechnology enable probiotic supplements to deliver beneficial microbes orally that readily survive in low pH environments, particularly strains of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

In general, though, you should not depend solely on probiotics for treating leaky gut.

you suspect your gut function is compromised due to a poor microbiome balance, cutting out low-grade inflammation-promoting foods and eating more prebiotic fiber is the best line of immediate attack.

Key Takeaways About the Keto Diet for Leaky Gut

  • Leaky gut is when your gut (intestinal) wall becomes severely compromised, which can lead to undigested food particles and toxins effectively “invading” your bloodstream and initiating an inflammatory response.
  • The key to treating/preventing leaky gut is encouraging a healthy gut microbiome balance. 
  • Eating the right foods (e.g. fiber, digestion-resistant starch, and prebiotics) while reducing/eliminating pro-inflammatory foods (e.g. added sugar, refined grains, and processed meat) is essential for promoting a healthy gastrointestinal environment in which “friendly” microbes can flourish.
  • Following the keto diet for leaky gut may be beneficial since it encourages a high intake of prebiotic fiber and eliminates many pro-inflammatory foods.
  • Probiotics, particularly bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, can be useful for promoting healthy gut microbiome balance, especially when used in conjunction with a proper gut-nourishing diet.

References:

  1. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., … & Biddinger, S. B. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature505(7484), 559.
  2. Holmes, E., Li, J. V., Athanasiou, T., Ashrafian, H., & Nicholson, J. K. (2011). Understanding the role of gut microbiome-host metabolic signal disruption in health and disease. Trends in Microbiology19(7), 349-359.
  3. Barbaresko, J., Koch, M., Schulze, M. B., & Nöthlings, U. (2013). Dietary pattern analysis and biomarkers of low-grade inflammation: a systematic literature review. Nutrition reviews71(8), 511-527.
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Elliot received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer specializing in nutritional and health sciences for the past 5 years. He is thoroughly passionate about exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplementation, especially how they play a role in human health, longevity, and performance. In his free time you can most likely find him lifting weights at the gym or out hiking through the mountains of Colorado. He will also host the upcoming BioKeto podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/elliot.reimers) and Instagram (@eazy_ell)

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