You’re always tired. Your stomach hurts more often than not. You feel bloated a lot and your digestion is all over the place. Sometimes at work or school, you simply can’t focus.
Other times, you get angry, or sad, for no reason at all. Your skin is frequently a mess, even though you try to take good care of it. To top it all off, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to lose any weight. You just do not feel good.
You were pretty sure that it was just because you hadn’t taken perfect care of yourself for a little bit. If you went to bed a little earlier, exercised a bit more and found a better face soap, then you’d be back to yourself in no time!
But that was a couple of months ago, or maybe even a couple of years ago, and you still aren’t feeling better. Now, you’re really not sure what might be wrong with you. Clearly, something is just not quite right, but what is it?
It turns out, it might be your gut health. See, researchers have recently discovered strong links between the types of symptoms you are experiencing and a condition called leaky gut. If you have a leaky gut, the walls of your intestine (particularly your colon) have developed microscopic little holes in them that let toxic molecules from food, bacteria and viruses to get into your body. Once there, these toxins do all kinds of damage to your health, causing all the miserable symptoms you’re far too familiar with.
What causes a leaky gut?
Scientists believe the key problem in a leaky gut is a breakdown of the proteins that normally seal the intestinal wall together. These proteins normally work kind of like the reinforcing steel rods of cement walls — they run through the entire wall, making sure every part of the structure is stable and secure.
Just as it would happen to a cement wall if the steel rods started to crumble, when these proteins in your intestinal wall start falling apart, the whole structure becomes weak and unstable, allowing holes to form.
Can you heal a leaky gut?
Once the holes are there, are they there forever? Are you stuck with these symptoms for the rest of your life?
Thank goodness, researchers think the answer to these questions is a resounding: no!
You can heal your leaky gut!
Filling your diet with nutrient-rich foods, avoiding cigarette smoke, stopping certain medications, minimizing your exposure to some specific chemicals and avoiding certain foods, have all been shown to make it easier for your intestines to build new proteins to close up the holes in your intestinal wall (see here for more details on how these all work!). Once the holes are closed, and no toxins are moving into your body anymore, the symptoms throughout your body disappear as well!
Interestingly, research has also been able to show that supplementing these simple dietary and lifestyle changes with, well supplements, may be an effective way to ease symptoms and aid the healing process! Many supplements have shown promising results, including some vitamins, amino acids, essential oils, and plant extracts. Several supplements, however, show outstanding results! Let’s take a look at these best leaky gut supplements, how they work, and how to find the right ones at your local grocery or health food store!
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5 Best Leaky Gut Supplements
Number 1 on our list is probiotic supplements! Probiotic supplements are capsules or powders containing live, healthy human gut bacteria (generally a strain of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria).
Healthy gut bacteria play an important role in your intestines. They send special signals, usually in the form of a group of molecules called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), that help your intestinal wall stay healthy and tell it keep building the proteins that hold the wall together.
If you lose these signals because your healthy gut bacteria are replaced by unhealthy bacteria, a condition called dysbiosis, your intestinal wall can start breaking down! By putting new healthy bacteria, and their SCFAs, into your intestines by taking a probiotic supplement full of them, you can help your intestine build new proteins, close all the holes in your leaky gut, and help yourself feel back to normal sooner!
Hundreds of probiotic products exist, though! Does it matter which one you pick? Or will any probiotic work to heal your leaky gut? Unfortunately, it looks like you do have to be careful which one you choose! There are actually only a small handful of products that have been proven to actually get the healthy bacteria all the way into your intestines, where they can help. Many products break down in your stomach and the bacteria are killed by your stomach acid!
We did some digging on products that have actually been shown to work that you should be on the lookout for when you hit your local health food or grocery store.
|MicroIngredients Pure Organic Inulin FOS Powder||Kirkland Signature Optifiber Natural Fiber Supplement||Benefiber Fiber Supplement||NOW Psyllium Husk Capsules||Puritan’s Pride Psyllium Husk Capsules|
The next best leaky gut supplements are prebiotics! Prebiotic supplements are usually capsules or powders made from non-digestible fiber (often inulin or oligofructose) that your healthy gut bacteria can use for food. Of course, having extra food for your healthy gut bacteria helps them grow and thrive, boosting their numbers even further!
What’s more, healthy gut bacteria actually use fiber to make those key molecules we mentioned above, the SCFAs. That means that having a rich supply of non-digestible fiber in your intestines not only increases the number of healthy bacteria, but also helps make the bacteria that are there more effective at healing your gut!
Now, if you thought the number of probiotic supplements to choose from was bad, wait until you get a load of how many prebiotic supplements are out there! While it is not quite as important which specific product you buy with these kinds of supplements — many different kinds of fibers have been shown to work and, since they are non-digestible, they make it through your stomach unharmed by definition! — there are still some things to look out for!
- Make sure that the label of your supplement states that you will be taking at least 500 mg of fiber per serving. Doses containing less than this might not be effective!
- Make sure you will not be taking more than 20 g per day if you take the recommended daily dose of the supplement. Doses larger than this have not been proven safe.
- Fibers to look for on the ingredient label (fibers shown to have prebiotic effects): wheat dextrin, inulin, galacto-oligosaccharide, or polydextrose.
We did a little digging and found a couple of products that meet these criteria for you, so you didn’t have to scour the whole fiber aisle (unless you want to)!
There are, of course, many other products that follow these guidelines. Just make sure to check the labels to be certain the one you’ve chosen is among them before you give out your hard-earned money.
Think you don’t need to heal your leaky gut? Learn 7 major reasons why you should care about your gut health.
|Allergy Research Group ButyrEn||NutriCology ButyrAid||Body Bio Butyrate||T.E Neesby Butyrex||Healus Advanced Tri Butyrate|
Our next best leaky gut supplement is SCFAs. Sometimes also sold as butyrate/butyric acid, which is the same molecule just stored at a different pH, butyrate is actually one of those SCFAs we’ve been talking about. Now, it is better to get the whole bunch of SCFAs from healthy gut bacteria, but boosting SCFA levels has been shown to be helpful all on its own as well!
A dose of 300 mg of SCFA per day is thought to be an effective dose. It might take a couple of weeks to really start seeing any significant effects on your symptoms, so don’t become discouraged if nothing changes right away!
Many SCFA supplements come in much higher doses than 300 mg, even though this dose has been proven effective. We were able to find one supplement, ButyrEn, which comes as 200 mg capsules. Taking 1-2 capsules per day will keep you close to the 300 mg recommended dose.
|Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate||Pure Encapsulations Liquid Zinc Supplement||Jarrow Formulas Zinc Balance||Douglas Laboratories Zinc Lozenges||Good State Liquid Zinc|
Next up – zinc! Zinc is a very important mineral in our bodies and affects the function of our cells in many different ways, so it is likely that no one single effect is responsible for zinc’s ability to help heal a leaky gut. That said, researchers already know that zinc, like SCFAs, is able to boost your intestine’s ability to make stabilizing proteins, directly helping heal holes in a leaky gut!
Studies that have shown a healing effect of zinc for a leaky gut supplemented with around 25 mg of zinc sulfate per day. How much zinc you need to supplement with, however, will be unique to you, depending on factors such as:
- Your age
- Your gender
- If you have a clinical zinc deficiency
- How severe your leaky gut is
Since you can overdose on zinc, we recommend speaking to your nutritionist, doctor or another health professional about getting a zinc blood test and personalized recommendations for your dosage. Your doctor may even give you a prescription strength zinc supplement for you, taking all the guesswork out of picking the right one!
If you decide to take an over-the-counter supplement, make sure the recommended dose will give you no more than 10-15 mg per day (such as Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate, or Pure Encapsulations Liquid Zinc), pay close attention to the instructions on the packaging, scan the entire ingredient list for anything you might be allergic to, and be on the look-out for side effects.
|Testa Omega-3 Algae Oil DHA + EPA||Nordic Naturals Algae Omega||Omnibiotics Vegan Omega DHAx||Amala Vegan Omega-3 DHA + EPA||Ovega-3|
The long chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are special types of fat that have been shown to help keep your digestive system healthy Researchers found that EPA and DHA help your intestines keep those key proteins that hold everything together all lined up in the right formation. Basically, rather than helping boost the number of proteins, they help the proteins, you do have, work more effectively to prevent holes from forming in your intestinal wall, or healing ones that are already there!
Though you can make your own EPA and DHA from another fat found in plant foods (alpha-linolenic acid, ALA), your body isn’t super efficient at it and studies show that adding a concentrated supplement of EPA and DHA can help correct deficiencies, which can help heal your leaky gut!
How much EPA and DHA does it take to cure any deficiencies? The lowest dose has been shown to raise omega-3 levels from deficient to normal is 250 mg per day. We recommend starting at this lowest dose to see how your body responds. If you aren’t seeing much improvement, it is likely safe to increase your intake to up around 750 mg per day, as this dose should get you close to the daily average intake in areas that eat diets rich in fish and algae, like Japan.
If you feel like you are still deficient taking this dose, we recommend you speak to your doctor or nutritionist about taking a higher dose. Clinical studies have used doses around 6 g per day without serious side effects, but larger doses really need to be taken under the supervision of your doctor!
Are there any guidelines to keep in mind when choosing an omega-3 supplement? Yes! There are three key things to keep in mind:
- Make sure the daily recommended dose will keep you right around the 250-750 mg per day range (unless your doctor has told you otherwise).
- Check to make sure that the supplement really contains mostly DHA and EPA. Since ALA (the fat your body uses to make DHA and EPA) is also classified as an omega-3 fatty acid, a generic “omega-3” supplement could contain lots of ALA, but you’re after the DHA and EPA directly!
- Choose algae-based supplements over fish oil-based supplements. Fish oil supplements made from contaminated fish can contain heavy metals and industrial pollutants. Due to the effects of biomagnification, algae-based supplements (which are lower down on the food chain) should contain fewer toxins than fish-based supplements, and you want the benefits of DHA and EPA with as few contaminants as possible!
Use this guide to put together your own well thought-out and effective gut health supplement regimen
Compared to the supplements that made our top-5 list, the evidence for using digestive enzymes to help heal a leaky gut is much weaker. They do, however, deserve an honorable mention!
Digestive enzyme supplements are, exactly as the name suggests, purified enzymes that help break down food for you. While not overwhelming, there is some evidence that digestive enzymes may be able to help calm your immune system, reducing inflammation in your gut, similar to omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Additionally, by helping break down food, digestive enzyme supplements may be able to help ease indigestion and any associated gas, bloating and abdominal pain while the other supplements work their magic.
What should you look for in a digestive enzyme supplement?
First, we recommend sticking to one of four types of digestive enzymes: papain, bromelain, lipase or lactase. These enzymes are the most well-studied and have the most evidence supporting their use in inflammation and/or indigestion.
Second, look for moderate dosages. Digestive enzymes can have serious side effects, including burning stomach pains, allergic reaction and esophageal perforation (i.e. the enzymes can eat a hole in your throat), so keeping doses on the lower side to minimize these risks is a good idea. The exact safe dose depends on the type of digestive enzyme you are interested in taking.
For papain, you should not exceed 1500 mg per day. Make sure that if you take the recommended daily dose of a supplement, that this will not give you a total of more than 1500 mg. A couple of supplements that meet this standard include Swanson Papain Papaya Enzyme and Nature’s Life Bromelain & Papain Capsules.
For bromelain, the limit is set even lower. The daily recommended dose is no more than 400 mg. Any supplement you buy should have you take less than 400 mg per day when you follow the instructions provided. Based on our research, a couple of supplements that fit this bill include Nature’s Life Bromelain & Papain Capsules and KAL Bromelain Chewable Tablets.
Lipase doses aren’t measured in mg, rather in generic units. A good starting dose is around 25,000 lipase units per meal, or slightly less (around 75,000 units per day total). One brand we found that offered such low doses is Integrative Therapeutics Lipase Concentrate.
Lactase, like lipase, is measured in lactase units. Studies have shown that 9900 lactase units per lactose-containing meal are effective at easing symptoms in those with overt lactose intolerance. For people without lactose intolerance who make greater amounts of their own lactase, slightly lower doses are probably effective. Aiming for doses between 6000 and 9000 units per meal is generally recommended. One supplement that provides individual doses directly in this range are the easy-to-find Lactaid brand lactase capsules.
|Swanson Papain Papaya Enzyme||Nature’s Life Bromelain & Papain from Pineapple & Papaya Vegetarian Capsules||KAL Bromelain Chewable Tablets||Lactaid Original Strength Lactase Enzyme Caplets||Integrative Therapeutics Lipase Concentrate-HP|
Take Away Message
The symptoms of a leaky gut can make you feel miserable. Luckily, the condition is treatable through dietary and lifestyle changes! Adding supplements to your daily routine may be able to speed up the healing process so you feel better sooner. According to the most up-to-date research, the top 5 supplements for leaky gut are: probiotics, prebiotics, butyrate, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids!