Ever since I wrote a review of the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome and mentioned that we used it to help reverse our son’s dairy allergy and behavior issues, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what protocol we used and the specifics of how we did it.
Our son made drastic improvements through using a specialized diet called the GAPS protocol to help reverse leaky gut. After his initial intensive period on the GAPS diet, we have now moved to a more relaxed version of the GAPS diet that also uses parts of the SCD protocol.
When I found out that I had Hashimotos Thyroiditis, I went on an autoimmune protocol (my 30-Day Reset Protocol) that is a combination of GAPS, SCD and the Leaky Gut Diet. My symptoms improved dramatically and blood tests even showed that I was able to tolerate certain foods after taking time to intensively heal my gut.
Since our family has now had 3+ years experience with a leaky gut diet of some kind, I wanted to share our experience and what worked for us. I’m not a doctor and I definitely can’t give any specific advice for your individual situation, but my hope is that sharing our story will help you find answers on your own health journey.
What is Leaky Gut?
According to the practitioners at SCD Lifestyle:
The term Leaky Gut Syndrome is used to describe the condition of “Hyperpermeable Intestines,” a fancy medical term that means the intestinal lining has became more porous, with more holes developing that are larger in size and the screening out process is no longer functioning properly. The fallout results in larger, undigested food molecules and other “bad stuff” (yeast, toxins, and all other forms of waste) that your body normally doesn’t allow through, to flow freely into your bloodstream.
So now that we have the general essentially meaningless definition out of the way let’s find out what is really going on…
The intestinal lining is the first mechanism of defense for our immune system. The outer layers of intestinal cells (epithelial) are connected by structures called tight junctions. At the tips of these cells are the microvilli, which absorb properly digested nutrients and transport them through the epithelial cell and into the bloodstream. During the normal digestion process the tight junctions stay closed forcing all molecules to effectively be screened and only pass into the blood stream through the mucosa cells (think of them like bouncers at the front of a classy bar). For reasons we will discuss later, these tight junctions can become “open” or permeable allowing un-screened molecules to flow directly into the bloodstream (think of it like a fish net with very small holes).
I knew the research but I was absolutely amazed at the changes our whole family saw from supporting gut health and working to reduce inflammation and leaky gut.
It makes perfect sense that gut health would have such a dramatic impact on all aspects of health, since the body has more bacterial cells in the gut than it does human cells in the entire body. As Chris Kresser explains:
Our gut is home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) microorganisms. That’s such a big number our human brains can’t really comprehend it. One trillion dollar bills laid end-to-end would stretch from the earth to the sun – and back – with a lot of miles to spare. Do that 100 times and you start to get at least a vague idea of how much 100 trillion is.
The human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species. In fact, you could say that we’re more bacterial than we are human. Think about that one for a minute.
We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.
This is the reason that you find so many stories of people who saw improvements in their children’s autism, their own anxiety or depression or their autoimmune symptoms from going on a specific leaky gut diet to support the gut.
It is also the reason that I felt better on our son’s GAPS diet (even though I didn’t know about my autoimmune condition at the time) and why consciously supporting my gut helps me mitigate the symptoms of my thyroid disease. Even though I’ve been focused on a high-quality diet for a long time, I still struggled with leaky gut and needed to address it directly. I found that I had created many of the risk factors for leaky gut at various times in my life before adjusting my diet, including:
- Overuse of antibiotics: I had taken countless rounds of antibiotics before I even entered kindergarten and eventually had my tonsils and adenoids removed. There is evidence that repeated antibiotic use can change gut bacteria and make leaky gut more likely.
- Chronic Stress (check)
- Chronic inflammation and illness (check- I was taking all the antibiotics to fight recurring cases of strep)
- Eating too many processed and refined foods, especially carbohydrates (check- school lunches)
- Consumption of gut irritating foods like grains and vegetable oils (check and check before I changed my diet)
How to Know if You Have Leaky Gut?
The symptoms of leaky gut can vary drastically from person to person and some people can have gut problems for a long time without symptoms. I found that this online quiz was really helpful in determining some of my personal risk factors.
GAPS vs SCD vs Leaky Gut Diet:
I’ve mentioned multiple diets that we used (we now use a hybrid of all of them) but I think it is important to understand the individual protocols and what they are used for:
- The Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (or GAPS diet) is really a three part program that includes diet, detoxification and supplements and which has several stages (including a very intense intro stage. It is often done for 1-2 years and can significantly help allergies and mental conditions in some people. It is based on some of the same principles as the SCD diet but really emphasizes specific nourishing foods like bone broth and homemade fermented vegetables. The GAPS diet is a 6-part intensive protocol and it is a lot of work, but in our experience, the results are well worth it. The book Gut and Psychology Syndrome is a great primer for starting with the GAPS diet.
- The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD program) is specifically geared toward gut health and has been used to help people mitigate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis and other digestive problems. This is the best resource I’ve found on SCD and gut health.
- Leaky Gut Diet is a term often used for either of these healing protocols or for an autoimmune protocol such as my:
- 30-Day Reset Autoimmune Program – A combination of principles from GAPS and SCD that focuses on reducing inflammation and reversing leaky gut. It has been the most effective thing I’ve tried personally and it helps address the various problems I was having and greatly helped with the symptoms of autoimmune disease. For gut/brain problems or really severe cases, the GAPS intro diet can be helpful as well. Here is a recipe list with modifications for the autoimmune reset.
Our Leaky Gut Diet Protocol
We started initially with the GAPS intro diet, which is a highly restrictive program designed for intensive healing. It is outlined it detail here.
We then transitioned into Full GAPS which is less restrictive and which helps transition back to a wider variety of foods. It is outlined in detail here along with a food list.
We are now following our own leaky gut diet protocol of the 30-Day Reset Diet Autoimmune Protocol which focuses on the following foods:
- Nourishing broths
- Fermented vegetables
- Healthy fats
- quality sources of protein
- large amounts of vegetables
Foods to Avoid:
I also take specific supplements to help support the gut, and working with a qualified functional medicine practitioner is a great way to help find what supplements are helpful for a specific case.
The Bottom Line:
Gut health intricately affects so many aspects of the body. I think that we will see a rise in research on leaky gut and gut problems in the next few years, but in the meantime, I’ve found that a specialized diet (like GAPS, SCD, Leaky Gut Diet or Autoimmune) can help individuals determine their own reactive foods and nourish their bodies more effectively. Learn more about How to Know When a Diet Is No Longer Right for You: Understanding Intuitive Eating & Your Body’s Needs.
Have you ever struggled with leaky gut? Did dietary interventions work for you?
Discussion (63 Comments)
Hi just wondering what test you had done to find out what your food intolerances are. I have heard of the IgG test. We are struggling with our 5 year old at the moment with behaviour and dark circles under his eyes. Thanks
Five years ago I was fabulous. Thin with clear skin. Then in over night I gained ten pounds and started breaking out in cystic acne again. I’d been doing low carb to heal my acne and the results were great. Five years later I’m bloated and acne riddled and still on the diet. I ate some turmeric last month and that made the acne worse.
I hate the way I look and have no control over this weight gain. I’ve started pureeing everything I eat, I do pro-biotics (which make me worse) I do enzymes ( worked about three months then just stopped. The bone broth has done a thing in the six months I’ve been making it. I hate the idea of having to live like this. I’m only 31. No energy. I have ulcerative colitis which I actually enjoyed last year because I was thin again and wasn’t bloated, but for some reason I became constipated with the UC and my hips spread way out, unnatural shape for me, followed by my hips and behind then my arms.
I’m so sad that I want to hurt myself to have control over something. My GI doctor blames the UC, as does my dermatologists, but a year on Humira and no improvement except constipation. I’m miserable and in pain. My clothes don’t fit and I’ve never had a baby.
I’ve done everything your blog said and it all worked and then stopped. I really need help.
Hello Katie, my wife and I are considering doing this diet for 30 days. We don’t really wrestle with severe autoimmune diseases but just deal with indigestion and muscle pain on semi-regular bases when we comsume these types of foods. I for one get bad heartburn when I eat eggs, brain fog when I eat legumes and don’t do great with nightshades either. We stay away from grains for the most part but are still having these issues. My question is with the food sensitivities and allergies, will this diet help us wipe those out? Will I be able to eat eggs again after the 30 days or do I still have to stay away from eggs, legumes and delicious peppers?
It will really depend on the underlying cause, and you may need longer than a month, but I noticed drastic changes and a month would be enough to at least let you see if it will benefit you…
I signed up for Tuesdays free webinar on Leaky Gut etc… And my phone erased my link !
How can I get access to tomorrow’s webinar again. Can someone send me a link . I did sign up but only got that 1 email so far and its gone for good?
You have mentioned that your family took supplements for the digestive system. Were you able to try probiotics? If yes, did it work well for you and what brands would you suggest worth trying?
Iam using Fibre Primvital almost half of year and my life changed totaly. I had terrible problem with metabolism and I tried so many products and suplements which can help me with this disease. Unfortunately it doesnt work and I lost a lot of money. Some friends recomended me Fibre Primvital from colonotherapy.co.uk. I was a little sceptic, but I decided to try! And now finaly I can say that this natural grains, work! Every day I drinkFibre with water, and my body detox is working!!! Iam full of energy, I also lose some kilo and I forgot about pain in toilet!
I really loved the video at the end of the leaky gut test
it really was everything I knew put more simply
the only issue with it is I’ve been through 20 years or more of abuse and according to this puts me in the type 3 burn out
I don’t know if it does but accordingly he says 95 per cent of people coming to doctor Kalish are type 2 or 3
I will start healthy eating soon and am already slowly changing my lifestyle
plus emotional stress and that on top
and may go further and start the Gaps programme or specific sensitive area or problems I may have like sensitivity to certain food groups
but if I don’t see improvement ill be concerned
because he offers to go to a specialist nutrionalist doctor on natural supplements testing and treatment for more severe damaged gut and hormonal damage that I’m thinking I may have because of past long term abuse and a lot of bad habits I’ve picked up on
i live in UK and couldn’t afford a lot of money though it will be worth it
for those people who did drugs or caused a stressful life style they coudl have balanced say my friend who cant say no tk anyone or any task at hand they at least have the chance to be honest with themselves and say
I accept that this was by the choices and mistakes I make and can take responsibility for the damage I may be stuck with or cost to fix
but for someone who’s brought up into abuse and damaging habits like mental emotional negative though patterns or unhealthy eating patterns due to lack of food or healthy food as a child etc or what not
I don’t really have that chance
it kind of like being punished for being born really
if my body keeps inflamming even when diets all pure non triggering super foods and lifestyle is all happy fun and laughter and sleep and what not
my cells get damage and my health risk like cancer and diseases will still affect me sooner or later
then I can’t say I accept it because of choice I made to have burnt out this so severe that it’s not something easily fixable with lifestyle or diet changes or mental thinking or what not
I know no one deserves this and no one’s at fault
no one knows these things before its too late
but I had no choice or discision in it whatsoever
I had suffered and was punished for being alive for 20 years
now I will try all my best to turn me and my life around for my children and their futures
but for me it looks like from that video all of these changes will be in vain
that I will still be living in suffering and punishment being alive
how is that fair
how can afford more of life taken to treatment with a doctor
I’m not sure what else I can do
if I do all this and it doesn’t work for me
I’ve been considering following a leaky gut diet because I have very extreme anxiety, major depression, and ADD, and I would like to lower their effects, as well as promote healthy gut bacteria so that I can function like a human being is supposed to function. However, I was wondering if there are any ways that these diets can be modified for a vegetarian? I don’t eat meat for moral reasons, so I would feel absolutely awful switching back to eating meat for this diet. Thanks!
My feelings exactly, except for the ethical avoidance. I’m just not that interested in meat, so I trying to see if I can create a vegetarian leaky gut program. A key point of GAPS though, is that the fiber is an irritant to a damaged gut, which is why it’s avoided for a while on the program. But there are others who get results without meat, I believe. I’m just investigating The Body Ecology Diet for that purpose.
I’m also wondering if the constant bone broth (which I really don’t have an ethical issue with but just am not that thrilled with eating a lot) could be replaced with gut healing supplements like Perm A Vite or others. Check out emersonecologics.com for a huge selection of GI Support products.
I’m planning to get IgG allergy testing first to get a handle on food sensitivities that may be lingering up to 4 weeks. It doesn’t register acute reactions (which I don’t obviously have) but it can reveal constant, subtle and overlapping reactions that could be an inflammatory burden that would impede healing the gut and beyond. I’m also investigating Pleo Sanum homeopathic remedies which an in one “intestinal Kit” and are purported to help convert pathogenic gut flora to a friendlier species. Seems like good insurance for a gut program. Unfortunately, they’re not available till April 2015 due to import issues.
Joe. I too would love to have a vegetarian version of the leaky gut diet. I am just at a loss as to what to eat. I also have histamine issues and can not eat a lot of fermented foods and many of the healthy fruit and veggies! It is soooo frustrating. I have been in the hospital when my histamine bucket explodes with anaphylaxis, facial swelling and horrible itching skin. I have been dealing with this for over 15 years and I have just now figured this out within the past week. My daughter also has food allergies and issues. Behavior is definitely influenced by what she eats. I would love to do the autoimmune Paleo but I have not eaten beef, pork, lamb etc. for over 25 years. I don’t like turkey very much. I eat mostly chicken and fish. But all meats are high in histamine if not fresh and I just really don’t like meat very well. I never have even when I was little.
I would love a vegetarian version. There is no way I could digest all of that beef and chicken. It’s frustrating. I have so many food allergies, avocados, cucumber, hemp, coconut – What’s up with everyone loving coconut – pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, tomatoes…. I have oral allergy syndrome, itchy skin, throat swelling and leg swelling with nuts… actually gastrointestinal swelling and inflammation as well.
I have given up gluten, dairy, corn, soy, caffeine, alcohol and the foods listed above, but I’m having a difficult time figuring out how to get in enough protein. I seem to be able to tolerate eggs and fish. I also use rice and pumpkin protein powder. It’s tricky to meal plan.
Probably try quinoa, hemp seeds and chia seeds!
Reactions in natural healing processes should be expected and. if necessary, your program adjusted accordingly to allow what can be tolerated but not what can’t. So in the case of her child with eczema, Quianna might have to decide if it’s an allergy or a cleansing/healing reaction. In the case of the latter, think of it as flushing out the problem so healing can happen. An obstacle to health is being pushed out.
Skin problems are really a common, temporary occurrence in natural healing. The hard part is being sure that’s what it is and not an allergic reaction. But if you have eliminated the bad stuff, maybe you should let it go a bit.
Of course, I’m chiming in here a month or two later, so by now I hope you’re had some success. It would be interesting to hear how things went after the outbreak.
I am right where you were, Katie. I have digestive and thyroid disorders and a kid with food allergies and ADHD. Have read BTVC, GAPS diet book, and all about AIP. Having difficulty finding the sweet spot that draws out the best from each approach for healing leaky gut. What elements did you take from each and what was the timing for this? (For example, aip removes all inflammatory foods but leaves out the healing 24 hour goat milk yogurt of scd it also adds kombucha/ coconut right away, which are considered advanced in the other 2 approaches. Etc…)
Did you ever get an answer to this or figure out on your own what worked for you? I have some similar issues & have had a lot of the same questions. I’ve been reading the comments religiously just to find a comment like yours, but with answers! 🙂 Thanks so much for any & all help!