You wake up feeling groggy, every morning. Your skin is dry and your hair seems lifeless. Every time you eat, you have to burp and you’re so bloated that you look pregnant. These are signs of digestive distress. If your digestive system is off, it doesn’t really matter how awesome your food intake is because you just aren’t digesting all that great food optimally.
What is leaky gut?
You may have heard of the term “leaky gut”. Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is a condition where the lining of your intestines have become compromised to a point where there are small spaces between the cell walls, allowing undigested food particles and other toxins back into the bloodstream. This condition is becoming more recognized in mainstream medicine as a possible link between inflammation and autoimmune conditions such as:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Food sensitivities
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Mental health
- Skin conditions
When healthy, the digestive system plays an important role in protecting our body from harmful substances. This includes the environment inside your intestines. The walls of the intestines act as barriers, controlling what enters the bloodstream to be transported to your organs. There are small gaps in this intestinal wall called tight junctions (TJ). These TJ allow the absorption of water and nutrients to pass through while blocking the substances that are considered toxic to your body. When these TJ become loose, bacteria and other toxins enter the bloodstream. This can cause widespread symptoms throughout your body with the main concern on triggering inflammation and the immune system response along with the ailments noted above.
Let’s use a colander as an example. You’ve decided to boil some mixed veggies to add to your great protein dish. You have some chopped carrots, green peas, broccoli, and edamame beans. Once cooked to perfection, you strain them through a colander. Now, assuming your colander is in good shape, all of the water has escaped and you are left with delicious veggies ready for consumption. But, if your colander is a bit old and hasn’t been well taken care of, you may pour your veggies in and notice that you’re not only losing water but your green peas are starting to escape, too! You don’t get to them in time and they’ve gone down the sink’s drain, only to create a backup and blockage of your pipes. You have a leaky colander.
Of course, there are milder symptoms that may indicate a leaky gut. It’s important to take note of how your body feels so that you don’t stress your immune system to a point that you are now experiencing some very drastic conditions like fibromyalgia. What are smaller signs that may indicate leaky gut?
Food sensitivities or intolerances
This is not the same thing as an allergy, which we’ll discuss later. These are smaller nuances that your body just doesn’t like a certain food. Let’s say that every time you eat mushrooms, you have bad cramps and gas. Or, when you eat cheese you get acne and constipation. These are signs that there are certain foods that put your body on high alert.
Of course, we all know that Celiac and Crohn’s are linked to gut health. However, there is more research linking gut permeability to Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
We all have a small army of good and bad bacteria in our gut. With a proper diet, the good army always wins the battle of keeping your gut healthy. However, the Standard American Diet tends to favor the bad bacteria army. Meaning, that when the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria, your gut and gut lining is compromised. Eventually leading to leaky gut.
Chronic constipation or diarrhea
Craving for sugars, bread or alcohol. The bad bacteria in your gut feeds off sugar. When you have more bad bacteria than good bacteria, there’s a chance that the bad bacteria will be hungry. This makes you crave sugars and quick carbs.
Including, but not limited to; Eczema, acne, Rosacea, hives, Psoriasis, rashes and even dry skin.
This could be felt as general fatigue or chronic headaches.
Mood swings and depression
If you haven’t heard, your gut is considered your second brain. Why? Over 80% of the serotonin your brain needs is manufactured in the gut. Serotonin is your “happy hormone”. So, it’s a pretty clear link that an unhappy microbiome will lead to an unhappy brain.
Seasonal, pet and other. Similar to food allergies and sensitivities, allergies are a sign of an imbalanced gut. Allergies are also a sign that your immune system is on high alert, mass producing various antibodies, making your system oversensitive.
Arthritis or joint pain
When food particles enter the bloodstream, this causes inflammation in your body overall.
A leaky gut can also attack the microvilli of the small intestine lessening your ability for nutrient absorption.
Is Leaky Gut a Real Thing?
The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said: “All disease begins in the gut.” Finally, after two millennia, modern medicine has proven that he was right.
Until recently, leaky gut was not a thing that most doctors bought into, You see, doctors really look at signs and symptoms in isolation. Medical doctors are only recently starting to understand the underlying link to all things in the body, taking a more holistic approach to health.
In the nutrition space, however, it’s been long understood that you are not what you eat, you are what you absorb. And without an optimal digestive system, your health can only be less than optimal. Finally, scientific studies are backing this philosophy with actual data. For over three decades, study after study has been published (several thousand articles exist to date) discussing our growing understanding of immunity, gut function and how modern diets and lifestyles negatively contribute to overall health by damaging our digestive system. Although leaky gut still remains a bit of a mystery to modern medicine, there are certain markers that can confirm whether or not a gut may have hyperpermeability. That’s by looking for an excess protein called zonulin. Zonulin is the modulator of intestinal permeability. Too little zonulin and your TJs are too tight. Too much zonulin and your TJs are too loose. There are two things in particular that can trigger zonulin release: bacteria in the intestines and gluten.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Perhaps we’ve got you worried about how your gut health is contributing to your overall health. And, this is partly a good thing. It’s by becoming a bit uncomfortable that change can happen more readily. Now that you know some of the symptoms of leaky gut, let’s look at what can cause leaky gut over-and-above the triggering of zonulin.
1 – Poor diet
- Excessive sugar intake.
- Nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamin A, D and zinc have been shown to increase permeability.
- Refined Oils
- Synthetic food additives
- Gluten-rich foods
2 – Toxin Overload
- Long-term use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen
- Excessive alcohol intake.
- Pesticides, tap water
3 – Stress
- Chronic stress is a factor in multiple gastrointestinal disorders.
4 – Bacterial imbalance.
- Dysbiosis. When the balance of good vs. bad bacteria is disrupted, gut lining is compromised.
- Yeast Overgrowth.
5 – Genetic Predisposition
The Primary Cause of Leaky Gut?
It seems that the Western diet is not one that favors the state of our microbiome. In fact, a diet predominantly focusing on sugary, refined carbs and saturated fats increase your risk of creating disbalance in the gut, which over time will create a compromised gut lining and increased gut permeability.
Of particular concern is refined carbohydrates. These cause a threat to our gut health for two major reasons.
- Refined carbs are generally stripped of many nutrients, including fiber, making them quick for the body to break down into simple carbs or sugars. A “sugary” environment favors the bad bacteria, which over time create a leaky gut.
- Gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, spelt and rye, has been shown to increase the amount of zonulin in the gut. Zonulin is responsible for creating more permeability in the tight junctions of the gut lining. This increases the odds that undigested food particles, toxins, and possible bacteria will leave the gut and enter the bloodstream. Causing an alert to the immune system, triggering inflammation.
With this in mind, it’s also important to note that gluten-free products are not necessarily the solution. Although they do not contain gluten, they are often made with refined flours and added sugar. Rather than replacing your bread and pasta with gluten-free products, try replacing these food items with whole foods. For example, enjoy zoodles (zucchini noodles). Not only will you be eating more nutrients but the added fiber will help feed your good bacteria.
What foods help with leaky gut?
If you, or someone you know, seem to be displaying a few of the symptoms of leaky gut, there are things that you can do to bring your gut back into balance. There is generally a three-step process to heal this important part of your health.
1 – REMOVE
Remove the potentially dangerous foods. It is very important to remove inflammatory foods such as sugar, GMOs, refined oils, and synthetic food additives. You may also consider removing the top food allergens to see how that will affect your energy. They are soy, dairy, peanuts, corn, eggs, tree nuts, shellfish, and wheat. A water filtration system will help remove chlorine, fluorine and other chemicals from your water and you’ll want to buy as much organic food as possible. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDS used in excess are also bad for your gut lining.
2 – REPLACE
Replace with gut-friendly foods. There are many foods that will specifically work towards healing your gut. They are easy to digest and can help repair the lining of the intestines. Here are some of the top foods to include:
- Bone Broth – Bone broth contains collagen and certain amino acids that will help heal a damaged gut.
- Raw Dairy – Yes, you read that correctly. Raw, unpasteurized dairy contains both probiotics and short-chain fatty acids that can help heal your gut. Kefir, yogurt, amasai, and raw cheeses are some great probiotic foods.
- Fermented vegetables – When vegetables are fermented, they gain beneficial bacteria that help to support the gut. Plus, fermented veggies contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH.
- Coconut – All things coconut – oil, milk, flakes, etc. Not only does coconut contain medium-chain fatty acids but they also have caprylic acid is an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal property and it can help treat health problems associated with the overgrowth of yeast, such as vaginal yeast infections, candida, and thrush. Caprylic acid is also said to treat fungal infections.
- Fiber – High fiber foods, like vegetables, can support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Healthy fats – Foods like egg yolks, avocados, coconut oil are healthy fats that are also easy on the gut and promote healing.
- Omega 3s – There are so many positive health benefits to boosting the omega 3 in your diet. Not only is it anti-inflammatory but it helps to heal a damaged gut. You can find it in ground flax, chia, hemp, salmon, walnuts and tuna.
3 – REPAIR
Repair your gut with supplements. There are times during your health journey that you just need a little extra support than what food can offer you alone. Healing a leaky gut is one of those times.
Probiotics (50-100 billion live cells daily)
this is the most important supplement as it helps to restore the good bacteria and crowd out the bad. Yes, getting probiotics from food is necessary but not enough. You will need to re-inoculate the gut with beneficial bacteria.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Not only is this a fermented product (giving you some probiotics) but it will also help with digestion. Adding it to your daily water and taking before meals can ensure that you are properly breaking down your food, which will minimize the chance for undigested food particles to re-enter your system.
Critical for gut health, L-glutamine is an anti-inflammatory that also repairs the gut lining. It acts to protect the cell walls and repels toxins and irritants away from the lining.
The bottom line is this… most of us could benefit from eating a diet that lowers inflammation while increasing our gut health.
Sugar, antibiotics, and gluten have most likely played a part in most, if not all, of our current symptoms. Make a daily effort to reduce refined oils and carbs and start to focus on whole foods. Rather than replacing gluten with nutrient-void gluten-free alternatives, focus on getting your carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, and some starchy vegetables.
No matter the current state of your gut, leaky or not leaky, you can always benefit your body by eating foods high in omega 3, fermented foods like homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, avocados and coconut.
By focusing in these areas, you’re sure to not only prevent leaky gut but also stop the potential risk for more ailments like colon cancer, ulcerative colitis and more serious disease in the future.
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