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Leaky Gut and What to Do About It

Over 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said “All disease begins in the gut.” Today, science is finally catching up with the ancient knowledge.

Research suggests that many diseases stem from gastrointestinal problems. A large part of this research has been based on damage to the intestine’s protective lining, the mucosal barrier, creating intestinal permeability, more commonly known as leaky gut.

Think of the lining for your digestive tract as a net with really tiny holes in it that only allow specific substances to pass through. Your gut lining works as a barrier to keep larger particles out. When someone has leaky gut, it means the ‘net’ in their digestive tract gets damaged, which then creates even larger holes in their net, allowing things that can’t normally pass through, to now be able to.

Some of the things that can now pass through the mucosal barrier include proteins like gluten, unwanted bacteria, infections, undigested food particles and toxins. And all of these items have a direct shot right into your blood stream.

 

Photo cred: Functional Diagnostic Nutrition

 

Here are some common ways leaky gut syndrome can be triggered and some tips on how to fix it.

1. Diet

The foods we eat will either help us or harm us; which is why I call BS on moderation. Processed and sugary foods are depleted of nutrients and could lead to the damage of your intestinal lining.

There’s also evidence that in some people, gluten can cause inflammation to the gut and increase permeability. This is one of the potential triggers of gut problems and systemic inflammation in the body (Source). Research also suggests that alcohol can increase gut-lining permeability (Source).

Tip: I use a food sensitivity test and an elimination diet on clients to find out which foods aren’t working and to start healing the gut.

2. Toxins

We come into contact with so many chemicals every single day, but the worst offenders for leaky gut are antibiotics, pesticides, some tap water, aspirin and NSAIDS.

Tip: When possible, use natural alternatives that won’t damage your body. Curcumin, for example, is a great natural anti-inflammatory. Keep in mind there are natural antibiotics, and most of them can be found right in your kitchen.

3. Hormonal Imbalances

Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid and cortisol levels have been linked to lowered intestinal healing, which could lead to increased gut permeability.

Tip: It’s important to correct your hormonal imbalances, or at least get them checked so you know where your levels are. I run a 24-Hour Adrenal Stress Index, which is a salivary test that tracks your cortisol levels and HPA (brain-adrenal) axis quality.

4. Blood Sugar Issues

According to Web MD, 40 percent of Americans will develop diabetes at some point in their lives. Diabetes is metabolic disease which can harm the gastrointestinal system. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are harmful compounds that are increased in chronic diseases like diabetes and have the potential to damage the intestinal tight junctions.

Tip: Natural remedies such as alpha-lipoic acid, chromium, berberine and cinnamon are some really cool blood sugar stabilizers. Make sure to eat fat with high sugar foods in order to slow down the glucose absorption (why else would anyone put nuts in chocolate?). And know what your blood sugar is- I highly recommend investing in a glucose monitor if you aren’t sure.

5. Stress

Stress affects your health in so many different ways. Many people notice their health decline during or right after a difficult time in their life. Even things we may overlook, like poor sleep or pushing your body too hard at the gym, can be stressful.

Chronically high cortisol levels, suppressed secretory Immunoglobulin A (your gut’s immune system), and decreased oxygen to your gut are all possible ways that stress can cause damage.

Tip: Consistent mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing and yoga are some ways I like to handle stress. Do what works for you!

How to Heal Leaky Gut

Foods that help heal leaky gut:

Bone Broth: Contains collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that can help heal your damaged cell walls. Don’t be afraid to do a 3-day bone broth fast.

Fermented Vegetables: Contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH and probiotics to support the gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi and kvass are some examples.

Coconut: MCFA’s in coconut are easier to digest than other fats so they work well for leaky gut. Also, coconut kefir contains probiotics that support your digestive system.

Sprouted Seeds : Sprouted chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds are great sources of fiber that can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria. But if you have severe leaky gut, you may need to start out getting your fiber just from steamed vegetables and fruit.

Supplements that help heal leaky gut:

Probiotics: Replenish good bacteria and crowds out bad bacteria. I recommend getting probiotics in both food and supplement form. It’s important to not only remove the damaging irritants but also re-inoculate your gut with good bacteria. Make sure you continuously switch up your probiotics; when you finish one bottle, buy a different kind with different bacteria. When it comes to probiotics, the more diversity the better.

Digestive Enzymes: One or two capsules at the beginning of each meal to ensure that foods are fully digested, decreasing the chance that partially digested food particles and proteins are damaging your gut wall.

L-Glutamine An essential amino acid supplement that is anti-inflammatory and necessary for the growth and repair of your intestinal lining. L-glutamine benefits include acting as a protector: coating your cell walls and acting as a repellent to irritants.

Licorice Root (DGL): An adaptogenic herb that helps balance cortisol levels and improves acid production in the stomach. DGL supports the body’s natural processes for maintaining the mucosal lining of the stomach and duodenum.

Quercetin: Improves gut barrier function by sealing the gut because it supports creation of tight junction proteins. It also stabilizes mast cells and reduces the release of histamine, which is common in food intolerance.

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