Leaky gut syndrome can negatively impact both your health and your life. Here’s the 411 on what it is, how it occurs and how to prevent it.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The Greek physician Hippocrates once proclaimed, “All disease begins in the gut.” As a healer who favored science, his investigations focused on food intake and digestion rather than superstition. Although the exact intestinal mechanics were unknown to this brilliant Greek more than 2,000 years ago, his words still ring true.
Nowadays, digestive and immune diseases are experiencing an uptick, and chronic inflammation, fatigue and intestinal irritability are more common than ever. With all our modern technology and ever-expanding knowledge on nutritional sciences, why now? It all comes down to your guts.
Go to a doctor and tell her you are tired or gassy or that you have diarrhea, and she will likely issue you a pill or a prescription to alleviate your symptoms. Even if those symptoms persist, most physicians won’t be inclined to diagnose leaky gut syndrome because the symptoms in and of themselves don’t necessarily indicate a single, overriding problem. Constipation, upset stomach, gas, colds, fatigue, joint pain — on their own, these issues might not seem connected, and truth be told they might not be. However, if these problems last for months or longer, chances are good that your gut is leaking.
And yes, it is as gross as it sounds.
Here’s the deal: Your intestinal cells are bound together tightly to maintain gut integrity, and these intercellular junctions control what passes through your intestinal lining both into and out of the body. Things like vitamins, nutrients, water and antigens travel back and forth regularly as part of your digestive processes as your body breaks down food and eliminates wastes. But should these junctions become compromised and begin to tear apart, unwanted toxins, microbes and undigested food particles escape and pathogenic bacteria begins to grow and proliferate in your bloodstream and in the tissues of your body. This micro-invasion can cause a host of symptoms, including gas, upset stomach, irregularity and other unmentionable gastrointestinal issues.
Because of the unique interaction between the intestinal cells that produce antibodies and the various bacteria that reside there, about 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is based in the gut. Your body is home to both good and bad bacteria, and normally they are in balance and you are healthy because your cells are doing their jobs, producing antibodies to keep you in the pink.
However, if you eat a poor diet, your digestive system can become overrun with bad bacteria, which then push out the good probiotic microbes, activating an inflammatory response. This puts a huge strain on the liver as it struggles to neutralize all these toxins in your system, compromising immunity, reducing the absorption of nutrients from food, inhibiting healing and even increasing the incidence of illness.
Stop the Leak
In truth, it is still unknown exactly what triggers the incidence of leaky gut syndrome. There are several theories, with the most convincing research linking food additives, preservatives and stress to its occurrence. Those with Crohn’s disease and celiac experience the same digestive decline and compromised immunity, increased inflammation and greater incidence of illness yet in much greater proportions, which also indicates that food allergens could play a role.
If you believe you may have leaky gut, seek the advice of a professional such as a gastroenterologist, internist or naturopath. In the meantime, the best way to prevent leaky gut from occurring is through diet. Since research has shown that certain foods and food additives can cause damage to the cellular structures of the gut, thereby causing disease, your best bet is to eat natural, whole foods whenever possible to prevent, treat and even reverse the effects of leaky gut.
These foods and supplements have been shown to be effective in the treatment of leaky gut. Include them in your meal planning to help prevent and even reverse the effects of this disease:
Probiotics and prebiotics.
To reduce malicious bacterial overgrowth and normalize the space between your intestinal cells, bombard them with good bacteria. Fermented foods such as apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and sauerkraut provide a healthy dose of antioxidants and probiotics in an easily digestible and alkalizing format. Probiotic supplements such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bacillus coagulans are excellent for facilitating proper gut health. Take 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) daily with meals, but don’t overdo it: Doses in excess of 20 billion CFUs daily can cause bloating or diarrhea. Then feed your little gut bugs with prebiotic fiber such as inulin to help them proliferate.
This amino acid is crucial for intestinal cell repair and is found in red meat, fish, poultry, broccoli and spirulina. If supplementing, take 10 to 20 grams daily to help deal with leaky gut.
As you age, digestive pancreatic enzymes decline and you don’t efficiently absorb nutrients from your food. This stresses the digestive system and eventually causes inflammation and permeability. Look
for a digestive enzyme product that contains elements such as protease, pepsin, trypsin, lipase, amylase, cellulose and lactase, and take it with meals.
This is the active ingredient in turmeric and is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that reduces oxidative stress in the gut. Add this spice liberally to food, or take 1 to 2 grams once or twice daily in capsule form.
Bone broth provides collagen, minerals and amino acids needed for healthy intestinal tissue, as well as anti-inflammatory compounds such as glucosamine. Consume 8 to 16 ounces of bone broth one to two times daily, preferably at lunch and late afternoon.
Sneaky Leaky Foods
Several dietary elements are suspected to contribute to and/or cause leaky gut syndrome. Here are some that have been researched recently:
- Processed sugar was found to promote intestinal damage and inflammation.
- Trans fats have been linked to autoimmune disorders.
- Gluten was shown to trigger intestinal permeability.
- Sodium is believed to loosen intestinal cell junctions.
- Meat “glue” (enzymes used to bind meat particles together in things like cold cuts and chicken nuggets) can damage intestinal cells.
- Emulsifiers (added to extend shelf life) can throw off microbial balance.
- Organic acids (used to extract elements such as fat, oil or caffeine) can alter cellular junction proteins.
- Nanoparticles (used to improve taste, color and appearance) have been linked to DNA damage.