I mentioned earlier this month that our family has decided to focus on our gut health as our main health goal for 2018. There are so many reasons to pay attention to the health of our gut, yet many of us live our lives with symptoms, dis-ease states and even diagnoses directly caused by poor gut health--by a leaky gut. And unfortunately for many people, the correlation is never made. What exactly is a leaky gut?
Well, the gut is designed to be permeable to very small molecules in order for necessary nutrients to be absorbed. However, things like gluten, infections, stress and toxins [such as medications like Motrin, Advil and steroids, as well as antibiotics, acid-inhibitors and environmental toxins like mercury, pesticides and BPA] can cause the tight junctions in the intestinal lining to break apart. Once broken, matter like toxins, microbes and undigested food particles can leak out from the intestines and travel through the body via the bloodstream. The immune system then flags these as foreign invader pathogens and begins to attack them. The immune response can manifest in a number of different ways. Functional Medicine Physician Mark Hyman, MD offers some further explanation:
"The surface area of your small intestine, where food is absorbed, is about the size of a tennis court. That area also houses about 60 percent of your immune system. This sophisticated gut-immune system is just one cell layer away from a toxic sewer: All of the bacteria and undigested food particles in your gut. If that lining breaks down, your immune system will be exposed to foreign particles from food, bacteria, and other microbes. Simply put, your gut microbial ecosystem must be healthy for you to be healthy. When your gut bacteria are out of balance — when you have too many pathogenic bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria —you get sick." [source]
Some of the most common expressions of leaky gut are listed below. Read through the list and take note of any that you experience.
IBS and/or digestive issues like gas, bloating or recurring diarrhea
Seasonal allergies and/or asthma
Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease [such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis or celiac disease]
Depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD
Acne, rosacea or eczema
Food allergies or intolerances
If you answered yes to one or more of the dis-ease states above, chances are fairly high that you've got a leaky gut. But before you allow yourself to get discouraged, there's hope. The good news is that with time, some intentionality and perseverance, a leaky gut can be repaired. I've listed my personal top 5 strategies for healing a leaky gut [or maintaining a healthy gut] below:
Eliminate gluten 100%. There is no such thing as being "sort of gluten free." Gluten is very hard to digest and thanks to gliadin [a component of gluten] it raises levels of the hormone zonulin, increasing the openings of the tight junctions in our gut lining, allowing toxins to slip through our gut lining, cause inflammation and a raised immune response.
Remove grains and legumes for at least 30 days. Similar to gluten-containing foods, these foods are filled with anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates, which our digestive systems simply cannot handle when they are already in poor condition.
Take a break from sugar. Other than being an immune system suppressor, sugar also feeds the growth of yeast, candida and bad bacteria, all of which can further damage our guts. Bad bacteria creates toxins called exotoxins that damage healthy cells, causing holes in our intestinal walls.
Take digestive enzymes. The proper breakdown of food particles in our stomach will allow for less irritation and inflammation of the gut lining. This means that large molecules will not make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. Additionally, digestive enzymes also work to clean up the mucosal lining by removing toxins, bad bacteria and damaged cells. This assistance gives our liver and immune system a much needed break.
Add probiotics into your daily routine. Probiotics help to fight off bad bacteria and yeast overgrowth, so that our gut flora can start regaining a healthy balance. Continued use of probiotics can help ensure that the ratio of good to bad bacteria stays in the healthy range, meaning bad bacteria and excessive yeast are far less likely to return and cause leaky gut again. An additional benefit is that a healthy gut flora also aids digestion. Probiotics can be found in supplement and food form.
For supplements, I recommend a high-strength probiotic with 40-50 billion CFUs and at least 10 different strains. Nature's Sunshine Probiotic Eleven is what we carry at Simply Nourished. As for probiotic foods, we carry sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented sriracha, kefir and kombucha in our store. And, if you're interested in learning how to make your own kombucha and kefir, this week's Healthy Living Education class is a great option. Thursday at 7:30 PM, local expert Kim Fyfe will be teaching her DIY Kefir & Kombucha class. Cost is $10 and space is limited so don't forget to register. We are excited to bring this option for wellness within reach here in North Iowa. We hope to see you there!