Have you ever heard of leaky gut, or are you worried you might have it? Leaky gut is a buzzword in natural health circles, however many don't really know what it means; or what they can do about it if they have it. Let me demystify leaky gut for you in my blog below; what it means if you have it, and most importantly, what you can do about it. However first; a small anatomy lesson on our gut (very small - I promise!).
Our gut is a hollow tube, similar to a piece of hose pipe that runs from our mouth to our back passage. This hollow tube contains;
- Villi (image) – which kind of look like tiny little fingers that project out and help to bring nutrients into the blood stream.
- Mucous - made up of things like proteins and bonds that protect us and keep out so many things that can harm us. Things like; bacteria, toxins (which we can produce by our own digestion and metabolism), micro-organisms, gluten, viruses, inflammatory type foods (HFCS – high fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks), sugar and even gluten, stress, medications such as antibiotics and alcohol.
All of these risk factors make the bonds and proteins in our gut and in our protective mucous weaker. When we’re weaker, we can be ‘leakier’ and when we’re ‘leakier’, we can allow larger molecules of food through our digestive system and into our blood stream.
In a healthy gut, nutrients are allowed through these tight junctions and bonds to be absorbed and assimilated. This helps to keep us in tip-top condition and just as critical; keeps the bad stuff out! In a ‘leaky’ gut we absorb less of the good stuff – i.e. nutrients, and we allow more of the bad stuff in. Things like undigested food particles, bad bacteria, toxins, micro-organisms, viruses, inflammation and more.
What happens next?
When we allow more of the ‘bad stuff’ in through our gut wall, it travels through to the other side of our ‘tube’ or hose pipe. On this side of the tube sits our blood stream and also about 80% of our immune system. Our immune system is there - not because there was nowhere else to put it in the body; but it protects us as we’re exposed to so much through our tube, through our digestive system, each and every day.
When our immune system comes into contact with these inflammatory signals, the more inflammation we have in the body. What we now know is that chronic, low grade inflammation is at the core of the biggest chronic diseases of our time – cardio-vascular disease and heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimers and arthritis.
Leaky Gut symptoms
- Gastric ulcers
- Gas, bloating, IBS, Diarrhoea, cramping
- Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and/or rosacea
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Allergy symptoms including hayfever and asthma
- Candida overgrowth
- Anxiety, depression, migraines, poor sleep patterns
- Frequent colds and flu, blocked sinuses
- Brain fog and/or difficulty concentrating
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, psoriasis or celiac disease
5 most effective ways to heal the gut
So what can we do to deal with all that can go wrong in our guts? Thankfully, there is so much you can start doing today with 5 x simple strategies that I use daily in clinic;
Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Repair, And Rebalance
I’ve seen this ‘5R’ program lead to dramatic improvement in symptoms, and sometimes complete resolution of gut and nervous system problems in some people.
Here you want to remove the stressors that enter your body. Think of things like removing any foods your allergic to or sensitive to, and getting rid of parasites, and potential harmful bacteria. This is the single most important ‘R’ on the list. If we target the other 4 ‘Rs’, without addressing ‘Remove’ then it’s going to be a Bandaid effect at best, isn’t it? Please note - if your symptoms have continued longer than 6 months, or affect your daily quality of life, I always suggest a comprehensive stool analysis as these different 'removing' agents target different pathogens. Your naturopath of healthcare practitioner can offer more advice here.
This ‘R’ is all about replacing things that might be lacking in your gut. Consider; digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, or bile acids that are all required in adequate amounts for proper digestion. These can all be compromised by diet, medications (including the oral contraceptive pill [OCP] – yes, this IS a medication!), ageing, or other lifestyle factors. Generally, the below products can be taken 2-3 times before meals, or with the first bite of food.
Probiotic foods or supplements contain “good” GI bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. Probiotics in the form of supplements or food are often needed to help re-establish balanced gut flora. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, miso, and tempeh are food sources of probiotics. Beneficial bacteria are commonly depleted by sugar, stress, antibiotics, steroid medications, OCP and stomach bugs.
Prebiotics are food ingredients that stimulate the strength and power of beneficial bacteria already in the gut. In other words, prebiotics feed probiotics. Prebiotics are available in many foods including; artichokes, garlic, leeks, onion, chicory, tempeh and miso. Grains such as barley, flaxseed and oats, also good sources of prebiotics. Here are some of my favourite products below;
Here, the aim is to repair the lining of the gut to repair by supplying key nutrients that are often be in short supply in a compromised gut. Nutrients such as; zinc, antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, collagen and the amino acid glutamine.
The final step is all about maintenance. How to maintain proper gut function and also the impact of the mind on our digestive function. It is important to pay attention to lifestyle choices. Sleep, exercise, and stress can all affect the GI tract Balancing these activities is vitally important to an optimal digestive tract.