Do you have a leaky gut?5
Say you have hives all over your body from head to toe. Or you are experiencing daily pain in the gut combined with fatigue and eczema. Go to a doctor and you’re not going to hear that you have a “leaky gut.” More likely you will hear, “Take these antibiotics and call the office for another checkup in the morning.”
However if you go to a naturopath or nutritionist you’ll hear something completely different. Your naturopath will ask you questions about your diet, how you feel when you eat certain foods, what you had for dinner the night before. And after a good conversation that takes about 30 minutes at least, you will have had quite an enlightening talk that focused on mostly the food you eat as well as other factors… because that old adage is true: you are what you eat.
The problem with a leaky gut is that you don’t feel it at first. In fact, the gut is something that is used continuously, non-stop, with maybe eight hours of rest at night, but even then, it’s still moving food through. The gut never stops working. So when it’s “broken”, per say, its not like it can take a break, like a broken arm can when it’s in a cast.
But what is a leaky gut?
It sounds pretty serious – and it can be. In laymen’s terms, leaky gut syndrome happens when the walls of the intestines become so inflamed, the special openings between the epithelial cells along the gut lining called “tight junctions” let proteins that are either too large, or only partly digested, into the bloodstream. When incompletely digested proteins enter the blood stream, it’s an invasion that creates an autoimmune response.
Autoimmune response: enter the white blood cells
Your white blood cells attack these invasive proteins, which causes more inflammation and particular reactions in some people, such as hives, or extreme fatigue or bloated stomach.
And all this leads to more inflammation, which aggravates the leaky gut, thus causing that thing we all know as the vicious cycle. Antibiotics will destroy the few good gut flora you have left and you then have this really vicious cycle that can develop into any number of diseases. In fact, it’s inflammation that is the initial starting point of nearly every disease we know about, from cancer to heart disease.
What causes leaky gut syndrome?
This is what many people have a hard time accepting: leaky gut is caused by your eating habits and lifestyle. Basically, leaky gut syndrome is caused by what we ingest. When the stuff you eat creates intestinal bacterial overgrowth that destroys our healthy gut flora and causes the walls of the intestines to become inflamed, you’ve got a problem. It’s also made worse by stress – whether it’s caused by work, relationships or just unusual situations.
What can we do about leaky gut?
This is the hard part. So many people aren’t willing to change their diet because they like the foods they eat: doughnuts and coffee, candy, sugar and fast food. And occasionally, there’s nothing wrong with consuming these foods. But when you over-consume foods that are damaging to the gut, you are going to have consequences.
While it’s not easy to change eating habits, it’s not impossible. Start by reducing the ‘junk’ in your diet and make healthier real food substitutions: opt for fruit instead of sweets; real, good fats like coconut oil, olive oil or butter instead of easily oxidizing “vegetable” (e.g. corn and soy) oils; reduce the amount of sugar in your coffee; use sea salt instead of table salt.
You’ll want to follow a diet that reduces inflammation triggers – a ‘real food’ diet (like a Paleo or primal diet) can help heal the gut. A good place to start is to avoid inflammatory foods such as: sugar, refined/packaged foods, flour-based foods, grains, legumes, pasteurized dairy, soft drinks and alcohol.
Diets with lots of good quality protein, greens, lots of water and lemon, less or no sugar, along with those good old-fashioned Omega-3 oils that you can find in fish (and other healthy sources like grass-fed pastured meat) can not only heal the gut but also help the body age disease free. You’ll also want to eat foods that support good gut flora: like yogurt, kombucha or sauerkraut, or consider taking a good quality probiotic.
It’s also a good idea to create a food diary to see if there are foods that trigger leaky gut symptoms for you – make a note when you’re experiencing bloating, gas, cramps, skin issues constipation, diarrhea, joint aches or other pains and symptoms. If you see a pattern relating food to a symptom, it’s worth eliminating that food for a few weeks to a month, and then re-introduce to see if the symptom comes back.
Need some guidance in healing your leaky gut? It’s a good investment to consult a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor who can help set you on the path to better nutrition for optimal health. You can also check out this comprehensive Heal Your Gut eCourse that consists of 10 self-guided modules of 45 lessons. You’ll even get access to a private Facebook group in which you’ll be able to ask questions and get additional guidance from a qualified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. And, if nothing else, go sign up for the Scoop on Poop book ;)