Updated: Apr 18
If you are a health-nut like me, then you know that 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut, which means that in order for you to take better control over what's happening with your body is a lot determined by what you put at the end of your fork and also how your good nutritional habits are supported by other healthy lifestyle choices. If you didn't know this yet, then in this article I will cover what a leaky gut means and how can you help your gut to heal if you are experiencing health issues.
I was quite a lot sick before I started my wellness journey in 2017 January. Don't get me wrong- I have always been physically active, ate relatively healthy, have never been fond of sugary foods. But still once the autumn came, I was sick for 3-4 times before proper spring was in the air. And there were couple of years in a row, where I fell sick in December with seasonal viruses or cold and ended up developing bronchitis in the new year, so complete healing took really 1.5 months or so. But since I really started to pay attention what I eat and removed the inflammatory food groups from my diet- first gluten (2017 January), then sugar (2018 January) and lastly lactose (sometime in 2019, I do still eat cheese now and again), I have been noticeably less ill with seasonal flus, viruses or general cold.
What is leaky gut?
Your intestines are protected by a single layer of epithelial cells that are linked together by tight junction proteins, which are the gateway between your intestines and your bloodstream. These tight junction proteins control what is allowed to pass into your bloodstream from your digestion system, which should only be vital nutrients your body needs. If your gut is leaky (it has cracks and holes), partly digested food molecules, bacteria, yeast, parasites, toxins that should never be able to get into your bloodstream start to make their way through the gut lining. The first reaction your body has to these foreign bodies in your bloodstream, is to fight against them. Your immune system gets into action, where its job is to neutralise, get rid off and also let the rest of the body know about these foreign invaders (by producing antibodies). Your immune system increases inflammation around your gut wall, but at the same time it also raises the inflammation levels in the rest of the body. And if there is too much inflammation happening around your gut and you don't do anything to help to fix it, it gets worse and worse and results in chronic inflammation. This can lead your body starting to fight against itself and leading to different autoimmune illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus, Hashimoto's etc. It also increases the changes you developing IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), histamine intolerance (causing allergies, seasonal allergies). If your gut is leaky, this also puts more burden on your liver and the whole detoxification system.
What causes leaky gut?
Food allergens are one of the biggest route causes for leaky gut (like allergies to grains, dairy, legumes, nightshades, nuts etc). But also added sugar and industrial seed oils (high Omega-6 fatty acids intake). People, who consume regularly alcohol, tend to have weaker guts as well.
Another reason that can cause leaky gut is toxins overload in the body, like having mercury and heavy metals.
Your health condition
You can also develop leaky gut if you don't have enough stomach acid, enough enzymes to break down your food or have bacterial imbalance in the gut (having taken too many medications (like anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics in the past). You can also develop leaky gut as a result of candida, H.pylori etc. If you have had in the past traumatic brain injuries, chemo or radiation treatments, hormonal imbalance- these could be additional reasons for you to develop leaky gut.
Chronic stress is something that not many people think about when it comes to your gut health, but it can have a big impact on the condition of your gut- both mental and physical stress. One of the things I did not know in the past, is that also over-exercising is a stressor on your body (since exercise increases cortisol, also known as 'stress hormone') and can contribute to causing leaky gut. It's because exercise pulls the blood away from your intestines when you are stressed.
You should also check for any environmental toxins, such as mould in your house. And last but not least, sleep deprivation- focusing on getting more than 7 hours sleep a night can help your body to heal much better.
What are the signs you might be having a leaky gut?
Skin- your gut and skin are very tightly connected. If you have issues with your gut, they very often reflect on your skin (rashes or itchy skin, rosacea, psoriasis, acne, hives)
Immune system- food allergies, autoimmune conditions (some mentioned above), high inflammation, asthma, thyroid disorders
Brain- anxiety, headaches, brain fog, depression, memory loss
Gut- chronic diarrhoea, bloating, gas, constipation, burping, nutritional deficiencies in the body
What are the nutrients that can help to heal your gut?
Though as you can see above there are many things that can cause leaky gut, there are also things you can do to fix it. I would say the first thing to do is to try and eliminate most common inflammatory foods from your diet- foods containing gluten, lactose (conventional dairy products) and added sugar. All at once or one at a time. I would also remove processed oils and foods with additives and artificial sweeteners. Some people might also need to go off nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) and eggs for a short period of time until gut heals as these are also common inflammation triggers in people whose gut is already inflamed.
In addition to taking out foods from your diet that cause inflammation, add in the following gut-friendly foods to help with the healing process:
Foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, sardines and other wild caught fish that has no mercury)
Kefir (coconut kefir or yoghurt; or if you can tolerate dairy products, raw cultured goat's dairy kefir or yoghurt is ok as well)
Sprouted seeds (chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds)
Fermented vegetables and other probiotic rich foods
Fruit- 1-2 servings a day (good to focus more on those fruits that are naturally high in digestive enzymes- pineapple, papaya, mango, bananas, avocados, kiwi)
Raw honey- should be consumed sparingly but contains variety of digestive enzymes)
As a next step I would use dietary supplements to help repairing the gut lining.
Zinc- a deficiency in zinc can lead to the mucosal lining losing strength and therefore becoming more permeable. Zinc helps to also decrease inflammation in the gut. You can get zinc from Meats, seafood products. But if your gut is already compromised, then consider supplementing (zinc carnosine for example a well absorbable form of zinc in the gut)
L-glutamine- it's a primary fuel source for cells that make up the gut lining, acts as a repellent for irritants and is very important for the growth and repair of the gut walls.
Digestive enzymes- take 1 or 2 capsules before every meal which help to ensure that foods get fully digested in your body. Make sure that the digestive enzyme supplements are containing proteases (help to break down protein), lipases (help to break down fats) and amylases (help to break down carbs)
Aloe vera gel or concentrated extract of aloe- make sure it's pure
Liquorice root- balances cortisol levels and improves acid production in your stomach. Especially good for those, who are experiencing chronic stress, as liquorice can help to improve the way your body produces and metabolises cortisol
Marshmallow root- it has antioxidant and antihistamine properties
Collagen- can help to produce production of new smooth muscle cells that then help to heal intestinal lining
And as a last step I would add in good quality probiotics that help to rebalance the gut, as they promote resistance to the forming of harmful bacteria and also regulate the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, plus provide your epithelial cells energy.
As said above, it's not only about what you eat, but also how you are able to manage your stress levels, sleep adequately and exercise regularly but moderately. Putting more focus on these areas on top of food and supplements, will get you to a good state with your gut sooner.
If you are experiencing digestive issues, skin issues, brain fog, aching joints, and want to understand how you can support your body's natural healing, don't hesitate to contact me for health coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org.