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“All disease begins in the gut.” So proclaimed the Greek physician Hippocrates more than 2,000 years ago. As a healer who favored science over superstition, his theories opened up the concept that you are what you eat—or, more precisely, what you digest. Although the exact mechanics were unknown to Hippocrates at the time, his prognostications have been proven true today in the condition known as “leaky gut syndrome.”
Also known as “gut permeability,” this malady has been studied for more than 100 years. But only recently have the affects of microbial balance in the gut been realized as the very foundation of proper health. Just as probiotics have been linked to a variety of disease treatments outside of digestion—including immunity, skin and hair health, cognitive ability, and even muscle mass and strength—the treatment of leaky gut can ensure that you experience greater energy, faster healing, and improved performance.
What Is Leaky Gut?
In essence, this condition is exactly what it says: Within the intestines, there are junctions between the cells that are bound together tightly to maintain gut integrity and optimal function. The lining of your intestinal tract is like a net with extremely small holes (junctions). These junctions control what is passed through the lining of the intestines and into your body, and from your body back into your intestines. Vitamins, nutrients, water, antigens, and more travel back and forth as part of your digestive process, as your body breaks down food and eliminates waste.
However, should these junctions become compromised and the “net” of your digestive tract begin to tear apart, unwanted toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles escape into the body. As a result, pathogenic bacteria can begin to grow and proliferate in your bloodstream and in the tissues of your body. This initially appears in the form of chronic digestive issues such as irregularity, gas, upset stomach, and so forth. But it leads to hampered immunity and disorders affecting the sinuses, joints, adrenals, and skin.
At the same time, while toxins accumulate in the bloodstream and tissues throughout the body, “bad” bacteria also proliferate in the gut, thereby pushing out the “good” probiotic microbia. This, in turn, activates an increased inflammatory response that puts greater strain on the liver to detoxify the accumulating amount of toxins in the system. The result is compromised immunity, reduced absorption of nutrients from food, diminished healing, slower recuperation, increased fatigue, and greater incidence of illness and digestive issues. Experts also warn of IBS, migraines, muscle pain, chronic fatigue, arthritic changes, and even depression as consequences of untreated leaky gut. If that weren’t bad enough, this condition also can cause malabsorption of vital nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc, and iron.
Scientists and physicians don’t yet know exactly what triggers the incidence of leaky gut syndrome, but they do recognize that those with Crohn’s and celiac disease experience similar digestive decline, compromised immunity, increased inflammation, and greater incidence of illness, albeit in much greater proportions. So the takeaway is that the health of your digestive system is critical to the health of your body. But unlike the genesis of Crohn’s or celiac disease, leaky gut syndrome primarily results from bad food choices.
Did you know… Foods such as garlic and onion act as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
What Are Leaky Gut Symptoms?
Physicians aren’t quick to diagnose leaky gut syndrome as an actual disease, but there are steps you can take to either stave off its appearance or help reduce its manifestation if you’re already enduring this malady. First, there are certain symptoms that are clear signs to recognize. These include the following:
- Recurring bloating or gas (not just after eating)
- Digestive upset after meals
- Fatigue and malaise
- Chronic joint pain
- Frequent colds and sinus issues
- Unexplained weight gain
- Frequent headaches
- Inflammatory skin disorders such as persistent rashes
- Compromised healing and slow recovery
Even if you’re plagued by some of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you have advanced leaky gut syndrome. Many factors affect immune response and trigger various health issues. But the more you experience these issues, the greater the chance your gut could be leaking. No matter what, these are clear signs that you should take steps to strengthen your digestive system and improve your immunity.
How Do You Prevent Leaky Gut?
To prevent leaky gut syndrome from proliferating or occurring in the first place, you must avoid certain foods and food additives that cause damage to the tight junctions of the gut, thereby causing the disease. Research has shown that certain foods and food additives can damage the cellular structures of the gut, thereby causing all variety of diseases. Steer clear of the following:
- Sugars are not only addictive; they also promote damage to the intestines (and other bodily tissues). Increased sugar consumption also causes chronic inflammation.
- Processed fats, oils, and trans-fats are damaging to the body in multiple ways, ontributing to cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and chronic inflammation.
- Gluten is a major allergen that also triggers permeability and leakage in the intestines.
- Sodium, taken in excess, loosens intestinal cell junctions and increases autoimmune disorders.
- Meat “glue” (aka microbial transglutaminase) is an enzyme used to hold proteins together, such as in “formed” or packaged meat. It has been shown to damage intestinal cells.
- Emulsifiers are added to processed foods for texture and to extend shelf life, but they throw off microbial balance in the gut, triggering chronic inflammation.
- Organic acids such as acetaldehyde are used as solvents in foods and beverages, but they impair junction barriers needed to prevent leaky gut.
- Nanoparticles such as titanium dioxide are used in packaged foods to improve taste, color, and appearance, but have been linked to DNA and cell damage.
- Pasteurized dairy products contain the protein A1 casein, which may increase inflammation in the gut.
- Unsprouted grains contain “nutrient blockers” such as phytates and lectins. These attach to the lining of the digestive tract and cause inflammation.
The message here is to eat natural and raw whole foods whenever possible, and to
look for these food additives on packages. Avoiding these leaky gut triggers will help your gut stay healthy and reduce or avoid symptoms.
In addition, chronic stress is thought to be a cause of leaky gut syndrome, along with various depressed immune system maladies. As you know, stress also adversely affects heart health and can lead to an increase in body fat due to overstimulation of catabolic hormones.
11 Treatments for Leaky Gut
Because of the unique interaction between the intestinal cells that produce antibodies and the various bacteria that reside there, about 70-80 percent of the immune system is based in the gut. Treatment of the symptoms shown earlier has a strong base in prebiotic and probiotic supplementation, use of certain herbs and amino acids, plus ingestion of fermented foods. Here are some of the most effective treatments for leaky gut syndrome:
- Probiotics. To reduce malicious bacterial overgrowth, it is imperative you take probiotics on a daily basis, especially with large meals. Some of the best include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bacillus coagulans. For best results, take at least 10 billion CFU daily. (Note: Probiotics in excess of 50 billion CFU may actually increase digestive upset, so more is not better.)
- Prebiotics. Consumption of prebiotic fibers such as inulin provides the “food” that helps probiotic bacteria proliferate. It also helps heal leaky gut.
- Glutamine. This important amino acid is crucial for intestinal cell repair and protection from chronic damage. Glutamine is found in high-protein meat sources, but the best source of this amino in appreciable amounts is via supplementation. Take 2–5 grams once or twice daily.
- Digestive enzymes. As you age, pancreatic enzymes needed for digestion decline precipitously, meaning you don’t efficiently absorb nutrition from your food. This stresses the digestive system and eventually causes inflammation and permeability. The use of protease, pepsin, and trypsin (to digest proteins); lipase (for fats); amylase (carbs); cellulose (fiber); and lactase (milk sugar) will all vastly improve digestive efficiency.
- Curcumin. The active ingredient in turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that also reduces oxidative stress in the gut.
- Licorice root. This is an adaptogenic herb that helps balance cortisol levels and improves acid production in the stomach. It also supports maintenance of the lining of both the duodenum section of the small intestine and the mouth. Take 500 mg daily.
- Quercetin. This plant polyphenol helps support the creation of tight junction proteins to promote sealing of the gut. It also reduces release of histamine, which occurs commonly with food intolerance. It has been shown to help heal ulcerative colitis. Take 500 mg three times daily with meals.
- Bone broth. This latest health trend has a long history for healing. It provides collagen, minerals, and amino acids (proline, glycine, and glutamine), plus anti-inflammatory compounds such as glucosamine.
- Fermented foods. Consumption of apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, and even sauerkraut provide a healthy dose of antioxidants and probiotics in an easily digestible and typically alkalizing format. One serving a day or more of these fermented foods helps provide antioxidants, probiotics, and other nutrients, while also helping to provide pH balance to your system.
- Sprouted seeds. Chia, flax, and hemp seeds that have been sprouted are great sources of fiber that support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Coconut products. Coconut is especially good for your gut. It contains medium-chain fatty acids (aka MCTs) that are easier to digest than other fats, which lessens an inflammatory response.
Healthy tip! Sprouted flax seeds are loaded with healthy fiber that can help in growing good bacteria in your gut.
While your physician may not be quick to diagnose leaky gut syndrome by symptoms you are experiencing, you can self-diagnose based on symptoms you’re experiencing and using the information here. The more you pay attention to what your body is telling you, the better you can react to its variations and unique symptoms. And we’re not talking about prescriptions or OTC drugs. Follow the philosophy of Hippocrates and feed your gut to keep yourself healthy, strong, and performing at your best.