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How to Heal Leaky Gut

A “leaky gut” can impact health in more ways than one—how probiotics can come to the rescue.

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The gut microbiome—the bacterial community in our digestive tracts—continues to be a hot topic as scientists find more ways in which it influences human health. This colony of gut bacteria plays a key role in everything from digestion, to the health of our skin, to resistance to colds, flu, and allergies, to the ability to maintain a healthy weight. And now, a new connection has been identified: to serious lung diseases.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and Leaky Gut

In acute respiratory distress syndrome (severely inflamed, fluid-filled lungs of critically ill patients), a study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found errant gut microbes in the lungs. “We suspect that the gut wall gets leaky, and gut bacteria ‘escape’ to the lungs,” says researcher Robert Dickson, MD. The misplaced gut bugs contribute to the disease, and this discovery may lead to new treatments for the condition, a leading killer of patients in intensive care units for which there is no effective medical treatment. Other lung diseases that may be influenced by the gut microbiome include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, and even lung cancer.

Did you know…

Bacteria make up about 2 percent of a person’s body weight.

Solving the Leaky Gut Problem

Also referred to as permeability of the gastrointestinal tract, leaky gut means that toxic particles, which can be detoxified if they remain in the digestive tract, escape into the blood and circulate. The leakiness triggers systemic inflammation and contributes to a variety of ills including weight gain, inflammatory bowel disease, problems with immune function, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, mental decline, and even Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Probiotics can help reverse the condition.

At the University of North Texas, Denton, the first human study of its kind measured levels of “endotoxins,” substances that are a marker of leaky gut, in a group of 28 healthy men and women. Those in the study were especially vulnerable to elevated levels of endotoxins after eating a high-fat meal such as thin-crust pizza. After 30 days of supplementation with a probiotic combination (Just Thrive Probiotic & Antioxidant), levels of endotoxins after a high-fat meal were 42 percent lower, indicating lower odds of a leaky gut and the related ills. In contrast, among people taking a dummy pill, endotoxin levels were 36 percent higher.

Types of Probiotics

The probiotic supplement tested at the University of North Texas contained a combination of “spore” probiotics. Spores are a dormant form of bacteria with their own, natural protective coating, which prevents them from being destroyed by stomach acid and enables them to travel to the intestines, where the bacteria can emerge, much like a butterfly from a cocoon.

About one-third of the bacteria in a healthy human gut produce spores, according to the Sanger Institute, a non-profit research organization in the United Kingdom. In nature, spore-forming bacteria are mainly found in soil. For bacteria that don’t produce spores, some probiotic supplement pills have a protective coating to prevent stomach acid from destroying beneficial microbes.

The names of spore probiotics begin with “Bacillus.” Names of popular probiotics that begin with “Lactobacillus” or “Bifidobacterium” are not spores.

Benefits of Probiotics

Studies have found benefits with all types of probiotics. For weight loss, a review of
25 studies, with more than 1,900 subjects, found that supplements with multiple types of probiotic bacteria produced the most weight loss, more so if taken for at least 8 weeks. Other benefits include prevention or relief from:

  • Diarrhea
  • Antibiotic side effects
  • Colds and flu
  • Hay fever
  • Eczema
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcers
  • Digestive side effects of cancer therapy
  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Impaired mental function in people with Alzheimer’s
  • Toxicity from mercury, arsenic, and cadmium
  • Vaginal infections
  • Depression in people with irritable bowel syndrome
  • Unhealthy blood-sugar levels in diabetics

Feeding Good Gut Bugs

Although all types of fiber from plant foods are an essential part of a healthy diet, some foods are especially good sources of prebiotics, special types of fiber that nourish beneficial gut bugs. These foods include apples, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, and tiger nuts (not actually nuts, but small root vegetables).

In supplements, these are different types of prebiotics: inulin, FOS (fructooligosaccharides), GOS (galactooligosaccharides), and another form introduced more recently: XOS (xylooligosaccharides). A study at the University of California Los Angeles found that 1 gram daily of XOS reduced bad gut bacteria and enhanced beneficial bacteria in people who were healthy, overweight, or had elevated levels of blood sugar.