Leaky gut and what you can do about it
The gut (a.k.a. digestive tract) is not just a tube that absorbs nutrients and gets rid of waste - it’s a complex alive system that’s a huge foundation of health. And not just gut health, but the overall health of our bodies and minds. We know how important it is to get all of our essential nutrients from food - and this is a big part of what our digestive tract does. But, there is way more to the story than just that.
When the gut is not working properly, symptoms can appear. Yes, typical gut and abdominal symptoms, but also other seemingly unrelated symptoms. Did you know that things like allergies, autoimmunity, and mental health have been linked with gut problems?
Let’s look at one gut problem in particular (you may have heard about this lately) - leaky gut. This literally involves tiny “leaks” in our gut lining that can allow more than just needed nutrients and water into our bodies. Researchers are looking at this, and I want to share the latest with you, as well as give you some helpful strategies to optimize your gut health, for overall health!
What is “leaky gut” linked with?
The “gut” is part of the digestive system, mainly the intestines, which are located in the abdomen. It’s an alive and very complex “tube” that acts as a gateway deciding what will enter the internal circulation of the body, and what must not get by. It digest and absorbs nutrients and water. It prevents toxins and “bad” microbes from being absorbed. And it shuttles all the waste to continue on and be eliminated.
You may think that symptoms of a leaky gut (a.k.a. “intestinal permeability”) are felt in the gut, and you’re right...to a point. Would you be surprised to know that lots of other symptoms and conditions are linked with leaky gut?
Leaky gut has been associated with:
● Autoimmune diseases (e.g. Type I diabetes, celiac disease, etc.)
● Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (e.g. ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s)
● Psychological stress and mental health
● And more!
Researchers are still figuring out the exact role that leaky gut plays in these conditions. Either way, the connections are there, and there are things that you can definitely do to improve your gut health.
What you can do about leaky gut
When our “good” gut microbes are happy eating their favourite foods they have positive effects on our gut - crowding out the “bad” microbes and producing beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds like short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
FUN FACT: The type of microbes that live in your gut is established by the time you’re 3-5 years old. About 30-40% of it can be influenced by factors such as diet.
According to Aguayo-Patron, 2017:
“Diet is the main factor that influences gut microbiota composition.”
1 - Eat more fresh, unprocessed and minimally processed foods
We’re talking things like:
● Fruits and vegetables
● Nuts and seeds
This is sometimes referred to as an “old fashioned” diet. It includes fresh and minimally processed foods that are closer to the way they’re found in nature. These promote a healthy mix of the “good” gut microbes.
One of the reasons is because these foods contain higher amounts of fibre and “resistant” starch. Sugars and easily-digested starches are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream as sugar. Resistant starches and fibre, on the other hand, are “resistant” to this process and make it all the way through our intestines to where most of our gut microbes live. These can then become food for our “good” gut microbes and promote their health.
Another way un-processed and minimally processed foods help our gut microbes is because of the lower amounts of trans and saturated fats, and higher amounts of healthy fats like unsaturated and omega-3 fats. Some studies show that diets high in fat tend to promote more “bad” microbes in our guts.
Another possible reason why fresh and unprocessed foods are beneficial is that some of the additives used in ultra-processed foods can also affect our gut microbiota. This leads us to the second thing you can do about leaky gut.
2 - Ditch the ultra-processed and fast foods!
These are the quick and easy foods that are:
● Ready to eat
● Ready to heat
They tend to be high in calories, fat, sugar, salt, and contain additives. These are the foods that have a lot of sugar and easily digested starches that raise our blood sugar, and not a lot of fibre and resistant starches. They have more total fat, including trans and saturated fats. And, they tend to be not very filling and promote obesity.
These types of foods also promote inflammation and gut dysbiosis - factors associated with leaky guts!
People who tend to eat less of these, and more fresh and unprocessed foods tend to have happier gut microbiota, less inflammation, and a nice strong non-leaky gut lining.
3 - Pay attention to potential food intolerances
Some gut symptoms may be related to food intolerances. Certain people may have undiagnosed celiac disease, or be sensitive to gluten and can benefit from removing it from the diet. There are a lot of gluten-free foods available now, however ultra-processed gluten-free foods are still ultra-processed and should be avoided in favour for fresh and unprocessed foods.
Also, some people are intolerant to certain carbohydrates called FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di-, and mono-saccharides and polyols). These are found in stone fruits, legumes, lactose-containing foods, and artificial sweeteners.
Ask your health professional to see if you should be tested for food intolerances.
4 - Reduce alcohol
Alcohol can stress our friendly gut microbes and can disrupt the function of our three-layered gut lining. It can cause bacterial overgrowth, and at the same time reduce some of the friendly “good” microbes like Lactobacillus.
FUN FACT: Some “bad” bacteria, including E. coli can produce alcohol, so this may be one of the ways that they contribute to leaky gut.
5 - Consider probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that have a beneficial effect on human health. They are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kimchi, and fermented vegetables. They are also available as dietary supplements.
Infections and use of antibiotics, especially during the first months of life, can have a negative effect on our gut microbiota. If you have to take an antibiotic, ask your healthcare professional if you should also take certain probiotics to help reduce the impact on your gut microbiota.
Clinical trials are being done to test whether probiotics may benefit inflammatory gut conditions even without antibiotic use. More research is needed to confirm which amounts of which types of probiotics are the most beneficial for which conditions.
CAUTION: Before taking any supplements, make sure to read the label and heed the warnings. If you are taking other supplements or medications or if you have a medical condition, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare professional first.
Leaky gut, or “intestinal permeability” is linked with many conditions of the gut, the body, and the mind. While research is still figuring out exactly how this happens and what comes first, there are definitely steps you can take today to help optimize your health.
Eat more whole, unprocessed foods, and ditch ultra-processed foods. Reduce alcohol consumption and consider probiotics. And, if you think you may have a food intolerance, be sure to speak with your healthcare professional.
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