I have spent a lot of time these past several weeks highlighting the importance of the digestive tract. I talked about how we need adequate enzymes to breakdown and digest our food, a healthy gut microbiome to absorb nutrients and support our immune system, and how we can nurture the bacteria in our gut by eating a high fiber, nutrient-rich, diverse diet.
The wall of your intestine provides a unique barrier between the inside world of your body and the outside. This lining is responsible for allowing nutrients to be absorbed into your body while keeping unwanted substances like toxins and microorganisms out. Maintaining the integrity of the gut wall is crucial.
Although this intestinal barrier is not fragile, it is only 1 cell thick. These cells stand side by side and are held tightly together by what is known as “tight junctions.” It is through these tight junctions that substances flow into and out of the body. They are very selective about what passes between the cells allowing vitamins, minerals, and digested food to freely pass through while keeping foreign invaders out.
However, these tight junctions can break down and allow harmful substances to leak through and invade our bodies. This is a condition called intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Additionally, a leaky gut is also associated with inflammation in the intestinal wall which can prevent the absorption of needed nutrients. The result is a double whammy. The good can’t be absorbed while the bad flow right on through. The outcome can spark low-grade systemic inflammation, inflammatory diseases, and metabolic disorders.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
There are several factors that may contribute to increased intestinal permeability:
- Antibiotic use
- Medications such as NSAID, aspirin, steroids, stomach acid-reducing drugs
- Chronic or excessive stress
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- An imbalance of the gut microflora
- Environmental toxins
- A poor diet low in fiber and high in processed carbohydrates
- Nutrient deficiencies such as vitamins A and D
- Food additives
Leaky gut is most readily associated with the signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as constipation, bloating, diarrhea, indigestion, nausea, gas, or cramping.
However, if a leaky gut continues, it can lead to other health conditions such as:
- Cognitive issues like memory problems or brain fog
- Mood swings
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Food sensitivities
- Skin conditions
- Autoimmune conditions
Tightening Up Those Leaky Junctions
The 5 -R approach developed by the Institute of Functional Medicine is commonly used to treat leaky gut syndrome and heal the digestive tract. The approach involves the following steps:
- Remove anything that could be irritating your gut: alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, foods that you may have an intolerance or sensitivity to such as gluten or dairy.
- Replace essential nutrients that support digestive health and consider taking a digestive enzyme to support the optimal breakdown of food.
- Repopulate the gut microflora with prebiotic and probiotic foods. Prebiotic foods such as onions, garlic, leeks nourish the beneficial gut microflora and probiotic foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha can help replenish the beneficial bacteria.
- Repair by supplying nutrients that help promote the healing of the gut. Focus on foods rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, and zinc as well as amino acids. Bone broth is an excellent source of amino acids. Certain supplements that contain L-glutamine, collagen, aloe vera, marshmallow, or slippery elm are helpful for healing the gut lining as well.
- Rebalance your life through stress management, restorative sleep, revitalizing exercise, and practicing self-love and gratitude.
When left unchecked, leaky gut syndrome can negatively affect every aspect of your health. Poor nutrient absorption and chronic inflammation can be the fuel that fires many diseases.
Do you suffer from digestive issues but are confused about where to begin to improve your gut health?
Are you curious about the health of your microbiome?
Do you have signs and symptoms of a leaky gut?
Constipation, gas, bloating and indigestion may seem like merely an annoyance, but they are clear signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut. If left unchecked, it can lead to a variety of serious health issues.
This is where I can help! Through specific testing and diet and lifestyle analysis, we can get a peek into what is going on deep in the digestive tract and develop a personalized gut healing protocol to reduce the chance a small digestive annoyance becomes a major health problem.