The gastrointestinal (GI) tract fulfills a long list of impressive functions, but we don’t really appreciate how it keeps us healthy. In addition to digesting food, absorbing nutrients and removing what’s left over, the stomach and intestines perform an equally vital role: They protect us. These organs are designed to let in nutrition and keep out pathogens, undigested food and waste.
But sometimes the system goes awry and no longer shields us, a condition called leaky gut syndrome. Gaps in the intestinal lining allow foreign food particles, toxins and bacteria to leak into the body. How these gaps develop is complex process related to chronic inflammation, diet and food sensitivities, stress, probiotic imbalances, infections and medications, as well as health conditions like Crohn’s disease and/or other difficulties that damage the intestinal lining.
People suffering from leaky gut often deal with a number of uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, fatigue, food sensitivities and headaches. In addition, because foreign items are entering the blood and going into the general circulation, where they don’t belong, the immune system gets involved. That generates inflammation and different types of systemic reactions.
Though leaky gut is poorly understood, we do know it is symptomatic of other, more fundamental, conditions. If left untreated, it can lead to further long-term health problems. To treat it, we need to look at the big picture and address the underlying causes.
The Roots Of The Problem
To start, we need to avoid anything that’s unkind to our gastrointestinal tract, such as stress, alcohol, processed foods and sugar. Problematic ingredients like gluten, dairy and soy may also cause sensitivity.
Foods and ingredients to avoid also include trans-fats and fried foods, overcooked meats, caffeine and table salt. Getting tested for food sensitivities is a good idea since it can help you determine if any particular foods are giving you problems.
Since we are dealing with a gastrointestinal condition, the right dietary adjustments are critical. But prescription medications can also be problematic. It’s a good idea to do an occasional inventory to ensure you’re taking only medications that can maintain or, better yet, improve your long-term health and well-being. But certain drugs can certainly impair the integrity of the digestive lining.
Gluten can be a major player in causing GI permeability. The immune response generated by the intestinal immune system from exposure to the gluten proteins creates localized and then systemic inflammation. Fortunately, gluten-free options are much more available than they were even a few years ago. It’s a good idea to eliminate gluten until the gut has completely healed.
While stress can be vital to survival, keeping us alert and out of harm’s way, we know that chronic anxiety is detrimental for health. Stress causes the release of inflammatory hormones, impairs the immune response and can roil the stomach as well as impairing digestive function. Fortunately, there are many ways to control stress such as meditation, exercise, yoga and tai chi. For those suffering from leaky gut syndrome, stress reduction should be one of the first priorities.
You should also be careful about the water you drink. Municipal supplies are not always as safe as authorities would have us believe. Chemicals and other toxins in the water can exacerbate the condition. It’s a good idea to invest in a high-quality water filter or buy water bottled in glass from a reliable source.
Foods That Heal
Chicken soup has long been considered a treatment for the common cold, and research suggests it can reduce inflammation. Similarly, bone broth can be quite useful to treat leaky gut. Bones contain collagen, which can help heal gastrointestinal linings and make them less porous. Consuming nutrients from bone marrow supports healthy immunity, and marrow is a dense source of nutrition to help heal chronic illness.
Probiotics are also recommended. Friendly bacteria play a number of roles in digestive health and help keep unfriendly bacteria under control. A bacterial imbalance can contribute to or exacerbate leaky gut. There are many cultured foods that are rich in probiotics, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchee.
Cooked oils and fats can also be hard on the stomach. However, raw oils like olive, walnut, sesame or coconut oil are much healthier and easier to digest. It’s also a good idea to incorporate foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as wild salmon and raw nuts and seeds; these fight inflammation.
There are many botanical supplements that can restore internal balance and help remedy leaky gut syndrome. Start with digestive enzymes such as alpha-galactosidase, protease, amylase, lipase, phytase and invertase. I also recommend the amino acid L-Glutamine, which can help repair the lining in the stomach and intestines.
As noted, probiotics are critical to restoring balance. In addition to the bacteria-rich foods mentioned above, it’s good to add a probiotic supplement for more concentrated bacterial support.
Licorice has been used for thousands of years to calm tummy trouble. Be sure to use deglycyrrhizinated licorice, which is formulated to protect the stomach without raising blood pressure.
Zinc is also important. We’ve long known the mineral is a key component to strong immunity but it’s also important for GI health. There has been anecdotal evidence that zinc decreases intestinal permeability, and a new study illuminates how this can occur: Apparently, zinc helps keep cells in the intestinal lining alive. An increase in functioning cells means less permeability.
Long-term digestive trouble affects nearly every area of health and negatively impacts your quality of life. But there are solutions. For more information on long-term digestive wellness, you can read my wellness guide here.
With the proper combination of diet, stress reduction and supplementation, we can successfully address and heal leaky gut syndrome. By implementing a plan to bring balance to our gastrointestinal tract, we eliminate discomfort and support nearly every other area of health in the process.
For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.
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