Over 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates observed that “all disease begins in the gut.” Science now confirms that indeed he was right. We now know there is a critical interplay between our intestinal health and our general well-being.
While we are at the tip of the iceberg in our knowledge about how the gut influences our bodily system, we do know that an unhealthy gut contributes to an array of issues — food sensitivities, mood problems, skin rashes, chronic fatigue and autoimmune disease. Two related variables typically determine our gut health — our “gut flora” or intestinal microbiota; and our gut barrier, or intestinal lining – the latter of which I’m going to talk about today.
One of the most important functions of our gut barrier is to be a gatekeeper of what gets in and stays out of our bloodstream. When this barrier becomes permeable there are microscopic holes in the lining (also known as “leaky gut”), and unwanted substances such as partially digested food, bacteria and environmental toxins can enter our circulation. Our immune and inflammatory responses then rev up because our body identifies these particles as foreign invaders. Over time, this systemic inflammatory response can create symptoms like joint pain, muscle weakness, skin rashes like eczema or psoriasis, headaches and fatigue. Other symptoms can include gas or bloating, mood swings and weight loss resistance. As the inflammation persists, it can trigger system wide reactions such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. It’s important to understand that you don’t need to feel gut symptoms to have a leaky gut. It can show up in issues as diverse as joint pain to brain fog to autoimmune disease.
How do our guts get so permeable? There are many factors that can cause leaky gut, including the standard American diet which is often processed and full of chemicals and sugar, medications (antibiotics, chronic ibuprofen use, steroids, antacids, etc.), infections, stress and hormone imbalances, among other causes. We also know that gluten triggers the production of a chemical called zonulin, which causes the tight junctions in the intestinal lining to open up.
While there are lab tests that can determine if you have leaky gut, it’s often the symptoms that can be signs.
HOW TO MAINTAIN AND RESTORE A HEALTHY GUT
Luckily, healing a leaky gut is very doable. First, potentially inflammatory and immune-reactive foods and irritants must be removed. These include highly processed foods, added sugar, un-sprouted grains and, for some, conventional dairy products; as well as foods that are high in pesticides and other toxins. You can also get tested for individual food sensitivities and eliminate those foods for a while. Talking to your physician about minimizing NSAIDs and medications like antibiotics would be another step as well.
Then, support your gut with nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods, including lots of whole veggies and fruits, coconut products, bone broth, omega 3 fish, nuts and oils, and fermented foods (just to name a few). There are also healing nutrients that can help to restore the integrity of the gut lining. Some of my favorites are l-glutamine–an amino acid that literally rejuvenates the gut lining; collagen–which helps to seal the leaks by repairing damaged cells and building new tissue; and zinc carnosine. Taking a high quality multi-strained probiotic will help restore a healthy balance of bacteria and regulate both digestion and your immune response.
Stress also wreaks havoc on your gut so pursuing stress management techniques is essential. The gut is particularly vulnerable to chronic stress and poor sleep, not only in terms of intestinal permeability but through a decrease in digestive enzymes and helpful gut flora. Make relaxation a priority. Spend time on your favorite hobby, exercise or meditation. Trade late-night work emails or internet surfing for 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night. Healing requires rest!
Please feel free to schedule a consultation at 310-650-2825 if you’d like to discuss your digestive issues, identifying your food sensitivities and alleviating your autoimmune reactions. Check out my supplement store webpage to purchase the items listed above.