your guide to leaky gut
You’ve probably heard of ‘leaky gut’, but what actually is it? At the most basic level, a leaky gut means your intestines aren't as secure as they should be.
Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are able to “leak” through the intestinal wall. Whilst it’s not a diagnosed medical condition, there is quite a bit of scientific evidence that leaky gut does exist and may be associated with multiple health problems.
What is leaky gut?
Our digestive tract is responsible for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. The walls of the intestines act as barriers, controlling what enters the bloodstream to be transported to your organs (kind of like a security guard).
Small gaps in the intestinal wall called 'tight junctions' allow water and nutrients to pass through, while blocking the passage of harmful substances.
When the tight junctions of intestinal walls become loose, the gut becomes more permeable, which may allow bacteria and toxins to pass from the gut into the bloodstream. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “leaky gut.”
When the gut is 'leaky' and bacteria and toxins enter the bloodstream, it can cause widespread inflammation and possibly trigger a reaction from the immune system. In other words, your ‘gut security guards’ have not been doing their job properly and have let in some unruly patrons! Leaky gut can lead to bloating, food sensitivities, fatigue, digestive issues and skin problems.
What causes leaky gut?
There are multiple contributing factors to leaky gut syndrome;
- excessive sugar intake: a diet high in sugar, particularly fructose, harms the barrier function of the intestinal wall
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): the long-term use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen can increase intestinal permeability and contribute to leaky gut
- excessive alcohol intake: excessive alcohol intake may increase intestinal permeability
- nutrient deficiencies: deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc have each been implicated in increased intestinal permeability
- inflammation: chronic inflammation throughout the body can contribute to leaky gut syndrome
- stress: chronic stress is a contributing factor to multiple gastrointestinal disorders, including leaky gut
- poor gut health: there are millions of bacteria in the gut, some beneficial and some harmful. when the balance between the two is disrupted, it can affect the barrier function of the intestinal wall
- yeast overgrowth: yeast is naturally present in the gut, but an overgrowth of yeast may contribute to leaky gut
How to manage leaky gut
As with all health conditions, we always suggest working with your health care practitioner for individualised treatment. Nevertheless, here are some strategies for managing leaky gut:
Foods to focus on when you have a leaky gut.
Go for quality fat sources like nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil. Skip ultra-refined vegetable oils like corn and soybean, which can promote inflammation.
High-fibre, low-glycemic carbs
These include non-starchy vegetables. think leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. These are a great source of prebiotic fibre, which can help feed the healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut.
Think starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and pumpkin; fibre-rich, fruits like apples and berries; and minimally processed, fibre-rich grains like rolled oats instead of breads and refined grains. These are less likely to contain anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates that can aggravate the gut.
Gelatin in Belly Blends protects and heals the mucosal lining of the digestive tract and helps aid in the digestion of nutrients. Gelatin is also a rich source of glutamine, an amino acid that's a preferred source of energy for the cells of the small bowel and other immune cells and that has been shown to reduce intestinal permeability.
Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir are all rich sources of probiotics that help fend off pathogens, and protect the gut lining.
Foods to minimise when you have a leaky gut.
While gluten is often called out as the main cause of a leaky gut, other pro-inflammatory foods may be possible culprits;
Because gluten is linked to the release of zonulin (the bio marker of impaired gut function). common sources of gluten include pastas, noodles, breads, pastries, biscuits and cereals.
Research tells us all sugars break down in your gut, and feeds the ‘unhealthy’ gut bacteria. This includes not just refined sugars like high-fructose corn syrup but also seemingly ‘healthy’ sweeteners like monk fruit and coconut sugar.
Soy and its derivatives can be found in everything from tofu to protein bars, and even some nutritional supplements. Soy may trigger gut flora imbalances, and is commonly genetically modified.
Corn is a food to which many people (especially those with leaky guts) can develop a sensitivity to. The effects of a corn sensitivity are similar to those of a gluten sensitivity. Like gluten and soy, corn is present in many packaged foods, so it's important to read labels carefully.
Lectins and phytates
These compounds are found in all gluten-containing grains. Lectins are also found in beans, corn, and nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. Lectins may bind to the cells lining your intestines, disrupting the tight junctions between the intestinal cells, contributing to leaky gut, while phytates can interfere with the absorption of important minerals. It can be useful to scale back on these foods and see if symptoms improve.
Llfestyle habits for leaky gut.
Changing your diet is the first step, but to further support your gut, consider the following:
- take a probiotic supplement: probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can improve your gut health. Probiotic supplements have been shown to be beneficial for gastrointestinal diseases
- reduce your use of NSAIDs: this class of anti-inflammatory pain relievers is notoriously harsh on the stomach, and research suggests that taking them too frequently may increase the risk of intestinal permeability.
- find healthy ways to de-stress: our anxious thoughts can have a direct impact on things like digestion and overall gut health. So, it's no surprise that chronic stress has been associated with increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. try to do something that helps you chill on a regular basis. Yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or anything else that you can do on a regular basis to relax.
Did you know you can protect and support your gut by eating 3 Belly Blends a day? Available in Cacao Fudge, Super Berry, Golden Turmeric and Matcha flavours. Get yours here.