Hippocrates once said that “all disease starts in the gut.” This diagnosis was said and practiced over thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, but it’s still true today. The focus on our gut in recent years isn’t for nothing. A good number of ailments and conditions we experience can be traced back to one crucial system of the body: our gut and digestive health. Of course, conditions such as Crohn’s and IBS directly correlate to the stomach. But anxiety, depression, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, arthritis, and more non-direct digestive issues can actually be linked back to an issue arising in our stomachs—an issue known as leaky gut syndrome.
Read on as we review information from medical and health professionals. They break down the logistics of leaky gut, and why it’s something everyone should be aware of.
What exactly is leaky gut?
“Leaky gut has become a popular way to refer to concerns about increased intestinal permeability,” says Director of Swanson’s Science and Innovation Amy Sunderman.”The presence of tears or cracks in the intestinal lining allows what’s in the gut to seep into tissues outside of the gut.” She explains that this may lead to issues with nutrient absorption, negative changes in healthy gut flora, digestive tract health, and overall well-being.
Why do we call it leaky gut?
According to Sunderman, “The adult digestive tract, from the esophagus to the intestines and beyond, is about thirty feet long. The term leaky gut focuses on the intestinal lining covering the small intestine, large intestine, and colon, which make up around twenty-six feet of the average adult digestive tract.” When healthy, the intestinal lining acts as a tight barrier. It works correctly and only allows minimal food, waste, bacteria, and other particles to pass through into your surrounding gut.
When exposed to an abundance of harmful bacteria and unwanted pathogens, the net structure can loosen its tight grip. The increased amount of tears or cracks allows more of what’s in the gut to seep out. These include substances like harmful bacteria, and heavy metals into the bloodstream.
What are the biggest misunderstandings around leaky gut?
“Some may think that a leaky gut is actually needed to allow nutrients from food to travel from our GI tract to our bloodstream,” says Sunderman. “We need our food to be digested and absorbed to provide energy to our bodies. But, there are pathways specifically designed to handle this process. When nutrients squeeze between the cells of our gut lining and enter the bloodstream outside of these specific pathways, the body is not able to control and respond to them in the way [that] it should.”
Additionally, the inclusion of these unwanted substances floating around our bloodstream can lead to unwanted inflammation. This is where those illnesses and other health conditions can come up.
How To Avoid Or Help Cure Leaky Gut
Sunderman recommends speaking with your doctor for specific health conditions. But, she encourages everyone to practice overall gut health. “Try eating a diet focused on real foods, minimizing processed foods, making sure to get enough fiber, and incorporating healthy fats. Probiotic supplements and probiotic foods can also help by promoting a balanced gut microbiome, and digestive enzymes, which can help reinforce the gut’s environment to boost digestion.”
In addition to your diet, there a number of lifestyle factors that impact gut health in a positive way. Sunderman recommends, “nurturing a healthy stress response by exercising, meditating, and practicing daily self-care. Plus, avoiding overconsumption of alcohol can also support a healthy gut flora and overall well-being.”
Below, we’ve broken down helpful food recommendations to include in your diet to help you prevent or recover from leaky gut.
Full of amino acids likes proline and glycine, this liquid can help restore the production of natural collagen. This keeps the intestines tight and secure (think of how collagen affects your skin). It also contains L-glutamine which works as a patch sealant for your small intestine.
Kefir or Homemade Yogurt
Found at many health food stores, Kefir or homemade yogurt contains probiotics like lactobacillus, which force bad bacteria out of your gut. With leaky gut, you want to avoid as many bad bacteria and toxins from slipping into the bloodstream. By putting up probiotic ‘defenders’ you assure that too much bad bacteria won’t even be present.
Foods like kimchi contain soil-based probiotics. Like any other probiotic, these regulate the gut biome. It ensures that the good bacteria in our stomachs are thriving and keeping our systems in check. Plus, fermented veggies also help add organic acids. These create prebiotics and give fuel to good bacteria living in our gut.
Wild Caught Fish
These have an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids and help avoid inflammation. Inflammation is one of the leading symptoms of leaky gut. There are recognized issues with overexposure to mercury, though, so limit your fish intake to three times per week.
Cooked veggies, particularly when steamed (not fried), are a helpful cleanser for the liver and colon. Some of the best vegetables for this use include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Leaky gut sounds scary—and left untreated it can be—but it’s not impossible to heal from the inside out. Focus on a healthy diet and work to keep physical stress down to maintain a healthy gut biome.