Whether you are familiar with the term or not the incidence of ‘leaky gut’ or otherwise known as increased intestinal permeability is on the rise and could be the underlying reason why you can't seem to get on top of your health. This is a huge area of interest right now with an increasing body of scientific evidence to support the link between gut health, inflammation and the development of many common chronic health conditions.
Making the connection between your gut and a health condition that appears to be in no way connected to your digestive system can be a hard concept to grasp. However understanding the link between what is happening with your gut and how this can then go on to affect the immune system may help shed light on the situation and help answer some questions you may have.
So What Is The Link?
Leaky gut can develop due to a number of different factors which cause inflammation of the lining of gut wall including;
Chronic stress affecting how the digestive system works,
Imbalances in healthy gut bacteria levels in all ages including babies born by C-section,
Infection with opportunistic microbes such as Candida albicans, virus's or harmful bacteria,
Some medications including antibiotics, proton-pump inhibitors and anti-inflammatory medications,
Unidentified food intolerance's,
Regular alcohol consumption,
Poor quality, low fiber diet and,
High intake of inflammatory foods,
If left untreated the inflamed gut wall swells and becomes more porous or 'leaky'. The gut wall normally acts as a protective barrier preventing partially digested food particles, microbes and other larger molecules from entering the blood stream. When the gut wall becomes inflamed, barrier function becomes compromised and partially digested food particles and unwanted microbes able to pass through the gut wall and directly into the blood stream. It is these larger food particles (most often proteins) and microbes present in the blood stream that trigger an inflammatory reaction from the immune system against these 'unwanted invaders'.
It is the ongoing continued activation of the immune system that begins to affect other body systems.
This is how 'leaky gut' becomes the often unidentified driver behind many chronic health conditions ranging from migraines, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, asthma and sinusitis, depression and autism to more serious conditions such as auto immune conditions, thyroid dysfunction, inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular disease.
So Where To From Here?
As you can see it is imperative that leaky gut is addressed promptly if you are really wanting to get back on track with your health. A step by step protocol which involves removing the offending triggers, reducing gut inflammation, support healing of the gut wall with specific herbs and nutrients and ensuring healthy gut flora balance is what's needed here. This will take time and is best done under the guidance of a qualified natural health practitioner however here are a few pointers to get you started...
Ensure you are following the basic 'digestive hygiene' principles outlined in my last blog as this is a great starting point....if you missed that click here for the link.
Reassess your medications and by this I am not implying you stop all your prescribed medications at all but rather look at why and how frequently you are using medications like ibuprofen and omeprazole and only take antibiotics if absolutely necessary.
Take proactive steps to identify any food intolerance's – This may involve specific testing or an ‘elimination and re-challenge protocol’ which can be done safely through a natural health practitioner.
Learn to manage your stress levels! Chronic stress will directly affect how your digestive system works therefore managing stress levels is a top priority. I find regular exercise one of the best ways to keep stress levels under control however regular meditation, yoga, massage and ensuring you have some down time each day are all effective as well.
Eliminate poor quality foods including processed and packaged foods which are high in refined carbohydrates, added sugar and unhealthy fats. Avoid your exposure to pesticides and herbicides by eating organically and/or washing non-organic produce thoroughly.
Move towards a diet based on 'whole foods' including an abundance of plant foods (vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, moderate amounts of gluten free grains and some fruit) and good quality lean proteins (preferably free range and organic).
Include plenty of gut healing anti inflammatory foods into the diet daily including chia and linseeds, coconut oil, avocado, banana, fresh pineapple, papaya, cabbage, leafy greens and bone broth.
Try including some fermented foods into your diet as these contain beneficial bacteria for the gut such as kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha and see how you feel afterwards.
Use herbs such as slippery elm, aloe vera, licorice root and turmeric (more to come on this amazing herb) to reduce inflammation and soothe and heal the gut lining.
As you can see this is huge topic and I have tried to only touch on the basics. I hope now that you have gained a better understanding of how gut inflammation can be the hidden driver of a wide range of health conditions and why treating the gut becomes number 1 priority in naturopathic medicine. Coming up In my next blog I would like to share a few novel gut healing recipes and tips that you can easily incorporate into your day...
References available on request