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Leaky gut syndrome is talked about often in natural health circles, but do you know what it means?
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is another way of saying increased intestinal permeability, which is how it’s known in the medical world. The small intestine is rigged with an intricate system for allowing certain things to pass through into the bloodstream, like digested nutrients, while preventing other things from entering (like viruses, toxins, particles that are too large, etc.). Leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions, which act as barriers between cells, begin to become too loose or relaxed. As a result, the regulatory process is compromised and things may begin entering the bloodstream that should not.
When particles enter the bloodstream because of a leaky gut, the immune system takes notice. It may target some of these and, because it cannot identify what they are or why they are there, it may assume they’re a threat that needs to be neutralized. That seems like a good way of getting rid of them—the problem is that some particles can have proteins that are similar to those found in certain tissues and organs.
So your immune system doesn’t say, “Oh, she has a leaky gut, that stuff wasn’t meant to get in here.” Instead, it does the best it can to identify the source and neutralize the proteins that do not belong. When the proteins closely resemble those on other organs, they can get caught in the crossfire, resulting in an autoimmune response that can lead to organ damage.
That is an overly simplified rundown of how the immune system, tight junctions, and leaky gut work, but it helps illustrate the point that if your gut barrier function is not working, your entire body can be at risk for inflammation and autoimmune disorders.
How Do You Fix Leaky Gut?
If you develop a leaky gut condition, that doesn’t mean that you’re permanently stuck with it. The lining of the intestine has an amazing ability to heal when given the right conditions and nutrients.
Addressing leaky gut is a multi-step process, including:
- Removing foods, chemicals, etc. that are triggering gut irritation. In the case of Celiac disease, it means removing all forms of gluten. In other cases, it could still be gluten, or it could also be dairy, soy, grains, or any other foods that are leading to sensitivity or allergic reactions.
- Supplying foods and nutrients that give the gut what it needs to repair. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and they are also what the body uses to repair tissues. Bone broth contains glycine and glutamine, two amino acids that can support a healthy gut. Eating plenty of high-quality protein is important, too.
- Providing anti-inflammatory nutrients to promote healthy inflammation levels. Inflammation is meant to be a healing process. Chronic inflammation is what can be damaging. Leaky gut leads to a chronic inflammatory state. Nutrients that promote healthy inflammation, like vegetables, fruits, and omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for repair.
Leaky gut isn’t always a cut-and-dried situation to heal from. Symptoms can include:
- Digestive problems
- Inflammatory disorders like arthritis and joint pain
- Diarrhea, IBS, and/or IBD
- Thyroid problems or other autoimmune disorders
- Frequent fatigue
- Obesity or inability to lose weight
- Frequent colds, flu, or infections
If you suspect that you have a leaky gut, adjust your diet to include healthy ancestral foods like meats, healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables and fruits. Don’t assume that you can easily just erase the symptoms of leaky gut. It can take weeks or even months for the gut to repair itself, depending on how long the problem was building. Working with a nutrition professional who is well versed in leaky gut can lead to better long-term results.
Today’s Simple Step
If you have frequent symptoms from the list above or related conditions, tracking what you eat and how you feel during and after meals can provide valuable information to a nutrition professional. Whether or not you have a leaky gut, the food that you eat has the power to nourish your body or cause potential problems. What works for you may not work for someone else, so trying to approach your dietary health with a one-size-fits-all approach will often fail. Getting a personalized nutrition plan can support your health in many ways.
These Lacto-Fermented Pickled Green Beans are a great way to get natural probiotics into your diet. Probiotics support a balanced immune system, which is an important part of recovering from leaky gut. Even if you don’t have any immune-related issues, the body needs a regular intake of natural probiotics to provide ongoing diversity in the gut.