Our gastrointestinal tracts work hard to keep us healthy and happy. If your gut is distressed, it won’t perform well and you won’t feel good. A trip to your doctor might end with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), leaky gut (LG), celiac disease, food sensitivities, bacterial imbalances – or no specific diagnosis at all, since symptoms often overlap and it can be tricky to identify the root causes of digestive disorders.
What’s unquestionable is that a healthy gut barrier depends on:
balanced intestinal bacteria (our gut contains about 3-4 pounds of bacteria)
intact mucosa (our gut lining replaces itself every 3-7 days)
a healthy immune system (almost 70% of our immune system cells live in or around the gut)
If any of these are unstable, your gut won’t be happy – and neither will you.
Factoid: You have more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body! Bacteria can be classed as harmful or helpful. Beneficial bacteria are like busy tourists in our guts. They come and go. We don’t have a permanent supply, so for a healthy gut, we need to continually replenish them via our diet. Our gut bacteria vary depending on age, gender, diet, geography, hygiene, stress and medication use.
Much of what we consume today was unknown to our bodies just 100 years ago. Some experts speculate that the introduction of these new compounds explains the increase in food intolerance and allergies. Our gut simply can’t handle them! When the gut wall is irritated or inflamed, the tight junctions between its cells loosen up and we get increased permeability (or leaky gut syndrome). Inflammation, stress, medication, bacterial balance, malnutrition, compounds in food (gluten, casein, lectins, fructose, etc), and food additives can all influence the junctions in our gut and weaken their bonds.
A leaky gut often goes along with conditions such as:
Type 1 diabetes
skin inflammation such as acne, rosacea, and eczema
diminished insulin signaling
It’s important to note that symptoms of a disturbed gut can show up outside the gut itself, manifesting as seemingly unrelated symptoms such as:
restless leg syndrome
What causes gut distress? Often, it’s the foods we eat. Foods that are healthful for some people might not be healthful for you. Four common offenders:
Lectins: particular types of proteins. The most irritating type is found in seeds such as grains, beans/legumes, and nuts
Gluten and other similar proteins (such as barley, rye, or corn) found in grains
Fructose, aka fruit sugar
For some, these compounds can mimic a food allergy and increase intestinal permeability and inflammation. Or they can mimic symptoms of respiratory allergies, such as sneezing, sniffles, and throat irritation. For others, these foods create or exacerbate autoimmune symptoms such as joint pain or skin rashes (particularly eczema). Other people simply lack the appropriate digestive enzymes to process one or more of these compounds. In this case, you might just get a general stomach upset, gas and bloating, nausea, and constipation or diarrhea.
How do you improve gut health? Get to the root cause.
Eliminate any foods/drinks you know to be problematic.
Balance your bacteria. Beneficial bacteria strengthen the intestinal barrier. Choose 1-2 probiotic/prebiotic rich foods/drinks and consume them regularly. Check out this link on supplement reviews that can be consumed daily: https://www.reviews.com/probiotic-supplement/
Eat when hungry, stop when satisfied. If someone is having gut problems (and still gaining body fat), the first place to look is overconsumption of sugars, processed grains, processed meats, dairy, and rich meals.
Sugar alcohols can wreak havoc in the gut. If you are struggling with bloating and cramping, eliminating sugar alcohols might be a wise place to start (think sugar free desserts, gum, protein powders, protein bars, etc).
Slow down. The process of slowing down and chewing is important for enzyme release and breaking food down into particles that are manageable for the gut.
Consider glutamine. Glutamine can help reverse excessive intestinal permeability, act as fuel for intestinal cells, and might lessen the allergic response.
Consider digestive enzyme supplements. Look for a broad-based multi-enzyme formula.
Check vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D status might decrease immune function and is associated with IBD.
Check iron levels. Decreased iron status is associated with poor gut function.
Eat plenty of omega-3s (flax, walnuts, hemp, chia, fish, algae) and other whole food fats (olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, etc) to help moderate inflammation.
Flavonoids can help improve gut health. Fruits, vegetables, beans, tea and coffee are the major sources of flavonoids in the human diet. Foods in the cabbage family and vegetable broths can also help here. On the other hand, if FODMAPs are a problem for you, choose carefully, as some of these foods may cause more trouble.
Recover well. Sleep, stress management and exercise are necessary for renewal of the body and controlling inflammation. Improving these areas may improve gut health. Remember that excessive exercise can lead to poor gut health. Avoid big meals before exercise.
Eat real food. Our bodies have a longstanding relationship with whole/real foods. Food preservatives and additives, on the other hand, present a challenge for our bodies.
Get more fiber. Try beans, peas, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits and whole grains.