The digestive system is the doorway through which the body gets nutrients to maintain it in good health. It is made up of specialized sections for digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and excretion of waste. The small intestines provide the surface through which water and nutrients from digested food gets into the bloodstream. When the digestive system works well, only the required water and beneficial nutrients are absorbed. The rest of the material is transported through the large intestines for excretion through the anus.
However, if the gut lining is excessively permeable, the contents of the gut can leak into the bloodstream. This means that toxins, pathogens and undigested food end up in the bloodstream and is what happens if you have leaky gut syndrome. (1)
Also called intestinal permeability, leaky gut syndrome is a condition whereby the intestinal walls have uncharacteristically large perforations that can let in more than just water and nutrients. This means that undigested food particles, bacteria and toxins can find their way through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream.
When such materials get into the bloodstream, the immune system kicks off an immune response by producing antibodies to fight off the foreign materials. But as the antibodies try to fight off the foreign materials, inflammation develops within the gut and elsewhere in the body. And because the gut is still excessively permeable, inflammation continues and worsens. This is what leads to the symptoms that are associated with leaky gut syndrome.
Who gets leaky gut syndrome?
Anybody can get leaky gut syndrome. After all, the gut has openings through which absorption of nutrients takes place. However, some people are more prone to suffer from leaky gut than others because of their genetic makeup. Additionally, studies have found that diet could also be culpable. Food items like saturated fat, sugar, processed foods and low fiber may increase the risk of developing leaky gut. Stress, excessive consumption of alcohol and medications like NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also increase gut permeability. Also, oral antibiotics destroy much of the gut microbiome leaving the more tenacious pathogenic microbes to rule the gut. Americans consume 30 million pounds of antibiotics through prescription drugs and another 30 million pounds of antibiotics through domestic animals that are fed “sub-therapeutic” dosages of antibiotics to make them grow faster and stay alive amidst unnatural situations.
Symptoms of leaky gut
As mentioned earlier, leaky gut syndrome causes inflammation in both the gut and other parts of the body. Following are the common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome:
- Recurrent constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings
- Skin rashes and other skin problems like acne and eczema
- Joint pain
- Memory problems
These leaky gut symptoms show that many health conditions, including those that are not ordinarily associated with the gut probably originate from a compromised gut. And, as studies indicate, by addressing gut health, it is possible to alleviate many other health conditions. But, can leaky gut syndrome be alleviated using natural remedies?
Natural remedies for leaky gut syndrome
Barring the genetic predisposition, research suggests that it is possible to manage leaky gut syndrome naturally. The starting point is to isolate food items that are known to trigger or worsen leaky gut, and to incorporate foods that are known to help in recovery.
Foods to avoid
- Trans fats, hydrogenated fats, overcooked deep fried oils
- Processed foods
- High sugar foods
- Fatty foods
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Dairy products
Foods to include in your diet for leaky gut
- Fiber-rich foods such as vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, carrots, kale, beetroot and brussels sprouts
- Increase dietary mineral intake
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh
- Healthy fats like olive, coconut and avocado
- Sprouted seeds like chia seeds, sunflower seeds and flax seeds
- Gluten-free grains like buckwheat, sorghum and amaranth
Besides dietary measures, there are well known natural remedies that can help in the recovery from leaky gut syndrome. These include the following:
Turmeric contains curcumin, a non-inflammatory compound. Considering that one of the ways leaky gut syndrome develops is through chronic inflammation, taking an anti-inflammatory like curcumin reduces inflammation. Curcumin works by scavenging for free radicals in the body. This way, the body does not undergo unnecessary inflammation that otherwise causes damage in the body, including within the digestive system. Turmeric also helps relieve pain including that which may be caused by leaky gut syndrome. With reduced gut inflammation, turmeric can support the healing process thereby reducing gut leakage and ultimately reducing leaky gut syndrome.
According to various studies, turmeric is as effective as, or even more effective than conventional anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. Besides, turmeric has no side effects, unlike NSAIDs like ibuprofen which may actually worsen leaky gut syndrome.
You can add turmeric to your diet to benefit from the positive effects of curcumin. You can also take curcumin supplements at the rate of between 1000 and 2000 mg daily for the same purpose. (2)
Green tea contains polyphenols, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that have beneficial properties in the digestive system besides other systems in the body. Some of the polyphenol compounds also have prebiotic properties. This means that they act as food for beneficial gut bacteria and therefore helps increase their population. Besides other reasons, leaky gut syndrome develops or worsens due to an imbalance of the disease-causing versus the beneficial gut microorganisms such that there are more harmful microorganisms than there are the beneficial ones. By increasing intake of prebiotics, beneficial microorganisms can increase in numbers. This way, they are better able to fight off the bad microorganisms and improve the health of the gut. To maximize the beneficial effects of the polyphenols, you need to take two to three cups of green tea per day. (3)
Spirulina is freshwater blue – green algae grown mainly in the tropical regions of the world. It is a flavorful food that is also consumed for its many health benefits. Spirulina has been widely researched in recent years and found to be rich in nutrients, including highly absorbable proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in enzymes and phytonutrients.
Spirulina works as a heavy metal detox, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as an energy booster and for alleviating inflammation and oxidation. Spirulina also helps improve digestion, fights candida, stimulates growth of beneficial microorganisms and eases bowel movement. Many of these benefits come in handy in the alleviation of leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut interferes with the absorption of nutrients which can lead to deficiencies. This means that besides inflammation, vitamin and mineral deficiencies put a toll on the body of a person with leaky gut. Because spirulina is rich in vitamins, minerals, readily absorbed proteins and phytonutrients, it offers great healing support for leaky gut syndrome. (4)
You can get spirulina in various forms including as a powder, tablet and flakes.
Anything left over after your body has digested and absorbed what it can get from your food supply is considered a “prebiotic”, or food for your microflora in the gut. Hence, plant foods become very essential in this quest for gut health. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, seaweed, and mushrooms all contain “resistant starch” or carbohydrates that resist digestion. These “useless” carbs, as they were once considered by unknowing nutritionists, are the essence of feeding your 100 trillion microbes in the gut, which has a huge influence on your health and longevity.