Most dismiss gut microbes as freeloaders that live in the human body. The gut bacteria do give us body odor but they can’t help. Set aside the stench, the beneficial bacteria contribute to an excess of body functions that we really ought to be grateful for. You would be surprised to learn what it is gut bugs actually do.
The Role of The Gut
The gut consists of everything from the mouth to the anus. The gut controls the consumption of food, digestion of the food, absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream, creating and collection of waste from the body, and finally, throwing out the trash. These functions alone are full-time jobs. In the cecum- a pocket in the large intestine, live bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It’s the bacteria that we are concerned with as more than 100 species live in the gut microbiota and they fulfill a variety of roles. Some roles are central to our existence like immunity and heart health. From the moment you are born, the gut bacteria get down to business. The diversity of the gut bacteria changes as you grow and depends to a great extent on your diet. A healthy gut ensures that the body is in working order. How?
- Gut & Immunity: The beneficial bacteria in the gut can recognize not only viruses that hurt the gut but also the viruses that hurt the lungs, like the flu virus. The gut bacteria incite the immune system to produce anti-viral proteins that can effectively kill off the invaders. Without good gut health, the bacteria would not be able to survive or help the body fight off infections.
- Gut & Heart Health: Recent research has cited that an unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to cardiovascular disease. A certain inflammatory marker – Trimethylamine-N-Oxide (TMAO), is produced due to the presence of infection-causing bacteria in the gut. Those with higher levels of TMAO are 62% more prone to heart-related distress and even death. A certain chemical produced by bad bacteria in the gut also increases blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Gut & Bone: The gut flora promotes healthy bone formation and regeneration by influencing intestinal short-chain fatty acids metabolism. It also maintains bone structure by maintaining the gut lining integrity allowing only certain nutrients like calcium and phosphorus into the bloodstream.
- Gut & Cognition: The existence of the gut-brain axis has been established and as a byproduct, cognition is also closely linked to gut health. Recent studies have found that the healthier the gut, the stronger the cognitive capabilities of the host. This includes learning, memory building, recall, attention, mental health, and spatial understanding.
- Gut & Muscle: An unhealthy gut cannot support the growth, building, or repair of muscles in the body. Exercise and a healthy gut are what one requires to keep the muscles healthy and functioning.
Mentioned above are only the larger systems that the gut bacteria can influence – in a good way or otherwise. The gut also influences skin and hair health, nutrient absorption, waste management, and brain health.
Mostly because of habits and diet, the balance between the good bacteria and the harmful bacteria in the gut is disturbed. And this leads to leaky gut syndrome. This means that the intestinal lining is damaged as now all sorts of things are entering the bloodstream – which, in turn, causes widespread inflammation and the breakdown of several functioning systems. A leaky gut is not to be taken lightly. Even though it takes place in the digestive tract, a lot more damage is done. A lot of diseases are associated with a leaky gut like:
- Autoimmune diseases affecting the digestive system,
- Inflammatory bowel disease,
- SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth,
- Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.
- Other diseases include diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and asthma.
Symptoms Of Leaky Gut
There are several signs that your gut is unhealthy. These signs may not occur all at once and not all of them have to be there for a leaky gut diagnosis.
- A decline in digestive health
Stomach distress like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea are common signs of an unhealthy gut as a healthy gut would have no issues processing the food that you consume.
- Food allergies
Food intolerances are the result of the digestive system not being able to digest certain types of food. If you have developed allergies or intolerances to foods, you were once able to consume, chances are it’s time to heal the gut. Intolerances usually begin with dairy or gluten.
- Recent autoimmune conditions
If you have recently been to the doctors and were diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, you might want to be checked for leaky gut too. An unhealthy gut influences the immune system to attack the human body itself and not invaders.
- Skin complaints
Conditions like eczema are usually related to poor gut health. Gaps in the gut lining may cause certain proteins to be leaked into the bloodstream which irritates the skin. Acne and breakouts could also be signs.
- Tiredness & Disturbed Sleep
Serotonin – mood, and sleep-affecting hormone, is produced in the gut, and gut health issues can cause serotonin production to fall. As a direct outcome, you are in a constant state of fatigue and the sleep that you do get is not the restful kind. You wake up feeling just as tired as you did when you went to bed.
- Changes in Weight
The healthy microbiota controls the absorption of nutrients into the system and optimizes the digestion process of food. When you have a leaky gut, these processes are disrupted and you tend to gain more weight. The body can no longer use fat for fuel and more is stored away.
Processed foods and added sugar feed the harmful bacteria in the gut. The imbalance that is caused by this leads to cravings for the same kind of food – which continues to destroy the healthy bacteria and nourish the bad bacteria. This leads to inflammation which is the start of a lot of diseases that affect overall health.
- Indigested food in stool
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Headaches, difficulty concentrating & confusion
- Joint pains
However, not all digestive symptoms mean a leaky gut. More often than not, you have just eaten something off. But if the symptoms appear often and are relentless, you might want to see medical professionals.
Heal Your Gut Naturally
A healthy gut microbiome is disturbed by mostly diet and lifestyle. So first, we must be able to fix that. Once you begin to eat foods that support the good gut bacteria, more than half the battle against leaky gut is done. So here are some gut-healing foods and habits that can start working on the gut naturally.
Because of the surge in gut research, you can find probiotic supplements and foods almost anywhere. Probiotics are live bacteria that are consumed to provide you with a host of benefits. The more diverse the gut bacteria composition the better it is for your gut, as each strain of bacteria plays different roles in the body. In addition to fixing leaky gut, probiotics help with a range of issues like lining the digestive tract with a mucosal lining that protects it, reinforces gut health, helps with weight loss, fights inflammation, keeps inflammation at bay, and can positively influence skin health.
What probiotics do is that they provide your body with beneficial strains of bacteria that would:
- Replenish the numbers of the good bacteria and
- Introduce new strains of bacteria that would improve gut flora diversity.
The greater the diversity of the bacteria in the gut, the more benefits we get from them. The key is that the bacteria just be alive when you ingest else there is no advantage whatsoever. Probiotic supplements can be found at your local stores and they all would carry at least one strain of beneficial bacteria.
Specific foods can also be probiotic in nature. Fermented foods are the best source of probiotics. The process of fermentation can happen only in the presence of bacteria and this is good for us. Consuming fermented foods is best for probiotics content as they can be easily added to the diet and are easy to obtain – kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh are now available at local markets.
If you suffer from a leaky gut, the good bacteria numbers are severely diminished which is why your body succumbs to all manners of distress. Consuming probiotic supplements or foods would give the body the army it needs to fight bad bacteria.
Post probiotic consumption you should have quite a large number of bacteria in your gut. You, now, need to keep them healthy and nourished. That is prebiotics – the bacteria’s food source. There is a good chance that you already include prebiotics in your diet but were not aware. Prebiotics has other benefits too like adding bulk to stool, producing neurotransmitters, and improving bone strength and hormone production. In addition to all this, the fiber content also keeps you feeling full for longer, so you could add prebiotic foods to your diet plan.
Prebiotics are high fiber foods and are plant-based foods. Plant foods have fiber content and our digestive enzymes do not possess the ability to process the fiber. The fiber is then sent to the intestines where the bacteria break down the food and consume it themselves. Fiber is what feeds good bacteria so the more fiber you consume the healthier the bacteria – not to mention, they can multiply quicker.
Certain plant foods carry loads of fiber- like Jerusalem artichokes, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, asparagus, leeks, onions, wild yams, fruits, and legumes. Processed foods tend to remove the fiber content which is why it is suggested that when consuming prebiotic foods, you stick to either eating them raw or boiling or steaming.
When eating for a leaky gut, prebiotic supplements and foods provide for the upkeep of gut-friendly bacteria. Thus, adding prebiotics to your everyday routine would give you overall health benefits as well.
Foods To Lose and Foods to Add
Certain foods are just bad for you. High sugar foods may taste good but they hurt you in so many ways. The sugar content actually feeds the bacteria that harm the gut and can worsen the leaky gut situation. Apart from that, such foods contribute to high cholesterol levels, obesity, and diabetes.
Processed foods, on the other hand, have a high level of chemicals added to keep them fresh for longer. These chemicals and the gut microbiome don’t get along. Processing also adds more sugar or salt to the food – both of which are bad for you. Nutrients are also lost when trying to preserve foods for longer. When eating for gut health, avoid eating out as much as you can too. Lots of fast-food chains use processed foods and your body could do with a lot less of it. The good bacteria can tip the microbiome in its favor only when the harmful bacteria are weak and few in number. When trying to restore gut health, avoid such foods as much as you can.
Artificial sweeteners are just as bad. Instead use honey, maple syrup, or fruit. You can make your own bone broth at home and use that instead of soups in a can. Bone broth is rich in collagen which provides two vital amino acids that strengthen the gut lining.
Clear out refined oils and replace them with natural oils like coconut oil or olive oil. The healthy fats feed the good bacteria. Protein is essential for a healthy microbiome as it helps to avoid dysbiosis – an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. Try to include lean protein in every meal. You can add pumpkin seeds, beans, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and chicken breast easily to your meals.
Raw milk is a great alternative to pasteurized milk. It has more nutrients and enzymes that the gut microbiota can use. It is also a rich source of probiotics which is a good way to heal your gut. Discover the list of gut-friendly foods and how they will enhance your wellbeing.
Not many of us have time to prepare elaborate meals and check the fiber content of the vegetables we eat. And that’s the way the world is. You do have an easier option, though – supplements. You can find a supplement for almost anything nowadays and gut health is no exception. When you follow a diet, it becomes a tad cumbersome to keep a check on how much prebiotic and probiotic content you have consumed for the day, is it enough, do you need more, and what kind of bacteria should you be looking to get, etc. Supplements can ease your life. Most supplements help heal leaky gut and benefit overall health as well. Discover the top tips on these top 10 leaky-gut supplements that can help you through your discomforts.
A probiotic supplement can ease digestive issues, promote weight loss, boost mental health, reduce gas or bloating and support your immune system. They can protect the gut from further damage from unfriendly bacteria. Probiotic bacteria are such that they fix intestinal issues like SIBO, IBS, and leaky gut. They do this while creating a protective layer inside the gut lining, producing serotonin and programming immune cells. Some probiotic supplements include prebiotic fiber in their formula so you don’t have to bother with taking a separate supplement for that.
A word of caution though, before you begin supplements. It is recommended that you speak to your doctor and read the ingredient label carefully. There can be allergic reactions to components and you don’t want that. Also, if the symptoms of leaky gut persist or worsen despite the supplement, seek medical attention.
Stress & Sleep
Gut health and mental health often suffer because of stress. The amount of stress cannot be helped but your response to it can. The way you react to stress is governed by conditioning and that needs to change. If you are taking on a lot of stress, the amount of cortisol – the stress hormone, in your body increases. What this does is put your body into a fight/flight mode – increased heart rate to ensure greater blood supply to the limbs, the bladder is instructed to empty itself out, the amount of glucose supply to the brain increases, digestive enzymes are either increased or lowered depending on the presence of food in the stomach and the senses are heightened. This happens to your body every time you feel stressed. The constant state of being alert and in readiness takes a toll on overall health. Heart disease, digestive issues, ulcers, declining mental health, and a compromised immune system are just some of the conditions to look forward to if you cannot manage stress.
Stress management is easy if you make it so. You have to take out a little time for yourself though. Exercise every day as the body would be able to release all that pent-up energy in your system. Also, endorphins are released which interact with the pain receptors in the brain. They also trigger a feeling of calm or well-being. This helps with stress.
Meditation has also shown a positive influence on stress. The action of doing nothing physically and literally willing your mind to calm down does help. Mental health benefits the most as your focus is on yourself and feelings of negation or failure are set aside. Self-reflection is sometimes the answer to the problem.
Sleep is crucial to improve gut health as it is when you sleep that the body recovers from the day. Stress and sleep have a cyclic relationship and are not a good one. The more you stress, the more cortisol in the body not letting the body rest and sleep. After a night of ruined sleep, you are in no fit condition to take on the day ahead leading to more stress – and so it goes on. You have to break the cycle. Try to meditate before bedtime. Switch off electronics and eat your last meal at least 2 hours before you go to bed and avoid snacks.
The link between the gut microbiome and sleep is a circular one too. Poor sleep creates a bad condition in the intestinal lining for the bacteria to thrive leading to gut issues. An unhealthy digestive process results in poor sleep. Sleep should be a priority and not a luxury if you want to get better gut health.
Altered eating habits, an improved lifestyle, and the use of supplements should begin to help your gut. Check out the diet plans provided for a healthy gut. These habits won’t work overnight – it is a process. Gut issues manifest after a protracted life of bad habits and poor gut health takes time to correct. You know that what you did is working when you see the changes in your body. What are these changes? Let’s take a look.
The Healing Gut
Setting a leaky gut straight is not easy. You will have off days so it’s best to prepare for them. Although what could make you feel better is knowing that the effort you are putting in is giving you results. Here are some signs to look forward to and if you see them, you are on your way to gut health.
What You Can See?
- Digestive Distress: Leaky gut does not always manifest with digestive issues but it is a fairly common symptom. So, if this is a problem for you, you can wave goodbye. Slowly but surely, issues like gas, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, and constipation will leave you. Their intensity would decrease and these issues will eventually disappear.
- Food Intolerances: Certain foods may have caused you a lot of trouble. These foods would usually be dairy or gluten. It’s because your immune system attacks you when undigested food particles remain in the gut lining. When your leaky gut begins to heal, you will be able to enjoy these foods again without consequences. You will no longer experience chronic fatigue, brain fog, or mood issues post consumption of the foods.
- Autoimmune Disorders: When getting yourself checked and you see that your lab results for IBS, Crohn’s disease, or SIBO would have significantly reduced. Even though it isn’t clear as to whether autoimmune diseases are the cause or the outcome of leaky gut but once you begin to heal your gut, the lab markers for such conditions would get better.
- Skin & Hair Issues; The breakouts on your skin that were a tell-tale sign of leaky gut will begin to clear. Your skin would cease to look aged and worn and the same will happen to your hair. With the condition, your scalp hair would have lost a good measure of volume and luster. Hair would start to look healthier and taken care of.
- Energy & Fatigue: An obvious sign of gut problems is the general lack of energy and a feeling of fatigue. Your body would start to feel like its old normal self again when the imbalanced gut corrects itself. You would also be in a better mood as serotonin production would be optimized by the growing number of healthy bacteria.
What You Can’t See?
- Gut Lining: With the healing process comes the fixing of the gut lining. With a leaky gut, the spaces between the intestine wall cells were wider permitting bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream. These spaces will begin to seize up letting only water and nutrients through. Inflammation that once spread throughout the body will be arrested.
- Histamine Intolerance: Histamine is a compound that is released by cells in times of injury or allergic reactions. Histamine intolerance is the inability to metabolize ingested histamine. The consensus is that histamine intolerance is a result of a leaky gut as the bacteria cannot affect allergy-related histamine signaling in the body. When leaky gut begins to heal, histamine intolerance disappears too.
- Diabetes & Blood Sugar: Compromised gut health can negatively impact glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. Increased microbiota diversity, especially the butyrate-producing bacteria can balance blood sugar and benefit insulin resistance. Leaky gut healing is directly correlated with regulated blood sugar levels and a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Joint Pains: Bacteria in the gut is now believed to be the cause of arthritis and joint pain, especially in obese individuals. Gut health and the absence of inflammation have been found to lower the occurrence and intensity of joint pain. If you do suffer from joint pains, then when the gut heals the pains would disappear.
- Hormones: Recent studies confirm that a leaky gut can lead to hormone imbalances.
- In females, it can cause an imbalance in estrogen leading to problems like PCOS – polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.
- In men, poor gut health can result in lowered levels of testosterone.
The hormone imbalances should clear once the leaky gut is on the mend.
Genetics, years of conditioning, health history, chronic illness, and all manners of habits affect the gut and its health. This also means that every gut is different and would react differently to changes in diets and lifestyle. Be patient with your microscopic friends as it may take them some time to recover. You cannot expect miracles to happen overnight. Recovery should make itself clear to you anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks.
Heal Leaky Gut Forever
Nothing in life or medical science comes with a guarantee and the same is true for a leaky gut. There is no way of saying that once cured leaky gut will not happen again. There are things that you can do to keep your gut healthy and safe.
A leaky gut is a condition and not a disease (not yet) – meaning that it is what leads to diseases. Once you have suffered from a leaky gut you are aware that you do have a tendency for the condition so the best you can do is prepare and follow a gut-friendly lifestyle and add some digestive superfoods. Want to know more about digestive superfoods? Find out the Top 10 Superfoods from this list.
When it comes to food, practice caution from now on – eat a diverse range of foods. This would help to improve the diversity of the gut microbiome.
- Avoid meat when you can and if you can’t stick to lean protein.
- Switch to a vegetarian diet as this ensures that the bacteria in the gut are nourished and healthy.
- Olive and coconut oils are better than butter, refined oils, and animal fat – make them a grocery staple.
- Consume foods rich in collagen, polyphenols, and healthy fats.
- Stay away from artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and large amounts of alcohol. If you recall the foods that gave you a hard time during leaky gut – avoid them completely.
- Foods such as dairy or gluten could incite distressful responses from your gut.
Habits that would maintain a healthy gut include exercise – You don’t need to join a gym but physical activity every day helps.
- Walk when you can, take the stairs at work, and a jog before bedtime would help you rest better.
- Meditation and self-care are important too.
- Stress is not your friend and can adversely affect gut bacteria. Keep stress levels under control.
- Listening to music during breaks at work,
- Taking a power nap if you can,
- And speaking to someone you love can bring down stress levels drastically.
- Sleep is often sacrificed in favor of me-time, entertainment, or work. This habit has to stop. You must let the body and the gut recover and that can happen only through sleep.
Once you make the necessary changes to your life, the chances of leaky gut resurfacing are slight – again, no guarantee. There are several diet plans out there that draw out meal and exercise plans for you. Here are some Gut Health recipes that you can explore. Look at them and see if they work for you. If you don’t really feel like it, you can see what works for you and follow your own plan. At the end of the day, it’s your gut and you know it best.