Your gastrointestinal tract plays a critical and quite obvious role in your health – transporting food from the mouth to the stomach, converting it into nutrients and energy, and eliminating waste from the body. However, did you know that your gut has been linked to several other essential functions in your body like immunity, managing chronic inflammation, suppressing cancer formation, and even helping to manage emotional stress? Studies have even linked poor gut health to a multitude of health conditions, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Weight loss resistance
- Thyroid disorders
- Brain disorders including depression & anxiety
How do I know I have poor gut health and how did I get this way?
If you experience symptoms such as bloating, constipation, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems, and joint pain, you might have a leaky gut. A leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are able to leak through the body’s intestinal wall and get into the bloodstream. These toxins cause widespread inflammation and oftentimes trigger a reaction from the immune system. Here are a few ways that your gut can become “leaky“. . .
Your diet is perhaps one of the greatest contributing factors to a leaky gut. Food can either fuel health or fuel disease. For example, consuming foods that are refined and high in sugar can increase inflammation in your body that will further damage your gut health. Instead, try eating foods that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria like fruits, cultured dairy products, healthy fats, and fermented veggies that help combat a leaky gut. Research has also shown that a plant-based diet (that eliminates alcohol and caffeine) might be the best option for those suffering from leaky gut because it promotes the development of more diverse and stable microbial systems.
Did you know that most medications have side effects that compromise gut health? You might not even realize it, but that prilosec you just took to calm your acid reflux or that antibiotic you’re taking for your acne might be directly causing your leaky gut. Even certain over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen affects gut health by blocking an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase, which prevents it from fulfilling its job of protecting your stomach from the corrosive effects of its acid. In fact, about 65% of people who consistently use NSAIDs have intestinal inflammation while 30% have ulcers.
It’s no surprise that stress wreaks havoc on our bodies, but especially our gut. Prolonged stress leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol as well as the production of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules. These elevated levels of cortisol trigger inflammation not only in the gut but the throughout the body. Stress can also lead to changes in the microbiota in the gut, and affect your mood through the HPA axis (learn more about the gut-brain connection here).
So, how do I reverse a leaky gut?
Reversing a leaky gut can seem daunting, especially for people who have suffered with symptoms for years. However, if you change your diet and start incorporating some gut-healing supplements, the reversal is not as arduous as it may seem. Research has shown that by simply eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet, you can significantly decrease inflammation in the body and begin to heal the lining of the gut. Furthermore, you can hasten healing through introducing some gut-healing supplements like a probiotic, slippery elm, L-glutamine, collagen powder, and licorice root, in addition to consuming bone broth, apple cider vinegar, and fermented foods. Herbs too such as chamomile, ginger, peppermint, and turmeric have been shown to promote gut health.
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