The structure and functions of the gut normally
The lining of your digestive tract has a very unique structure. I like to think of it as a very fine mesh, with lots of cells bound tightly together with only very tiny spaces in between. Then, once the food you’ve eaten has been broken down into its very simplest units, these can be absorbed through this mesh-like structure and all of the important nutrients contained in the food can be put to good use. So, we really need this ‘mesh’ to be working optimally so you can get the most from your food, and help support your overall health. But, what happens if things go wrong?
Leaky gut is literally as the name suggests – a leaky gut! This ‘mesh-like’ structure of the gut wall becomes stretched, the cells become more distant rather than remaining packed tightly together and the tiny gaps in between become bigger. This means that bigger chunks of undigested food can potentially pass through into our system, not to mention pathogens, all of which can initiate a low-grade inflammatory response.
The exact cause of leaky gut isn’t well understood, however, a combination of a number of factors including diet, lifestyle factors, stress, exposure to toxins or dysbiosis in the gut, may all contribute.
What do some of the symptoms of leaky gut look like?
As above, leaky gut is thought to potentially initiate some degree of a systemic response; symptoms may not only affect the gut, but also elsewhere around the body. Some of the symptoms of leaky gut to look out for include some of the following:
- Food intolerance or sensitivities
- Altered bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation
- Decreased immune functions
What can I do at home to help support the healing of leaky gut?
Healing the gut starts at home. Days 1-3 of '5 Steps to Better Digestion' are useful here and should be implemented initially, as adopting healthy eating habits and avoiding inflammatory foods are really important first steps. Some top tips from what we’ve covered already include:
- Chew your food properly – Chewing each mouthful at least 20 times helps ensure that you are breaking down the food you eat properly which will help support absorption processes further down the digestive tract. You are also more likely to tolerate foods better if you chew them properly!
- Sort the stomach – Even if your symptoms mainly reside in the gut, by supporting the stomach with the help of some bitter herbs, you can subsequently help to create a happier environment along the full length of the digestive tract
- Limit stress – As we’ve learned previously, in times of stress your digestive system starts to shut down and it won’t be working at its best. Some relaxation techniques will do your gut some good and will help to facilitate the healing process
- Some food groups may be best avoided – After what you learned in step 2, you’ll be clued up on ‘what not to eat’, whether it’s because certain foods make you feel bloated or cause a flare up in other symptoms. However, to help get symptoms of leaky gut under control, limiting your consumption of some other foods during this phase may also be useful:
- Grains including, gluten, barley, rye and rice
- Legumes including, peanuts
- Dairy products (eggs and good quality butter are ok to include)
- Refined vegetable oils including sunflower oil
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
The foods above are generally more pro-inflammatory and harsher on the gut wall, so during this phase a reduction in these foods can help to give your gut some time to rest. However, be sure to always discuss restricting certain food groups with a nutritionist, dietician or healthcare professional first.
Next, try to include more of the following foods:
- Lean meat, fish or eggs (organic where possible)
- Homemade soups – bone broth is particularly healing
- Nuts and seeds (limit peanuts)
- Healthy fats including olive oil and coconut oil
- Fruit and vegetables (keep starchy vegetables including root vegetables to a minimum during this time though, and eat warm and cooked vegetables as they will be gentler on your digestive system)
- Dairy free yoghurts and fermented foods
- Fresh herbs and spices for their anti-inflammatory properties
Which natural remedies can help with healing the gut?
To help support the gut during this time there are a number of natural remedies which can be included:
- Silicol gel – Silicol gel is rich in silicic acid which has the ability to help calm the symptoms of bloating, create a nice protective layer throughout the digestive tract to help prevent any further irritation, and gently supports the healing process
- Zinc – Zinc, in particular, zinc bound to an amino acid such as with zinc carnosine or zinc methionine, can help support healing in the gut. Zinc is an essential mineral which is involved in a number of processes in the body including cell division and cell growth, and amino acids are the building blocks of protein which help to support repair and regenerative processes. Having zinc bound to an amino acid also helps support the absorption so, all in all, a perfect combination for your gut!
- L-glutamine – Another amino acid, L-glutamine is thought to be particularly beneficial for gastrointestinal health and may help to repair and strengthen the gut lining. Opt for this in powder form to help support absorption
My top product picks for managing the symptoms of food intolerance
Digestisan contains a combination of bitter herb extracts including artichoke and dandelion to help calm the stomach. Once your stomach is settled, it’s time to concentrate on the gut. Take Molkosan rich in L+ lactic acid to support the internal environment of the gut, and top up your numbers of good bacteria with Optibac’s ‘For Every Day’ probiotics.
Tune in tomorrow for the finale of ‘5 Steps to Better Digestion' as we look at how to beat the bloat!