The structure and functions of the gut normally
The lining of your digestive tract has a very unique structure. Think of it as almost a very fine mesh, with lots of cells bound tightly together with only very tiny spaces in between. Once the food you eat has been broken down into its very simplest units, they can then be absorbed through this mesh-like structure where you can then put all of the different nutrients to good use – for providing us with energy for one! So we need this ‘mesh’ to be working optimally, but what happens if things go wrong?
Leaky gut is literally as the name suggests – a leaky gut! This ‘mesh’ 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, 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, as 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
- Skin issues
- Recurrent headaches
- 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 are useful here and should be implemented first as adopting healthy eating habits and avoiding inflammatory foods are important. Some top tips from what we’ve covered already include:
- Chew your food properly – Chewing at least 20 times per mouthful helps support the proper breakdown of the food you eat which will help support the absorption further down 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 help to facilitate the healing process
- Some food groups may be best avoided – You may have already noticed that certain foods exacerbate your symptoms more than others. 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 are ok to include)
- Refined vegetable oils including sunflower oil
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Processed meats
These are generally more pro-inflammatory and harsher on the gut wall, so during this phase a reduction in these foods can help give your gut some time to rest. Instead, include more of the following foods during this time:
- Lean meat, fish or eggs (organic when 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
What about natural remedies?
To help support the gut during this time there are a number of natural remedies which can be included:
- Zinc – Zinc, in particular zinc carnosine or zinc methionine (which means it is bound to an amino acid) can help support healing in the gut. Zinc is an essential mineral which helps support a number of healing processes in the body including cell division and cell growth and amino acids are the building blocks of protein which is necessary for repair and regenerative processes in the body too
- 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
- Silicol gel – Silicol gel is rich in silicic acid which has the ability to help calm the gut, create a nice protective layer to help prevent any further irritation as well as gently support the healing process.