Did You Know your Gut Is Your Biggest Interaction with the Outside World?!
The gastrointestinal tract, also known as the GI tract, is one of the body’s largest protective cell layers, serving as a barrier between the internal body and the external world. In fact our GI tract is our biggest interface with the outside world… if we laid our gut down flat on the ground it would be approximately 30 feet long! Your gut size is equivalent to the size of a tennis court or two times as tall as a giraffe!
What Is Leaky Gut?
The GI tract’s key function is to allow nutrients into the body, while maintaining a barrier that prevents harmful substances from passing into the bloodstream. When there is a breakdown in this barrier, a condition known as intestinal permeability or more commonly “leaky gut,” potentially harmful substances can pass through the intestinal wall. It occurs when inflammation causes the tight junctions between the cells lining the intestines to widen. Since the gut is constantly exposed to food, microbes, chemicals the GI tract must work continuously to defend itself from these unwanted substances that, if allowed entry into the body can cause a vicious cycle of inflammation. Not only do these foreign substances cause inflammation within the intestines they also inhibit digestion and overwhelm the immune system. When left untreated, leaky gut can affect the entire body.
What’s the Big Deal If I have Leaky Gut?
Not only does leaky gut affect the GI tract, but also the immune, nervous, and endocrine system. This is because the GI tract houses the majority of the immune system in the body, about 70-80%, and plays an essential role in barrier function. If this selective barrier function is not maintained, a number of detrimental substances may enter the body, triggering immune related responses, such autoimmune disease and allergies, as well as nutrient malabsorption.
Recent evidence shows that Parkinson’s disease which is a neurodegenerative disease begins in the gut and the inciting event is leaky gut. As Hippocrates first stated, “All disease begins in the gut” and there is still so much we are discovering about the disease process. We are learning that most disease processes in fact start in the gut!
What Causes Leaky Gut?
There can be many contributors of intestinal permeability including: chronic stress, toxin overload, medications (such as the popularly used NSAIDs), food sensitivities such as gluten, and dysbiosis which is an imbalance in gut microbiota often brought on by poor diet and eating habits.
So What Do I Do To Heal My Gut?
Healing the gut and thus repairing the gut barrier can ultimately lead to improved health and quality of life. A critical part of healing the gut includes managing inflammation. Inflammation is the way the body handles harmful organisms and irritants and protects the body from the harmful effects. Unchecked, long term inflammation can have a very detrimental effect on the body. Reducing the inflammatory burden can be accomplished naturally by changing diet and using anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements.
Diet: An anti-inflammatory diet is key to promoting proper gut integrity. Diets that increase inflammation (such as our SAD Standard American Diet) will not only increase GI distress, but will also increase cardiovascular risk, autoimmunity risk, and nearly every other chronic disease mediated by inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory Herbs: Many herbs work as anti-inflammatory agents and can make a substantial impact in managing inflammation. These include substances such as Curcumin, Rosemary, Boswellia and fish oil/omega 3 fatty acids.
The Functional Medicine Approach to Healing the Gut
The functional medicine approach to healing the gut is referred to as the 4R Approach: Remove, Replace, Reinoculation and Repair.
- Remove allergens, food sensitivities and toxins, as well as possible harmful organisms if any including bacteria, or viruses.
- Consider an elimination diet such as The Whole 30 Diet or food sensitivity testing
- Your physician could order a comprehensive stool testing looking for infections, inflammation, digestion, and gut bacteria
- If you do not have a physician for the above you could order a test online called VIOME. VIOME can help identify Super Foods for your gut and Foods to Avoid. This test can also help identify evidence of dysbiosis/disrupted bacteria.
- Replace substances needed for digestion that are deficient, including hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and bile.
- Taking the time to really chew each bite helps stimulate your own production of saliva, hydrochloric acid, and induce bile and digestive enzyme secretion all critical for digestion.
- Indications that one may need digestive enzymes; stool is typically fragmented and sometimes there is undigested food is the stool (other than corn)
- An indication that you may need bile salts (often in the form of Ox Bile or Artichoke Extract) is when your stools float (they should typically sink).
- If you are on acid blockers, work with your physician to hopefully wean off of these slowly; I have had great success with a combination of Aloe Vera and Zinc Carnosine or with the use of GI Revive through Designs For Health .Reinoculate with probiotics and prebiotics.
- Repopulate with lactobacilli, Bifidobacter, and Saccharomyces species as well as other species with the help of probiotic rich foods. These include the following fermented foods
- Cultured dairy such as yogurt, Kefir
- Fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurized pickles
- Fermented beverage including Kombucha , kefir, kvass
- Fermented non-GMO soy products including miso, natto, and Tempeh
- Consider probiotics such Orbiotic or special spore probiotic called MegaSporeBiotic; the latter has a lot of research backing it as of recently to help heal increased intestinal permeability and improve diversity.
- Consume a diet that is rich in fiber and specifically prebiotic fibers which help feed your gut bacteria
- Repair (nutritional support for healing and growth of the GI mucosa):
- Glutamine up to 4 grams 1-2X/day
- Omega 3 fatty acid/fish oil
- Vitamin D3
- Aloe Vera
- Polyphenols such as quercetin, curcumin
- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice DGL
- Colostrum which contain immunoglobulins which help modulate the immune system so it is not as reactive but they also help heal the gut. The product I recommend is through Sovereign Laboratories. Dairy free alternatives to Colostrum are available for those who have dairy sensitivities; my favorites are SBI Protect through Orthomolecular and MegaMucosa through Microbiome Labs.
- BPC-157 therapy which is special peptide from a compounded pharmacy can be very helpful in healing the gut
If you are interested in reading more about healing the gut I suggest book The Microbiome Diet by Dr. Raphael Kellman. “Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life” by Dr. David Perlmutter, and “Super Gut” by Dr. David Perlmutter.
Best In Health,
Dr. Tarin Forbes