Nutritional Strategies : FOR A LEAKY GUT
As early as 400 B.C., Hippocrates stated that all disease begins in the gut. Long before the agricultural revolution and the industrialization of our food supply, before modern medicine or the invention of toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants, the root cause of disease had already been traced to the health of our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts.
Complications stemming from GI imbalances or hyperpermeability can create symptoms not normally associated with gut health—70 to 80 percent of our immune system lies in the gut. In a common condition called leaky gut syndrome, the “mortar” between the “bricks” lining our intestinal tract becomes damaged, causing gaps that allow food particles and toxic byproducts to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This dangerously compromises our immune defense and causes systemic inflammation, GI discomfort, irregular bowel habits and a diversity of symptoms in the body. If left unchecked, this process of inflammation will lead to what we traditionally recognize as a chronic disease.
Concurrent lifestyle factors such as a poor diet, stress, sleep deprivation, excessive alcohol consumption, not exercising and toxins in our food, water supply, cleaning and personal care products can all contribute to hyperpermeability. In addition to practicing self-care, it is important to implement some nutritional strategies to support gut health:
Eliminate inflammation triggers such as gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. If still symptomatic, try eliminating other potential triggers such as nuts, soy and eggs, or undergo testing. The elimination and reintroduction process is highly individualized, so working with a qualified nutritionist can greatly assist in safely navigating these dietary changes, especially if there are other dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, religious or cultural considerations.
Add nutrient-dense, gut-friendly foods. Bone broth contains collagen, gelatin and amino acids proline, glycine and glutamine that strengthen the gut lining to aid in digestion and absorption. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir and kombucha help to restore a healthy balance of friendly bacteria. Fresh fruits and vegetables—including beans and legumes—and whole grains are essential sources of fiber, which is important for a healthy GI tract. Asparagus, artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, chicory and bananas also contain prebiotics that feed beneficial bacteria.
Seek out whole foods when possible and incorporate a variety of vegetables with every meal. Broth-based soups, salads and grilled meat or fish with steamed or sautéed vegetables are good options when eating out. Batch-cooking meals ahead of time for leftovers—especially soups to freeze—makes eating healthy with a busy lifestyle much easier.
Erin Lawson, MS, BSN, RN, is a clinical nutritionist and health educator for Salveo Diagnostics, in Richmond.