5 Steps to Heal Your 'Leaky' Gut
Allergies, asthma, food sensitivities, eczema and autoimmune disease. What do all of these conditions have in common?...
The answer is intestinal permeability, also known as 'leaky gut'.
Our guts are the 'centre of our health' (+ body) and host 70-80% of our immune system. This is why, when our guts are dysfunctional and unhappy, the whole body can be negatively affected and symptoms can appear widespread, potentially impacting every system of the body.
So what causes a ‘leaky gut’?
There are many things in the modern world that can disrupt the gut lining and lead to this inflammatory process. The lining of our gut is just one cell thick. Just think about that!
Our skin is made up of 7 layers of cells and how easy is that to damage?!
When the gut epithelium is damaged, undigested food particles and other toxins can pass through into our systems (where they shouldn’t be! ), triggering our immune system to go into overdrive. This inflammation and immune activation is the reason why a ‘leaky gut’, if left untreated, can cause major damage to our bodies and potentially lead to disease.
Stress, poor food choices, gluten, alcohol, drugs, medication, infections and environmental toxins can all contribute to a leaky gut. Luckily this can be overcome and the gut lining can heal when you remove the triggers and provide the body with the nutrients to repair.
If you have PCOS, you can click here to learn how poor gut health may be driving your symptoms such as acne, weight gain, insulin resistance and irregular cycles!
In functional/root cause medicine, we aim to not just look at your symptoms (e.g. eczema) and give you a natural alternative to a steroid based cream, but instead we would look at why this condition is occurring and often the gut is the place we initially focus our attention.
A ‘5 R protocol’ is a tool often used by nutritional therapists and functional medicine practitioners to heal and restore integrity of the epithelial layer. You may not even have any gastrointestinal symptoms and be puzzled when your practitioner recommends this, however, as I mentioned before, chronic gut inflammation and imbalance is often the driving force behind many health challenges, from rosacea to rheumatoid arthritis!
As always, I recommend you to work alongside a trained health practitioner, as ‘self treating’, especially with some of the products I’m going to suggest, can be contraindicated in your condition. Its Also important to make sure the body is ready to go through a protocol like this, because when detoxification pathways aren't working efficiently or if cortisol levels are too high or low you may feel worse, or create even more problems.
The starting point for any nutrition protocol or health plan should be a dietary clean up and removal of the inflammatory food and toxins. These are individual to each person , however there are some common triggers which are gluten, conventional dairy, corn, soy and refined sugar. In this initial phase, we also clean up the gut microbiome, using certain herbs and techniques to 'prune' our internal rainforest and reduce levels of 'bad' bacteria, yeast and parasites, if they are present. Just removing inflammatory foods may be all that's needed for some clients, however those with more complex cases, may have these pathogens causing inflammation and GI symptoms.
Testing is always recommended before starting an antimicrobial protocol or supplement. You need to know what the issue is that you are personally dealing with. It could be candida, giardia, fat malabsorption, low pancreatic enzymes or SIBO. Each of these require totally different treatment plans and supplements, but often have many of the same symptoms! A stool test will also check susceptibility of different herbal and conventional medications against the pathogenic species that is present, therefore this can speed up treatment time and save money in the long run.
(If you are interested in functional lab testing, you can get in touch.)
Some natural anti-microbials that are commonly used include oregano, garlic (allicin), thyme, rosemary, berberine, uva ursi, neem and cinnamon. Don't forget, you don't have to just stick with supplements, use the actual herbs in your meals at every opportunity.
The real food source is often more beneficial to your body.
Now your gut should be less inflamed and any pathogens that were overgrown should have been reduced or eliminated. You can actually start this phase alongside the 'remove' phase. Whether its fixing low stomach acid, adding digestive enzymes, improving bile flow or swapping your food to highly nutritious alternatives, you need to figure out why you acquired these problems in the first place and give your body some support while you deal with them.
Digestive support supplements can help take the stress load off a 'weak 'gut and allow the food to be broken down and assimilated more easily. It's a vicious cycle as you need certain nutrients for your body to create its own digestive enzymes, however, you are unable to breakdown and absorb these nutrients if your enzymes are low! Adding in enzymes and digestive support can help the process and aid in prevention or re-occurrence.
Most people will go straight to this stage when they try to 'fix their gut', incorporating bone broths, collagen powder and slippery elm into their daily routines. Some start to feel slightly better, others will react in a negative way. This can be due to the fact that they have missed step 1 and 2 of the protocol! Once you have lowered the inflammation and improved the digestive function, it is time to really support and restore the epithelial lining of the gut. Some of my favourite products to 'heal and seal' the damaged barrier are l-glutamine, fat soluble vitamins, zinc carnosine, gelatin, aloe vera, colostrum, slippery elm, marshmallow root and collagen!
Personally, this was the stage where I started to notice a difference in my health, not only gut wise, but also improvements in my energy, sleep and food reactions.
Now its time to add some friendly gut bugs back into the environment! The probiotic bacteria in our gut help keep our immunity strong, produce energy and nutrients for us and are crucial (when in balance ) for great health! Adding probiotic food (these are your fermented foods ) or supplements slowly, is very important, especially for those who have a more sensitive gut. You can think of the gut microbiome as a rainforest, and we are aiming to get as many species growing and flourishing as possible. Prebiotics are the 'food' for our probiotic bacteria so increase your intake of things like garlic, artichokes, onions, leeks, chicory, artichokes and asparagus.
Some individuals also suffer with histamine intolerance, especially if gut health is compromised, therefore these people may become symptomatic after confusing fermented foods, certain probiotic supplements and bone broths.
I have had personal experience with this too! You can read my story here about how my 'healthy' diet was causing cystic acne and anxiety!
This step is another one that is often missed or overlooked, but it is just as important as the others! Rebalancing focuses on stress management, movement, nature, 'getting dirty' and the gut/ brain connection. Once our gut is restored we need to maintain its health through following these practices on a daily basis.
We are all aware of the impact of stress, specifically on the gut (think butterflies or a 'tight knot' in the stomach when nervous ) so we need to ensure we manage our stress efficiently. For you this may be dancing, painting, taking a bath, walking in nature or attending a yoga class. Everyone is different! Daily movement is also important for gut health, along with exposure to nature. These days we are too hygienic, therefore exposing ourselves to soil, plants and the outdoors is a good way to increase our microbiome diversity and give our immune systems a healthy challenge to deal with, thereby increasing its strength!
Having successfully healed my own gut and helping clients do the same, I know how overwhelming it can seem at the start, but trust me when I say that it will be SOO worth it!
Bloating, skin rashes, joint pain and hormone imbalances are horrible things to be suffering with, so spending a few months working through a protocol like this, could really improve your quality of life!
You don't have to suffer with poor health.
If you would like 1-on-1 support to improve digestion or gain access to practitioner grade supplements and functional testing you can apply to become a client.