Well, here it is, part three of our leaky gut series. (see part one here and part two here) So far we have talked about what leaky gut is, its causes, and its symptoms, the only thing left to figure out is how to fix it. Just as with the last two parts of this series, there is enough information on this topic to fill multiple books so this will only be a short overview. There are a number of diets, protocols, and plans that people have used to heal their increased intestinal permeability. Many of them have the same central principles but differ on some of the smaller details, I encourage you to do your own research and find the plan that you feel is best. I would also recommend seeing a naturopath or another naturally minded health care professional to guide you on your journey. In my personal experience I have found great success healing my gut and putting my autoimmune disease into remission by following the Autoimmune Protocol outlined in Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach. As a result, all of my research listed below will come primarily from this source.
There are two primary avenues that need to become the focus when healing leaky gut; diet and lifestyle. There are other supplements and courses of care that are beneficial, but today I just want to focus on the principles that are true for everyone.
Put simply, in order to heal leaky gut you need to cut out the foods that contributed to it in the first place. This means cutting out all grains, gluten, legumes, nuts, sugar, alcohol, and even eggs. I talked about the dangers of grains and gluten yesterday, but here are brief explanations of why cutting out some other foods are important:
Seeds: Seeds are an important part of nature, without seeds there would be no plants, no food, no life. So it makes sense that seeds would not want to be digested, because a digested seed does not turn into a plant. To avoid digestion, seeds contain substances called digestive enzyme inhibitors, a substance also found in grains, pseudo grains and legumes. Digestive enzyme inhibitors prevent the digestive enzymes in our body from doing their job and breaking apart the proteins, sugars and starches in our food. These inhibitors survive cooking and digestion and cause increased intestinal permeability, gut dysbosis, and can even activate the innate immune system (a negative for those with autoimmune conditions). (1)
Nuts: one of the reasons to avoid nuts is that they are excessively high in phytates and phytic acid, substances that, among other things, limit the function of a variety of digestive enzymes. As a result phytates can be as harmful to the gut lining and flora as the digestive enzyme inhibitors discussed above. (1)
Eggs: Eggs are one of the most allergenic foods, affecting 2-3% of the population. The primary function of the egg white is to protect the egg yolk from attack as it grows into an embryo. One of the ways that this is accomplished is through the activity of an enzyme called lysozyme. Lysozyme is very good at breaking down the cell membranes of gram-negative bacteria and then transporting the bacterial fragments across the gut barrier. Humans produce lysozyme as one of our own protections against disease, however in our guts lysozyme easily binds together with other proteins and bacteria and then can cross the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream taking potentially harmful proteins and bacteria with it. (1)
Alcohol: Alcohol in and of itself causes an increase in intestinal permeability. It loosens the junctions between enterocytes creating holes big enough to allow molecules as large as endotoxins to get through the gut lining. Endotoxins are toxic components of the gram-negative bacteria living in out guts. Gram-negative bacteria tend to be pathogenic and can cause problems if not kept in check. (1)
Reducing stress and protecting your natural circadian rhythms are very important while healing increased intestinal permeability. The two ways to manage the stress in your life are to 1.) Decrease the number and severity of stressors in your life and 2.) Decrease the effect that stressors have on you.
This is a highly personal challenge and will be different depending on individual stressors, life events and reactions. So, the best I can do here is talk about some of the steps that I have personally taken to TRY and manage my stress (I do not always succeed).
- Learn how to truly relax your body and practice this through breathing exercising, meditation, hypnosis and/or guided visualization. In our culture many of us do not actually know what it feels like to be physically relaxed. We think of relaxing as something that is done next to the ocean or while listening to soothing music, but we don’t actively practice physically relaxing our muscles. To do this I actually used a guided hypnosis recording that I got for free from the Hypnobabies website. You can find it here. It takes about 30 minutes, but once you have the hang of it you can use the techniques to relax yourself instantaneously and keep your physical tension in check.
- Go to counseling: No, I am not “crazy” or “dysfunctional” or mentally ill. Counseling is beneficial for everyone because it gives you time to process things going on in your life in a way that you can’t do in any other context. For one hour a month a have someone focused on truly helping me and listening to me, it honestly feels like my chance to hit the reset button every month so that I can check in, deal with things and move forward instead of accumulating baggage and stress day after day. Counseling can also help you come up with productive ways to manage, lessen, and cope with stressors so it is a positive tool all the way around.
- Set boundaries: This is probably the most important thing I have done for my stress management. I made a conscious decision that my health needed to be protected against stressors in my life For me this meant removing myself from stressful interactions with people when possible, trusting in other people to help carry responsibility around the house and in family matters, leaving work at work and not being available to people during times when I was tired or unable to handle potentially stressful things. Now, when I get tired at night I stop checking my email, my text messages and my phone and I go to bed. I spent too many nights stressing over emails that I got at 10pm when I should have been sleeping.
One last time, I want to stress that the information given in this series is an overview and a very brief one at that. I am not a doctor or a scientist I can only speak from the research I have reviewed from others and primarily from my personal experience. I highly recommend talking with a trained professional such as a naturopath if you think you may be dealing with leaky gut. In the mean time, check out Sarah Ballantyne’s website here and buy her book The Paleo Approach. Also, check out this great online course that I all about gut health and healing and is being offered by a trained nutritional therapist. It is amazing the effect that gut health has on every aspect of our lives, do yourself a favor and take care of your gut today.
Citation: (1) Ballantyne, Sarah. The paleo approach: reverse autoimmune disease and heal your body. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing Inc. , 2013. Print.